sweet & salty brownies.

Do you remember last week when I humbly implied that the Olive Oil Cake from Baked was less than stellar? Do you also remember that I mentioned feeling a little gossipy saying so, given my undying allegiance to everything that comes from the ovens of Matt and Renato? You know how gossip always comes back to bite you?

It did. And hard. Matt Lewis, yes this Matt Lewis, left me a comment on that posting. Now, I don't know if it was the real Matt Lewis who found me in the sea of food blogs by some miraculous gesture of the Lord, or if it was a Matt Lewis Impostor sent to remind me that gossip is not okay because you never know who might be listening, but it was enough to turn my face hot pink and my palms sweaty. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't bounce down the stairs and shove the backside of Explorations into my mother's face and shouted, "THIS GUY! THIS GUY RIGHT HERE READS MY STUFF!"  Squeeeeeal.

Either way, Renato's mother now knows I didn't like her bundt cake. I'm sorry, Mrs. Poliafito, it just wasn't there for me. I'm sure you are a very nice lady and you must have good genes since you graced the baking world with Renato, but maybe bundt cakes just aren't your thing.

So, with a little encouragement from the author himself to keep chuggin' along, I gave it another whirl, this time with the Sweet & Salty Brownies. The book says they are famous enough to be noted on the Food Network, but I'm skeptical of FN's polling abilities, so I had to try it out for myself. I absolutely adore the original Baked Brownie in all it's chocolaty glory, and I wasn't sure this one could top it, and it doesn't. I mean that in best way possible. They're not comparable - the original brownie is perfect for picnics, for a mid-afternoon snack. These brownies, with a swoosh of smoky caramel drizzled into the center, a double-whammy of chocolate thanks to both cocoa powder and melted chocolate, and that unmistakable salty flavor from fleur de sel - they're sultry and perfect for those rare occasions you snag a date night with your hunky husband-to-be-police-officer-man. Assuming you even have date nights any more and aren't doing homework on Friday nights. Not that I'm that lame. Umm.

So Baked, just when I think your book can't get any less appetizing you go and do somethin' like this - AND TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF! These brownies are a bit more fudgy than the original recipe, and I think they begged for a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Try to resist adding espresso powder to the batter - swat your hand away if you have to, but you want the full flavor of the caramel to come through.

Sweet and Salty Brownies
Adapted from Baked Explorations

For the filling

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/4 cup sour cream

For the brownie

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder (I used black cocoa)
11 ounces dark chocolate (60-72%), chopped
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the assembly

1 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel
1 teaspoon coarse sugar

Make the caramel

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/4 cup water, stirring them together carefully so you don't splash the sides of the pan. (This is embarrassing, but in the name of honesty I will confess - I read this and thought, "What idiot would slosh it out of the pan?" Well, the good Lord humbled me not long after when I splashed molten hot sugar onto my foot and in case that's never happened to you, it burns like lava.)  Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350 degrees F, or until the mixture is amber in color, 5-7 minutes. Keep a close eye on it - caramel can go from gorgeous to burnt in a few seconds. Remove from the heat, slowly add the cream (careful, it gurgles and bubbles) and then the fleur de sel. Whisk in the sour cream. Set aside to cool.

Make the brownie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter the sides and bottom of a glass 9 x 13 inch pan. Line the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper and butter the parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder.

Place the chocolate and butter in the bowl of a double boiler set over a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler, and add both the sugar. Whisk until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pain. The mixture should be at room temperature.

Add three eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkly the flour mixture over the chocolate. Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until there is just a trace amount of the flour mixture visible.

Assemble the brownies

Pour half of the brownie mixture into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Drizzle about 3/4 cup of the caramel sauce over the brownie layer in a zigzag pattern (you will not use all the caramel sauce - resist dumping it all in there or it will creep out to the edges and burn, baby, burn). Use an offset spatula to spread the caramel evenly across the brownie layer. In heaping spoonfuls, scoop the rest of the brownie batter over the caramel layer. Smooth the brownie batter gently to cover the caramel layer. (I had a hard time getting it to cover perfectly and I was afraid it would burn, but it's cooling now and seems to be okay.)

Bake the brownies for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time and check to make sure they are done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when a few moist crumbs are stuck to the toothpick.

Remove the brownies from the oven and immediately sprinkle the fleur de sel and coarse sugar over the top.

Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving. The brownies can be stored, tightly wrapped at room temperature, for up to 4 days.

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