Friday, February 24, 2012

Salted Caramel Pecan Brownies

Brownies three ways: plain, with caramel, and fully loaded.

Few things have changed since my last post, so I feel the need to explain even at the risk of losing few readers with this long and winded post.  As few of you might know I have been struggling with my professional life for few years.  My decision to become a pastry chef was an easy one, but it turned out that it is not easy to make a living working in restaurants or bakeries.  Unless a person ends up working in top notch restaurants, the pay is meager, the hours are brutal, the environment not always great.

Finding a mentor, someone who gets you and teaches you tons, wasn't easy.  Fate or chance caused DMG and me to cross paths in 2006, and I am glad we did.  DMG taught me a huge amount, his knowledge is vast, his work ethics amazing, he knew I wanted to learn and I owe him a lot.  After I left the restaurant  where we worked together, I never found anything/anyone even close, the experience of working for one of the best in a way ruined it for me.  Every job after that was not what I was inspiring for, excitement quickly turned into disappointment.   

Two jobs ended soon after they started because the restaurants could not afford to pay me, and at that point I had learned that for me to be happy, the job had to be challenging, providing a good learning curve, and most importantly, I have to work for someone I trust and respect.   Trust and respect, two things I need to be happy. 

Fast forward to 3 weeks ago, things changed.  I have been in contact with a bakery since December, I started a Master Gardener program,  I got a job offer at a new local restaurant, two catering gigs, and no time for this blog any more.  I took the job offer but decided to follow up on the bakery job because deep down I knew I would be happier there.  The restaurant job was in my town, but the space was not designed with pastry production or even pastry service in mind, it quickly became clear that there was no way we could produce all the things they wanted to make, the dessert menu had to be redesigned fast.

After few frustrating days, the owner decided that for the time being there wasn't going to be any pastry made there, a wise decision since there was no space really.  Luckily I was able to land a second interview and a try out at the bakery, and quickly got a second job offer at this brand new bakery, designed with huge production in mind, a bakery that has amazing possibilities and a great stuff of women who believe in creating a happy work environment.   I have been working there for two weeks, and love being challenged, I am learning lots, and I hope to make a difference.  I see lots of gluten free baking in my future, there is a growing need for GF pastries and no one making them in my area.

During the menu testing phase for the job that wasn't, I made few things for the owner to try,  she wanted American desserts, tasty and innovative.  I thought that brownies would work well, fast and easy to make, easy to store, and something people always love.  I am not a fan of brownies and never tasted one that knocked my socks off, but I was intrigued by the fact that this brownie recipe became an instant hit when Oprah Winfrey featured it on her show, no less.   I realize that this recipe has been out for a while, the book Baked, New Frontiers in Baking was published in 2008, but again, not being a brownie fan I never ached to make them until now.   The sweet and salty recipe comes from  Baked Explorations,  the second book published by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, the two masterminds of the very successful bakery Baked in Brooklyn.  There are two layers of brownie butter sandwiching a layer of salted caramel, perfect for the restaurant, I thought.  When I tasted a piece of these brownies, still warm from the oven, my socks were knocked off, I couldn't stop eating them even with all the gluten.  They were perfection!   I will try a gluten free version asap so I can eat them.

Salted Caramel Pecan Brownies
adapted from Baked, Explorations

For the caramel:
1 cup sugar
2 TBS light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp fleur de sel (I used sea salt)
1/4 cup sour cream

Make the caramel:  In a medium sauce pan with a thick bottom mix together the sugar and the corn syrup with 1/4 cup of water.  Cook over high heat until dark amber in color (about 350F).   Remove from the heat and slowly add the cream, being careful as it will bubble up, then add the salt. Whisk in the sour cream and set aside to cool.

For the brownies:
1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp salt
2 TBS dark unsweetened cocoa powder (like Valrhona)
11 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate (60-72%), chopped
8 oz butter, cut in 1" cubes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large egg, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.  Butter the bottom and the sides of a parchment paper lined metal 9x13" pan.  Mix together the flour, cocoa powder and salt set aside.  Melt the chocolate and the butter together in a double boiler.   Keeping the chocolate mixture over the water add both sugars and whisk until well combined.   The mixture should be at room temperature.  Add three eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.  Add the remaining eggs and the vanilla extract and mix just until combined.  Too much mixing will make the brownie cakey.   Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate.  Fold the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture until there is just a trace of the flour.

For the assembly:
Pour half of the brownie mixture into the prepared pan and smooth it with a spatula.   Pour 3/4 cup of the prepared caramel over the brownie.  Spread it with a spatula making sure it doesn't touch the side of the pan or it will burn.  Pour the chopped pecans over the caramel and press lightly.  Pour the rest of the brownie butter over the caramel and spread with a spatula.  Bake for about 30 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool completely before cutting.  Freeze well.

Notes:  I used all the caramel sauce on the brownies, and it worked as well, but make sure the sauce is cool so it doesn't spread too much.  The pecans are my addition, pecans and caramels are made for each other I think.  The book calls for sprinkling 1 1/2 tsp fleur de sel and 1 tsp of coarse sugar over the brownies as they come out of the oven.  I didn't do this step so my brownies were not as salty as the original recipe, but please do so if inclined.


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