Salted Caramel, White Chocolate, and Cocoa Nib Brownies

Happy Valentine’s Day y’all. Not that I’m planning on doing anything exciting, probably just an evening of curling up with sticky, gooey brownies, bemoaning the end of War and Peace.

I’ve got major War and Peace withdrawal symptoms. My Sunday evenings just won’t be the same without those stunning costumes and James Norton’s brooding silhouette. The only cure for my BBC period drama-itis will probably be the eventual return of Poldark, but in the interim, brownies instead.

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For the past year, A has gotten a huge hopeful grin on his face every time I suggest baking salted caramel brownies again. Unfortunately for him, talk has never turned into actual baking of the aforementioned brownies, until now. Behold, salted caramel heaven!

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These are supposed to be a homemade version of Paul A Young’s famous salted caramel brownies from his veeerrrry expensive chocolate shop. I had the pleasure of finally sampling this illustrious brownie, and boy it was good. Mightily expensive at £5.95 a brownie but I can quite honestly say it was one of the most delectable brownies to have passed my lips.

The homemade version are a bit squidgier than the official version, and I can’t quite replicate the exact chocolate flavour – probably because Paul A Young uses a particularly fancy chocolate. I used a combination of Waitrose continential, and my stash of Valrhona.  The recipe is pretty much lifted directly from Poires au Chocolat, this time I sprinkled on some white chocolate chunks before baking.

They are really rich brownies, so a small square goes a long way. They have a smooth, dense texture that with each mouthful slowly melts in the mouth, releasing an intense shot of chocolate and caramel flavour.

It’s maddeningly tricky photographing brownies (and in fact, most chocolate/brown baked goods) so they appear photogenic, but I think I just about managed to refrain from making them look like somebody scooped them up from the soil outside. I think my next bake will definitely have to be something iced and pretty! Got to get round to using my stash of flowery cupcake cases after all.

I don’t tend to bake especially for Valentine’s Day, but if you are feeling particularly romantically inclined, I’ve stuck a couple of luuurvely (haha) links underneath to dive into:

Felicity Cloake makes the perfect chocolate pots for two.

Date and rum cookies, just perfect for wooing and twoing.

If you want to get out and about, biscuit icing classes for two with the Biscuiteers.

Or if you’ve been on a January diet, and are still somehow managing to avoid all things biscuity and carb-filled, how about buying the love in your life this custard-cream cushion? 🙂

Banoffee Pie

Banoffee Pie is the most stickily delicious way to round off a tasty meal. The combination of crunchy buttery biscuit base, golden caramel, and fluffy whipped cream, topped off with chocolate is so simple, and so so moreish. Oh yes, there’s some bananas in there too!

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It’s not a typical dessert for all those January healthy eating resolutions, but definitely perfect for those times when you’re feeling a bit lazy, a little sorry for yourself, and not willing to spend any longer than fifteen minutes flat assembling and eating your treat.

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For such a simple recipe, there’s a surprising amount of variation in what you do in a perfect banoffee pie. Apparently the original recipe also contained coffee! I go for the most streamlined version I know possible, and it definitely works for me.

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It’s not the easiest dessert to photograph, and certainly the wintry light doesn’t help, but the taste definitely makes up for it. I can’t imagine January being the favourite month of many out there, but this goes a long way to helping banish those blues! Second helpings all round.

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Not long till February…and then so so close til Spring!

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Banoffee Pie

  • 250g digestive biscuits, crushed into crumbs
  • 125g butter, melted
  • 1 tin carnation caramel
  • 2-3 bananas, sliced
  • 300ml double cream
  • 1 Cadbury’s chocolate flake

Mix the digestive biscuit crumbs with the melted butter, and press into the base of a 23cm tart tin. Leave in the fridge for around 15 minutes until firmed. Then spread the caramel over the biscuit base, and lay over the sliced bananas. Whip the cream to soft peaks, then spread over the bananas, and sprinkle over with a crumbled flake. Return to the fridge to set for 30 minutes, then tuck in!

 

More and More Salted Caramel Macarons

Is it even possible to be drowned in macarons of your own making?

Possibly.

Especially in my household, where I have gone wild with macaron making, and churned out a factory load. Salted caramel anyone?

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Of course, having not made them for a while, I had a few slip ups along the way. I based this on the Pierre Hermé recipe, which is wonderful, but I had to make a few adjustments based on what I had available. Instead of coffee extract I added a few drops of caramel flavouring to the macaron batter, and added some brown food colouring to prevent the macarons looking too garishly yellow.

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Don’t get too ambitious about the caramel. I thought I would try and get it as dark as I could, but just ended up burning it. The second batch, made more cautiously, turned out much better.

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I really wanted a few flowers to decorate these photos, one of the sad times when I wish I still had a garden. Instead I slipped out in the rain to the nearest park, and picked a few wild blooms to scatter. I think it makes quite a pretty, albeit short-lived effect.

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I think I have to resign myself to the fact that my flat has a pretty crap oven. The heat just doesn’t distribute evenly enough. My macarons look pretty, and taste lovely, but are exceptionally delicate, and certainly can’t be transported anywhere. With a bit more temperature/time adjustment, oven tray manipulation, door acrobatics and perhaps simply a new oven I’ll figure a way around it. In the meantime, there are these to be eaten, and plenty too!

Banana, Salted Caramel and Milk Chocolate Cake

I fancy that the majority of my bakes result from this “Waste Not Want Not” attitude I have towards leftover ingredients from other recipes. Whether it’s these almond slices, or these gorgeous brownies, I love that little bubble of satisfaction I get from using up leftovers, getting my creative side into gear, and getting something delicious out of it too!

So this cake was an invention which was purely a means to use up some leftover Stork, and a third of a jar of salted caramel leftover from these decadent brownies. I took them into work, and it was one of the most popular things I have ever baked!

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Banana and Caramel are a beautiful pairing, and with a sprinkling of milk chocolate thrown in the mix too, it’s a perfect sliced into lunchbox-ready squares, wrapped in foil. As with all bananary-bakes, it just gets better with time too.

Banana, Salted Caramel, and Milk Chocolate Traybake

  • 180g soft margarine/softened butter
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs (I was trying to use up a leftover egg white, so I used 2 eggs, 1 egg white, and a splash of milk)
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 190g self-raising flour (I used cake flour)
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • 1/3 jar salted caramel
  • milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. I then stuck my unpeeled banana into the oven at this point – apparently it is a good way to enhance the banana-ry flavour when they aren’t super ripe yet.

Beat the margarine/butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Then whisk in the eggs, one by one, with a spoonful of flour if it looks like it is starting to curdle. Then sift in the remaining flour and bicarbonate of soda, and mix together to form a cohesive batter. Fold in the mashed banana.

Tip the batter into a prepared cake tin, smooth flat, then dollop small spoonfuls of caramel over the surface, and swirl into the mixture with a knife. Sprinkle milk chocolate chips over the surface and then put into the oven. Bake for 25 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Salted Caramel and Cocoa Nib Brownies

It was last weekend. A was sat on the sofa, intermittently groaning, immersed in the rugby. I was sprawled on the floor, pondering brownies. Priorities, priorities.

These brownies are serious bites. Each one comes with a rich seam of golden, salted caramel, and a sprinkling of bitterly dark crunchy cocoa nibs on top.

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I was inspired to bake these after salivating over the brownie selection in Paul A. Young’s chocolate shop. However, they’re pretty expensive, so I thought I’d have a go at the recipe on Poires au Chocolat instead.  Not to mention that they’d use up some of my cocoa nibs. You know when you buy all these exotic baking ingredients and never get round to using them up? Yeah that happened. Anyone got any other good uses for cocoa nibs?

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They taste every bit as good as I expected them too, rich nuggets of dark chocolatey flavour, crammed full of silky buttery caramel, and the sprinkle of cocoa nibs perfectly balancing the rich buttery sweetness from the other ingredients.

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Texture-wise, they’re very different from any other brownie I’ve made before. These are baked for only 20 minutes on a rather low oven temperature of 160˚C. This makes them very soft at room temperature, the interior of each piece sticky and gooey. After a stay in the freezer overnight, they firmed up considerably, with the dense, smooth texture of homemade fudge.

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Although I think that the aim of the cooking instructions is to achieve this textural state, I prefer my brownies to be a little firmer. So I baked a second batch, throwing in a little more flour, at a slightly higher temperature for longer. They’re more robust once cut than the originals, and a tiny bit cakier around the crust. However, they’ve still got that smooth dense fudge-like texture inside, and just as much rich chocolatey flavour that I love.

My brownies are a little on the tall side, as I don’t have a good eye for measurements, and the cake tin I thought was 20cm squared all along is actually a tad smaller at 18cm. It simply makes these bites even more truffle-like, rich and decadent so I’m not complaining too much!

Salted Caramel and Cocoa Nib Brownies

Adapted from Poires au Chocolat

For the salted caramel:

  • 75g caster sugar
  • 50ml double cream
  • 10g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

For the brownie:

  • 100g butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 50g dark muscovado sugar
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 275g dark chocolate, chopped finely
  • 4 eggs
  • 90g plain flour
  • small handful of cocoa nibs

Make the caramel. Toss the sugar in a dry saucepan, and gently heat until it melts and turns golden brown. Take off the heat and whisk in the cream bit by bit until it is all incorporated. Then stir in the butter, followed by the salt, until smoothly combined. Scrape the caramel into a bowl and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Line a 20x20cm tin with baking paper.

Using the same saucepan for the caramel again, gently heat together the butter, sugars and syrup until melted and combined. Take off the heat and add in all the chocolate. stir until melted and uniform.

Lightly whisk the eggs in a separate bowl, then gradually incorporate them into the brownie mixture, whisking together to combine. Then add the flour and beat everything together until smooth and glossy. Pour into the prepared tin.

Spoon/drizzle the cooled caramel evenly over the brownie mix and use a skewer/sharp knife to lightly swirl it through. Scatter the cocoa nibs on top.

Bake for 25 minutes, then take out and leave to cool. Once cool, freeze or refridgerate overnight until solid. Cut into squares.

Salted Caramel Shortbread

Fed up of green juices and January detoxes? Fancy a little square of chewy salted caramel, sandwiched between buttery shortbread and chocolate instead?

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This salted caramel shortbread is so deliciously indulgent, it uses up a whole pat of butter, a family bar of chocolate, and an entire tin of condensed milk in the making. It sounds like it’s too much, but wait until you try a square. They are so moreish, it’s hard to stop at one!

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I baked them on Thursday evening, and left the caramel and chocolate to set overnight, so all through Friday at work, I had the comforting thought that a tray of these were waiting for me at home. What a great start to the weekend! I adapted these from this recipe here on Allrecipes.co.uk

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Pierre Hermé Salted Caramel Macarons

Mmmm, more macarons!

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I finally succumbed, and bought the much-coveted Macarons, baking bible for Pierre Hermé addicts. Of course, as soon as I started flipping through the pages, the urge to bake caught up with me. I just had to try his salted caramel macarons.

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My last attempt at making salted caramel macarons had been a mixed bag. The macarons had been slightly over-baked and my salted caramel cream had been too buttery, so this time I was looking forward to using Pierre Hermé’s own recipe to get the rich salty, buttery perfection I was longing after.

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This was also my second try with Pierre Hermé’s italian meringue method. Previously, I had always used Ottolenghi’s recipe, which is based on the french meringue method. These two methods are often compared, and technically the italian meringue creates a more stable structure, and is more foolproof, but my Ottolenghi recipe always worked brilliantly, so I guess you can take your pick and go with the flow!

The Pierre Hermé recipe, as expected, requires quite a lot of concentration, and is more technically challenging than the Ottolenghi one. However, it is utterly divine.

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The salted caramel filling contains a surprisingly large quantity of butter. I noted that there are two recipes for this floating around on the internet. For example, the one posted by Edd Kimber here has noticeably different proportions to the recipe contained in my copy of Macarons. I’d say they turned out, flavour and texture-wise, very similar. Perhaps the Macarons recipe holds a stronger salted caramel flavour, but I may have also been braver in letting my caramel go that little bit darker.

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It’s nice to know that you can make the salted caramel filling a day or two in advance before making the macarons themselves. Just rebeat it into piping consistency when it’s needed. Oddly, it looks a little darker, but no less delicious.

One big note of caution – be careful not to add too much extra liquid or the macarons won’t rise properly. I have most definitely made this mistake many a time before! You can avoid this issue by using paste/powder food colourings instead, but I’ve not acquired any as yet.

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Also, if you are just starting out with macaron making, and need a bit of extra guidance, I’ve discovered a rather brilliant macaron troubleshooting guide on Adriano Zumbo’s website which is extremely useful.

Millionaire’s Shortbread

I should have long been in bed, but I was in the kitchen rubbing flour between my fingers. Why I sometimes get the urge to bake at an ungodly hour is still a mystery to me. I knew it would be worth it though, I had Millionaire’s Shortbread to look forward to at the end.

It’s the perfect treat to perk you up the next tedious day at work. Not only is the name luxuriously decadent, but Millionaire’s Shortbread is the combination of three very good things indeed. Crumbly-buttery biscuit, sweet-chewy caramel, smooth milky chocolate, summed up into three layers of calorific bliss. 

It might seem a bit of a faff, but it’s really straightforward. The only issue is once you’ve made it at home, the supermarket stuff seems pallidly disappointing in comparison!

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The only problem here is resisting eating the whole batch! 😉

Millionaire’s Shortbread

Adapted from this recipe on Allrecipes.co.uk

For the shortbread:

  • 170g plain flour
  • 60g caster sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 120g butter, cubed

For the caramel:

  • 397g tin of condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 120g butter, cubed

For the chocolate topping:

  • 150g milk chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Line a square cake tin with baking paper.

Mix the flour, sugar and salt together. Rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles crumbs, then press into a firm dough. Squidge it to bring it together, but don’t knead or the shortbread will become tough. Press it into the base of the lined tin, prick all over with a fork, and bake in the oven for around 25-30 minutes until golden-brown.

Make the caramel while the shortbread is baking. Tip all the ingredients into a big saucepan, and stir constantly over a low heat until thickened, and darkened to a caramel colour. It will take a long time but persevere! You want it to reach the stage where it is thick enough you can drag the spoon across the bottom of the pan and leave a clear trail.

Tip the caramel over the shortbread, and smooth over evenly. Then melt the chocolate in a bain-marie, and pour this over the caramel. Pop into the fridge for 30 minutes to set, then cut into squares.

 

Oatmeal Caramel Crumble Bars

Like being hit by a powerful wave, I felt knocked off my feet this week. Sluggishly going through the motions, out of bed, into work, home and back to bed. I blame it on the weather, which has taken a turn for the chilly. Baltic breezes have hit this island, and I most definitely need my raincoat.

Now I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Outsider Tart, an American-style bakery in London, who do the most fabulous bars and brownies. So when I finally perked up enough to do a spot of baking, of course, I turned to their Oatmeal Caramel Crumble Bars.

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They are the last word in decadent calorie-packed baking. A buttery oaty base serves as a prop for a thick layer of caramel, pecans, chopped up chocolate, and yet more oat crumble scattered on top. In fact, they reminded me of flapjacks, only sandwiched with lots of extras. I took a second look at the recipe, and yes indeed, it was startlingly similar.

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I wasn’t hugely enamoured of these bars when they first came out of the oven. They seemed too sweet, too rich, and just a bit sloppy. Once they’d cooled down, and settled, the caramel firmed up, they cut like a dream, and actually tasted alright, but there were too many rich components vying for attention. SALTY, SUGARY, CARAMELY, BUTTERY, NUTTY CHOCOLATY…ehhhh.

I think it must be a characteristic that forms part of the character of American baked goods but my palate just got confused here. Not sure I’d make them again sadly!

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Salted Caramel Macarons

My favourite macaron flavour is definitely salted caramel. It’s so addictive. I’m not alone in thinking this.  I was once standing in a queue at the Pierre Hermé counter in Selfridges, and every single person in front of me got a salted caramel macaron as part of their purchases.

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After cracking the art of salted caramel, and my bounty still stashed in the fridge, I thought that this lent itself perfectly to salted caramel macarons being my next bake.

This time, instead of turning to my old faithful Ottolenghi recipe, I thought I would finally try making macarons using Pierre Hermé’s italian meringue method. I gleaned the recipe off the internet. Still dithering about buying his macaron cookbook. I possess Hermé’s Larousse des Desserts, and it’s pretty intimidating.

Anyway, I followed the basic macaron recipe for the shells here, so there isn’t any extra colouring or flavouring there. I think it would definitely benefit from the addition of coffee extract for colouring and flavouring.

The original recipe states the macarons should be cooked at 180˚C, but they turned out crispy and overbaked, so for chewy macaron perfection, definitely lower the temperature to 160˚C! The filling turned out to be very buttery too so I might re-try that with different proportions of sugar, butter and cream.

Recipe updated 29th April 2014: see my post here