I’m not always a big fan of caramel. There’s good caramel and bad caramel, I guess, plus all the caramel that has lactose in it. But in Canada, with Natrel’s lactose-free cream, I was able to make lactose-free salted caramel – the mix of sweet and salty made it fantastic! Even the Engineer, who says he doesn’t like caramel, really liked this one. I had some drizzled over fresh strawberries, then on top of a pancake. And the reason I made salted caramel was for the Brown-Eyed Baker’s recipe of salted caramel brownies, found on one of my friend Jen’s Pinterest boards, to celebrate her birthday. These brownies were really not that hard to make (I did make the caramel a few days early, though), and they were fabulous. Extremely sweet, of course, but just so, so good! They’re moist, rich and chocolaty, but with the extra depth the salty caramel adds to the mix. It’s a good idea to make these to share! I made them in an 8-inch square pan, which to me, always yields 9 servings exactly (some recipes will say 8, 12 or 16, but that’s just not how I cut my brownies). You’ll have to excuse the poor quality of the picture; I was on vacation in Cape Cod at the time and my senses were overwhelmed by salty caramel chocolaty goodness, so I couldn’t think straight enough to pose them in daylight.
For the salted caramel sauce
1 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature (or vegan margarine if you want)
1 tsp. fine sea salt
2/3 cup lactose-free heavy cream, at room temperature
In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking as the sugar begins to melt. Some of the sugar will harden into clumps, but that’s okay – it will melt eventually – just keep whisking. Continue to cook the sugar until it reaches a dark amber color. At that point, whisk in the salt, and then add the butter all at once and whisk until it is completely incorporated into the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the heavy cream (it will foam up when first added). Continue to whisk until it forms a smooth sauce.
Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before using in the brownies. The leftover sauce can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. (You’ll probably need to warm it up a bit straight from the refrigerator.) You can also leave it at room temperature for a few days, as the sugar will keep it from spoiling.
For the brownies
5 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into quarters (or vegan margarine)
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1¼ cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
salted caramel sauce (see above)
fine sea salt
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 °F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the pan with overlapping pieces of foil and spray the foil.
In a medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of almost-simmering water, melt the chocolates and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. (Or, melt in the microwave on 50% power for 30-second increments, stirring after each, until melted and smooth.) Whisk in the cocoa until smooth. Set aside to cool.
Whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture; then stir in the flour until just combined.
Pour about half of the brownie mixture into the prepared pan and spread into the corners. Spoon 9 dollops of salted caramel sauce on top of the brownie batter. Top with the remaining brownie mixture, spread into the corners and level the surface with a spatula. Again, spoon 9 dollops of the salted caramel sauce on top of the brownie batter. With a dull butter knife, gently run it through the batter to swirl the batter just a bit (don’t do it too much or it will all mix together). Sprinkle a bit of sea salt on top.
Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours. Remove the brownies from the pan using the foil handles and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into squares. Brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.