Monday 13 December 2021

Salted Caramel Brownie Bars

These bars happened because of a random purchase at the Bulk Barn.  They had salted caramel chips there and because I'd never cooked with them, I bought some.  

I spent some days trying to decide what I might make with those salted caramel chips. Recent flooding has caused serious damage to the roads that connect southwestern BC with the rest of Canada. Essential goods are given shipping priority and some and luxury goods can be hard to come by. I wanted my recipe to be attainable for others affected by these shortages so I decided to work with ingredients I already had on hand. These bars are what I came up with. 

Because of the dulce de leche layer in these bars, they aren't a quick bake. I usually make dulce de leche from commercially made sweetened condensed milk but right now it's really expensive so this time I made my own sweetened condensed milk from scratch. If you choose to buy sweetened condensed milk already made, or if you buy pre-made dulce de leche and add your own salt to taste, the process will be much less time consuming.  

Since I did make my own dulce de leche from scratch and you might want to know how I did that, here are the steps:

Begin with Baker Bettie's recipe for Sweetened Condensed Milk. Increase the recipe quantities by one half (so your batch is 1-1/2 times larger than what the original recipe calls for) and cook it according the the recipe directions.

Once the sweetened condensed milk is made, transfer it - in a heatproof container - to your slow cooker.  Pour boiling water into the cooker, around the container, taking care not to get water in the milk.  Turn your slow cooker on low and continue cooking the milk, stirring occassionally and topping up the hot water around the milk container as needed, until it reaches the stage of caramelization you prefer. The more brown the caramel, the deeper the flavour, but take care not to over-do it. Taste as you go along. There's a point where the caramel flavour crosses the line from deep to bitter and once that happens there's no going back.

When the caramel has reached the stage you want it to be, remove the container from the slow cooker and put it in a cold water bath, stirring and changing the cold water often so it cools as rapidly as possible.  When it's reached room temperature, add your salt.

I won't give you a specific measurement for the salt in the dulce de leche layer because I've found that people's preferences about the saltiness of their food vary wildly.  Add a little salt, give the caramel dulce de leche a thorough stir so you know the salt is distributed throughout, taste, and adjust.  Continue adding salt, mixing, and tasting until it's where you want it to be.

At this point, I covered the caramel container and put it in the fridge. I finished making the bars the following day.

To make the brownie layer, you'll need:

  • 1-1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 1 cup Dutch process cocoa
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups salted caramel baking chips

Stir together the flour and the baking powder.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. 

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cocoa until it's completely combined with the butter.

Stir in the sugar.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Mix in the vanilla extract.

Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture, mixing just until no flour is visible.  

Stir in the salted caramel baking chips.

Pour the batter into a buttered or oiled 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan and bake in a 350F oven for 30 to 35 minutes. 

Cool to room temperature, then transfer the pan to your freezer and let the brownies get really cold.

To assemble the bars:

Take the salted dulce de leche out of the fridge and heat it in the microwave on 30 second intervals, stirring between each interval until it's warm and has thinned to a more spreadable consistency.

Take the brownie pan out of the freezer and, using an offset spatula, spread the dulce de leche over the brownie layer in an even thickness.  Put the pan back in the freezer.

When the dulce de leche layer is well cooled and set (I left it in the freezer overnight), make the ganache layer.

Finely chop 12 ounces of semi sweet chocolate and put it in a bowl.

Heat 1-1/2 cups of heavy cream to a simmer.

Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted and is completely incorporated into the cream.

Pour the ganache over the dulce de leche layer in the pan and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly.

Put the pan in the fridge until the ganache has thickened and the entire bar is well chilled.

Use a hot knife (run the blade under the hot water tap) to cut the bars while they're still very cold.  Let them warm to room temperature before serving them.

These are really tasty but also very sweet, so a little goes a long way.  The bar in the photo is about 1-1/2 x 2-1/2 inches.  If I was serving this as part of a dessert tray I'd cut it in smaller pieces; about half this portion.

Sprinkle a bit of flaked salt over the top of the ganache just before plating the bars.  I used locally harvested salt from Vancouver Island Sea Salt.

I returned my Salted Caramel Brownie Bars to the freezer after slicing them. A cup of coffee is really all they need in the way of accompaniment, which makes them an excellent treat to have on hand when entertaining on short notice

Because the ganache layer stays quite soft, if you're giving them as part of a food gift, I don't recommend packing the bars in layers in cookie tins. If you're going to include them as part of a food gift, cut the bars in smaller pieces as mentioned above, put each individual piece in a petit four cup (like a paper muffin cup but smaller), and pack them in a single layer in a shallow container with an airtight lid. Leave the sprinkle of salt off the top of the ganache. If you want to, you can pack some salt in a separate container, with instructions to sprinkle it on just before serving.

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