Ch. 05: What came first, the Salted Caramel or the Brownie?

Lockdown has been a true test of everyone’s resourcefulness. My family, in particular, was very paranoid when word of the virus first struck, and so when lockdown went into effect, we didn’t dare go out. For someone who frequents coffee shops like me, that meant doing something to up my home-barista game. Enter salted caramel. I set out to try and recreate of of my frequent coffee orders- a caramel latte- along with my new work from hope set-up. For anyone who’s never made caramel at home, trust me when I say it’s nearly as daunting as it may seem. It’s all about knowing what to look for. Homemade caramel has several visual cues to help you along the way. I pulled out this salted caramel recipe I’d had now for years which was tried and true at this point and got to work.

For me, the key to really good caramel is knowing how far to push it. We’re essentially cooking sugar until it caramelizes and I find that the deepest flavor comes from a caramel that’s pulled off the heat right before it’s about to burn. There is some worry of crystallization (gasp), but after a few tries, you’ll get the hang of it. See my Salted Caramel recipe and tips below. The result is a dark, almost molasses color that’ll provide some good depth to whatever you add it to. Some cream, butter and salt later and you’re done- you now have caramel for all your caramelly needs. I  used about a tablespoon or so for some homemade salted caramel lattes to go along with some standard coffee, milk and vanilla syrup- again all made by yours truly. And it definitely satisfied that coffee itch I’d had since working from home. 

With my coffee fix quenched, I now had a good amount of salted caramel that I really didn’t know what to do with. It’s delicious on its own, but really I couldn’t picture myself sitting on the couch eating it by the spoonfuls. (I wouldn’t judge you if you did, though). I settled on trying out Bon Appetit’s recipe for Best Cocoa Brownies because really, who doesn’t love a good brownie. The recipe is a breeze to put together and is maybe only a step or two more than what’s called for in a box mix. After letting these cool, I sliced them up and topped it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (not homemade, unfortunately) and a drizzle of homemade salted caramel that I’d warmed up slightly. The finished product was decadent and delicious with enough fudgy brownie-melty ice cream-sticky caramel goodness to satisfy the biggest sweet tooth. By the end of the night, I still had a considerable amount of caramel left, but that’s a story for another entry. The question still remains: did I make the brownies because of the caramel, or did I make the caramel because I subconsciously wanted to make brownies? The world may never know. 

My Salted Caramel Recipe:

1 cup of Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup of Water
3/4 cup of Heavy Cream
3 1/2 tablespoons of Unsalted Butter
1 teaspoon Sea Salt or Kosher Salt

In a medium-sized saucepan. Pour the water on top of the sugar and swirl to combine. Bring to medium high heat and cook until the sugar starts to bubble. Do not stir or whisk. Dip a pastry brush in water and brush along the sides of the pot to remove any stray sugar crystals as these can ruin the caramel. Alternatively, you can place a lid on top to allow the steam to wash them down. Continue until the sugar turns an amber color like dark honey. Remove from the heat and carefully pour the heavy cream- caramel will boil vigorously, so use caution. Let sit for a few seconds then whisk to combine. When mixed, add in the butter and salt before transferring to a container. Caramel will thicken as it cools. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

1. If your sugar syrup turns opaque / cloudy during the cooking period, it’s likely crystallized. Crystallized sugar is hard to bring back to life, so it’s best to toss out. Brushing away the crystals on the side of the pot as well as refraining from stirring will help prevent this.
2. Darker color = more intense flavor. If making this for the first time, it’s ok to stay in the “blonde” range- your caramel will just be slightly sweeter than intended. The goal is to push pretty dark without burning.
3. Sometimes when adding the cream, the caramel can seize up and turn to a mound of sugar within a pot of heavy cream- this is still salvageable. Simply return to the heat and cook until sugar dissolves and the sauce is smooth.
4. Feel free to play around with the salt, but do not omit it. Caramel is saccharine without the salt to balance the sugar.

Full Recipe | Method for Bon Appetit’s Cocoa Brownies:

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