Saturday, March 25, 2017

Salted Caramel Swirl Brownies topped with Nutella and Toffee Bits

Salted Caramel Swirl Brownies - made March 11, 2017, adapted from The Merchant Baker
Do you see the salted caramel swirling through these dark chocolate brownies? Ribbons of rich caramel peeking through the fudgy goodness? Yeah, me neither.

The original recipe called for using dulce de leche but I was out of dulce de leche and only had a jar of salted caramel on hand. Past experience has taught me that if I just swirled the caramel in with the brownie batter, during baking, the caramel would sink to the bottom and I'd be left with struggling to cut clean pieces and picking the foil off the bottom of each piece because the caramel sank to the bottom and clung to the foil. I usually go around this difficulty by spreading half the batter, baking the bottom layer just long enough to firm up and be able to hold the caramel, pour the caramel layer over that partially baked bottom layer and top with the remaining batter before baking the whole thing.
It's a good plan in theory but my execution left something to be desired this time. Mainly because I didn't bake the bottom layer long enough to actually firm up enough to hold up the weight of the caramel. I didn't want to bake it for long because it would have to bake even further after I added the caramel and the top layer and I had visions of a dry bottom brownie. So, instead, my method made it worse because the batter warmed up enough to be even more liquid and the heavy caramel promptly sank to the bottom since the layer wasn't baked enough. I knew it too as I was spreading the caramel that I should let the bottom layer bake for longer but I have such an aversion to overbaked brownies that I was physically incapable of letting that bottom layer bake long enough before adding the caramel layer.
It would probably be hard to spot the caramel anyway since, thanks to the cocoa I used, the brownie came out really dark. But I won't be apologizing for that because I use Pernigotti cocoa and refuse to use any other cocoa. Not if I want dark, rich, chocolatey goodness in my brownies. And I do.
To cut some of the dark chocolate richness from the Pernigotti cocoa, I defaulted to the lazy baker's frosting, i.e. Nutella, which I spread on top of the slightly cooled but still hotter than warm brownie about 5 minutes after I took it out of the oven. When it had cooled to lukewarm, I sprinkled the top generously with toffee bits and mini chocolate chips for a prettier presentation and to add a little more sweetness and crunch to complement the dark rich fudginess of the brownie.
2/3 cup dutch process cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose or bread flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
3 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla
Salted caramel
Toffee bits
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8" square baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Whisk together cocoa, granulated sugar, confectioners' sugar, flour, baking powder and espresso powder in a large bowl.
  3. Add the eggs, oil, water and vanilla; mix until smooth and combined.
  4. Spread a little more than half of the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from oven and drop dollops of salted caramel over partially baked layer. Top with remaining batter and return to oven.
  6. Bake another 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool for 5-10 minutes before spreading with a layer of Nutella. Sprinkle with toffee bits. Let cool completely before cutting. For the cleanest cuts, refrigerate for a few hours before cutting with a sharp knife.

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