Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chewy Caramel Brownie Pie

Chewy Caramel Brownie Pie - first made many years ago, last made December 2008

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Those who know my penchant for Christmas decorating and my over-the-top ornament collection might be surprised that it isn't Christmas but nope, Thanksgiving wins hands down. It's first and foremost about gratitude, family and friends and - let's not kid ourselves - eating!

Traditional Thanksgiving desserts center around pies, usually pumpkin, mincemeat, pecan, perhaps apple or any other kind of pie. I'm sneaking this entry in since its official name has "pie" in it and it's technically supposed to be baked in a pie pan. For the astute among you, you'll figure out it's a brownie topped with caramel, chocolate chips and nuts. A rose by any other name....

Chewy Caramel Brownie Pie from Land O Lakes recipe book

½ cup butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
¾ cup flour
2 eggs, slightly beaten
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

8 ounces (30) caramels, unwrapped
3 tablespoons whipping cream
¼ cup chopped pecans, toasted
¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. In 2-quart saucepan, combine butter and unsweetened chocolate. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until melted (4-6 minutes). Stir in all remaining brownie ingredients. Spread batter into greased 9” pie pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until brownie is firm to touch.
2. Meanwhile in 1-quart saucepan, heat caramels and whipping cream over medium low heat, stirring occasionally until caramels are melted (5-6 minutes). Remove brownie from oven; spread melted caramel mixture over entire baked brownie. Sprinkle with pecans and chocolate chips. Continue baking for 3-5 minutes or until caramel mixture is bubbly. Let stand 30-45 minutes; cut into wedges. Serve warm with ice cream.

Further musings
This year, we're having Thanksgiving at my sister's and I've counted at least 15 people, possibly as many as 20 or more, who'll be there. I'm in charge of dessert. My sister wants lava cake, my mom wants apple cobbler. All well and good but you'll notice both of those desserts are meant to be made in individual-sized portions which is not practical when you're serving 15-20+ people. Not only do I have to have enough ramekins for at least both desserts (because it's Thanksgiving, you can't just offer 1 type of dessert) but they're also both meant to be made at the last-minute and timed perfectly so they can be ready to eat after the Thanksgiving meal. Have you ever eaten with more than a dozen people and had them finish eating and be ready for dessert at the same time? Me neither. Not to mention my sister has a small oven and there's no way to cycle 40+ ramekins in and out of there in any reasonable window of time.

No one in my family bakes except me so I don't think they really get the ramifications of all the nuances involved here. Sometimes I think they think I'm the MacGyver of baking and, with a spatula and a stick of butter, I can invoke miracles. Um, I can't. I have a hard enough time baking in a kitchen that's not my own, surrounded by people doing "real" cooking (i.e. I don't have run of the kitchen like I do when I'm baking at home), with an oven I'm not familiar with since I don't use it more than once or twice a year. However, one of my strengths is planning. Over the years, I've planned ahead and gifted my sister with various baking implements, ostensibly for my nieces who bake, but also for my use when I'm down there. She's got a Kitchen Aid, a zester, measuring cups and spoons, mixing bowls, baking pans, etc. I'll have to ask my nieces if she has a nut grinder or if I need to buy her that as a stocking stuffer.

Anyway, there are ways to solve these issues. First, my sister's getting her lava cake but not for Thanksgiving dessert. I'll make it another night when it's just the immediate family and I won't need to haul down 20 ramekins. Second, apple cobbler will be made in a large baking dish and served out in individual bowls with ice cream for Thanksgiving dessert - that's easy enough. Now I also have to come up with other desserts. Since Thanksgiving meal is usually pretty heavy and people stuff themselves, I don't want to make a lot of heavy desserts. I prefer to do little finger-food-type desserts and have people select from an assortment of bite-size sweets. They can have as much or as little as they want but won't feel obligated to scarf down large servings of dessert. The advantage of that approach is it's usually stuff I can make ahead of time and keep the oven free just for the cobbler. I may do one traditional pie (pecan) - we'll see. I have 3 weeks to plan for it.

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