I’ve posted brownie recipes twice before – my very first post, actually and then again when I was feeling inspired by a large jar of Nutella – and looking back at what I wrote in that first post, a brownie pattern is definitely evident… apparently whenever I become anxious, bummed, or contemplative about graduating, a pan of brownies can be expected to emerge from my kitchen.
And since graduation is just around the corner — literally only one week away now — it’s no wonder these salted caramel turtle brownies happened. With graduation so quickly approaching and sad conversations among roommates and friends about going our separate ways to different cities and states increasing in regularity, I’ve been getting hit pretty hard with some serious chocolate cravings. A pan of plain brownies simply weren’t about to cut it — I needed something extra chocolatey, extra fudgey, and extra special. And these brownies were just the fix I needed.
Initially, my plan for these turtle brownies was to double my trusted brownie base I used for my raspberry cheesecake brownies, but as soon as I started to bake, I realized my kitchen was not as well stocked as I had thought. What started off as a clear-cut recipe quickly became a kitchen experiment (the best kind of experiment) and resulted in some of the most incredibly fudgey brownies my roommates and I have ever tasted.
These brownies are dense and fudgey, salty and sweet, and get a textural crunch from the toasted pecans scattered throughout. Be prepared to fight for one of the coveted corner/edge pieces when it comes time to serve. While baking, some of the caramel sneaks out from the center layer and surrounds the entire pan of brownies along the perimeter of the pan. Eating one of the edge or corner pieces is basically like eating a caramel-enrobed brownie — nothing short of heavenly, really.
If you’re intimidated by making your own caramel sauce, then go ahead and melt down some store-bought caramels with a couple of tablespoons of milk or cream in its place instead — just make sure you have about 2 1/2 cups of caramel sauce if you go that route. I opted to use a really simple recipe for salted caramel sauce from She Wears Many Hats. It’s really easy to make and, in my personal opinion, tastes SO better than any store-bought caramel sauce I’ve ever tried.
Whether you’re stressing about a big life change or are feeling perfectly content, do make these brownies. They have magical chocolate-and-salted-caramel properties that will make your anxiety disappear (even if only temporarily) and your state of contentment escalate to a state of pure fudgey brownie bliss. And who doesn’t want that??
Salted Caramel Turtle Brownies
Makes one 9×13-inch pan; 24 servings
For the salted caramel:
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
For the brownies:
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (I think Ghiradelli is the best)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup flour
1 recipe salted caramel sauce
2 Tablespoons whole milk (or half and half or heavy cream)
Coarse or flaked sea salt
1 cup pecans, toasted (to toast, bake in an oven preheated to 350º for about 6-8 minutes until fragrant)
1 1/2 cups semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks
To make the caramel, start with pouring the sugar into a a heavy, uncoated 3-4 quart sauce pan (stainless steel is ideal) and then pour in the water – be careful not to get any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan; if you see any, just brush them away using a pastry brush dipped in water. Place the pan over medium heat until it reaches a boil and don’t stir, just gently swirl as needed.
When the color turns a deep golden amber and the sugar almost smells like it’s on the verge of burning, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla, cream, butter, and salt (it’ll bubble and foam up at this point, so be careful not to get burned!!) with a wooden spoon until smooth. Pour the caramel into a glass jar and avoid scraping caramel off the sides and bottom of the pan while doing so. Allow the caramel to cool before covering and placing in the fridge until it’s ready to be used.
For the brownies, preheat the oven to 325ºF and line a 9×13″ pan with parchment paper (this is so important for these brownies – no parchment paper means a pan full of brownies that won’t come out because of all the sticky caramel!).
In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter and chocolate chips and stir until smooth; pour this chocolate-butter mixture into a mixing bowl and whisk in the sugars and the espresso powder until well-combined and smooth. Then, whisk in the vanilla and the eggs until fully combined and smooth. Using a rubber spatula (this will be a thick batter), add the salt and gradually stir in the flour and cocoa powder (adding about 1/2 cup at a time), mixing just until combined — don’t over-mix!
Spread half of the brownie batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 12 minutes, just until set. Remove from the oven and move the pan to a wire rack. Microwave the caramel sauce with the milk until it’s smooth and reaches a pourable consistency. Pour all of the caramel sauce of the first brownies layer and top with a sprinkling of course sea salt, half of the toasted pecans, and half of the chocolate chips/chunks. Dollop the remaining batter all over the top and carefully spread into an even layer, being sure to cover all of the caramel layer and reaching the edges and corners of the pan. Sprinkle with the remaining pecans and chocolate chips/chunks and return to the oven to bake for an additional 35-45 minutes, until brownies are set.
Remove from the oven and allow to completely cool before slicing and serving; keeping them in the fridge will not only make cutting them easier, but will also make these brownies’ super fudgey texture really shine 😉
Recipe for the caramel sauce adapted from She Wears Many Hats