Smoke on the water(melon): Our smoked salt adventures with Caramel Brownies

caramelbrownie

It all started with Mother’s Day. Mary Tinkham, a longtime baker here at KAF, and writer for the Baking Sheet, was given a selection of specialty salts by her son, including a large salt block, and she was sharing her ideas about recipes she had planned. We, of course are always interested in new and different cooking and baking news, so it was a lively conversation.

Mary mentioned that one of the flyers included in her gift was a salt chart, listing different salts and what foods they were exceptionally good paired with. One that stood out to her was the Maldon Smoked Salt we just started carrying. The chart said it was “exceptional” on fruit. Well, you know we just had to try it for ourselves. I had some fresh strawberries in my lunchbox, Mary had some cantaloupe and pear, and there was a brand new box of smoked salt on our sample shelves. We were off to the races!

All I can say is WOW! The salt is not overly smoky, but enhances the sweetness and juiciness of the fruit. Everything tasted richer, deeper, just MORE. A little flaked sea salt goes a long way, but we hadn’t had enough yet.  And then, we started talking about chocolate and salt. Off we went again. (A side note to Barb and Kelly, our supervisors. Don’t worry, we still answered the phones, and emails. Shall we consider this a  demonstration for Baker’s Education? )

Tara, my partner in coconut cream pie, keeps a jar of chocolates on her desk, you know, for morale. Out jumped a few pieces, and they too were given a hit of salt. AMAZING! The combination of sweet and salty hit the spot, and the mild hint of smoke was a dance on the tastebuds. We found an open bag of Guittard semisweet wafers, and sprinkled those as well. Susan Reid happened by with questions, and proceeded to pronounce us  all “evil” and the ruiners of diets. And then it happened. Mary said the word that would lead me on a quest so delicious the final product nearly brought tears to my eyes. What could it be? What did she say?! Inquiring minds have got to know!!

Mary said “Caramel”. Ah, caramel: buttery sweet, smooth as silk on the tongue and a perfect foil for salt. I had bought local artisan chocolates with caramel and a topping of sea salt, and loved them. I had also had nuts covered in chocolate, raw sugar and salt that made one weak in the knees. How could I take these flavors I loved and combine them into something mind blowing? Quest no more, and join me in making Chocolate Caramel Almond Crunch Brownies.

First, you need to make the Almond Crunch topping.

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Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or on the stovetop or in the microwave. Take care not to scorch the chocolate. Low and slow is best.

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Add the almonds and stir until they are well coated. I used a mixture of whole and sliced almonds, kind of a clean the cupboards approach.

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Spread the almond/chocolate mixture on a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle all over with the coarse sugar and smoked salt.  Set this aside to firm up. You’ll be breaking it up later into the crunch topping.

If you don’t have the smoked salt right at hand, you can use regular sea salt, but you will be missing out on some subtle flavors. I wouldn’t recommend table salt, you might get some off flavors from the iodine. For the sugar, Demerara gives the best caramel-y taste but turbinado or raw sugar will also work. If you have our sparkling white sugar, you will miss out on the caramel tones, but the crunch will be terrific.

Now, make a 9″ x 13″ panful of your favorite brownies. I chose to make our KAF Guaranteed Fudge Brownies. They are simple to make, with outstanding flavor and a perfect blend of fudgy and cakey. Set the brownies aside to cool while you make the Browned Butter Caramel Icing.

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Melt the butter over low heat in a medium sized saucepan. You are looking to melt the butter, and then begin to brown some of the milk solids. This will give a sumptuous nutty flavor and color to the icing.

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This is how the butter will look when browned. You can see the golden color best near the edges of the pan. Mmmm, what a lovely scent, deep and toasty.

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Add the brown sugar and salt and stir continuously until blended. This make take a few minutes, just have patience. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes. Add the milk and bring just to a boil.

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Next, move the mixture to the bowl of your mixer. Allow to cool to lukewarm.

While you are waiting for the caramel mixture to cool, it’s time to grind up the almond crunch topping.

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By now, your chocolate mixture will be nice and firm. Break it up with your fingers into large chunks. Trust me, this will be the hardest part of the whole process, not eating every last bit of sweet, salty, crunchy goodness.

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Place the pieces in a food processor and pulse until you are happy with the size of the pieces. Some taste testers preferred large chunks for a bigger hit of salt. Some liked the smaller pieces, so it’s really baker’s choice.

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This looks good to me. Some chunks, some tiny pieces.

Did you notice this recipe has quite a bit of “let it cool” time? This means you can be doing other things, or you can do this recipe over a period of time, even a couple of days. Beware of making the salted crunch topping too far ahead of time, it has a way of disappearing quickly, and you may end up with naked brownies!

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Let’s get back to our icing.

Add the vanilla to the bowl, and beat on medium speed with the whisk attachment until well mixed. Add the confectioner’s sugar in stages until your icing resembles thick peanut butter.

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Increase the speed to high, and beat for 3 minutes. The mixture will still be slightly warm, and will not become as fluffy as a regular icing. It will have a silky texture, an almost melted quality.

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See how the icing is thick, but still doesn’t form peaks? This is just what you are shooting for. Go ahead, you can have a lick.

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Spread the warm icing over the cooled brownies. It spreads like a dream and makes the smoothest coating. This could also be used on cakes for a very elegant presentation.

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And now for the pièce de résistance, the almond crunch topping. You should have more than enough to cover the icing in a nice 1/4 inch deep layer, even with the munching and snitching you may have already done. You could sprinkle the topping on with a spoon, but I’m a use-your-digits kind of baker. Besides, isn’t cocoa butter good for your skin?

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Oh, my. Soft deep chocolate brownie, silky smooth sweet caramel icing and the slightly smoky, salty crunch of the almond topping. Now, I’m not saying you should eat these everyday, but when a special occasion calls for a special treat and you want to make something a little out of the ordinary, do try these Chocolate Caramel Almond Crunch Brownies. You won’t be disappointed and neither will your guests.

Read, rate, and review (please!) this recipe.

 

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Collette

    Oh, I love salt on sweet stuff. I’ve made salted caramel sauce which is delicious on…well, on everything. I think you could put it on dirt and I’d eat it. My current favorite cookies are salted white chocolate oatmeal. Oh my indeed. Crazy good.

    I might just have to make a batch of that icing. Not for anything, just a batch. ;-)

    Hi Collette,
    Salted white chocolate oatmeal sounds out of this world. I have a friend who is a white chocolate fiend. Would you be willing to share the recipe with me for him, or direct me to the source? maryjane.robbins@kingarthurflour.com for emails. Thanks a million! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  2. Lisa in UK

    Wow, I live in the UK and had never heard of smoked Maldon salt! (I use the regular Maldon salt all the time. I just did an interwebby search and found out ithe smoked type is available at one of the local supermarkets, so I am DEFINITELY trying this.

    It’s nteresting that salt is being used as a (key) ingredient again. I was just looking at Dorrie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies (the chocolate ones with the salt on top) this morning. I guess I am going to have to try those, too!

    Hi Lisa,
    I’m glad you have a local source for the smoked salt. It’s amazing. Be sure to try it on fruit too. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  3. Terri A

    Wow, I think those are about the best looking brownies that I have ever seen. Not only would that topping not last long in my house, but the brownies would disappear very quickly as well (and it’s just me here!). Your frosting looks so smooth on the brownies. It was easy to spread? It’s hard to tell from the photos that it would spread so smoothly.

    Hi Terri,
    Yes, the frosting spreads so easily, it is very silky from the melted butter. If it cools too much, it firms up, so do be sure to spread while it is still warm. I’m dying to try it on a vanilla cupcake. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. Alvara

    Those brownies look decadent. I would love to eat one right now. I have acquired the salt/sweet taste since you put salt on the chocolate chip cookies. I hardly ever make them now without the salt. It will have to be a very special occasion to make these when a lot of folks are coming over as I would probably be able to eat the whole batch.

    Hi Alvara,
    I know what you mean! I have a batch of the salted topping that I have to save for my husband’s open house, 6 days away! How am I going to keep from eating the whole thing! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  5. Jackie

    Oh my word, these look and sound so delicious. I too am fond of the smokey chocolate combination, and I sometimes add a pinch of chipotle powder or smoked Spanish paprika to my chocolate cakes for an extra zing. I can’t wait to try this recipe!
    Hi Jackie,
    I had heard of the chipotle before but not the smoked paprika. I have a small jar of that and usually use it on deviled eggs. Guess I have some more experimenting to do. Thanks for sharing! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  6. Christy

    Help. My butter browned beautifully but the sugar never melted. Didn’t have much luck incorporating the butter and sugar either. Can this be salavaged?
    HI Christy,
    I’m sorry I didn’t get your questions while you were working on the icing. While it’s probably too late now, here are some suggestions for another time. First, be sure you are going low and slow. Too high of a heat will not melt the sugar slowly enough. The butter and sugar will come together during stirring, but there will always be pockets of melted butter that remain unincorporated. Those will blend in when you begin to whip the icing.
    Again, I wish I had been here to help right at the moment, but I hope all turned out okay. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  7. bill

    Good god. I had to go take some insulin just from READING that!

    “…local artisan chocolates…” I wish that chocolate making was considered a branch of baking — I’d like to give that a try sometime. Though I’d have to carry the insulin in a SCUBA-gear sized cylinder on my back, it’d be worth it.
    Hi Bill,
    I learned the basics of chocolate making from my Nana Flowers when I was about 12, so it’s can be very easy or very complicated, depending on your goals. To start small, get one or two molds for making filled chocolates and experiment with different fillings. You can make a LOT of filled chocolates from one pound, and have plenty for you and plenty to share. GO FOR IT! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  8. Laura Flowers

    I found it! Thank-you Susan & Brenda for this fun new friendship. You were the friendly and comforting chocolate chip cookies I needed on this crazy information overloaded weekend. You’re the best!

    Laura Flowers

    Reply
  9. A J

    Oooh, this is sooo evil! You gave me the perfect idea for
    a new flavor for this years candy giveway/bake sale.
    Slabs of white chocolate topped with sweet and salty
    chocolate almond crunch. Must..make..a..test..batch..now!

    That sounds fantastic to me. How about a batch with a layer of caramel under the crunch? or drizzled on top? Sounds like I’m going to make some batches myself! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  10. ladygoat

    Oh, my god. I’m drooling right now! I was intrigued with just the idea of salt on fruit. But it turns out you have a much larger (and sweeter!) vision!

    Reply
  11. Jen

    I tried making the caramel for the frosting twice. The first time it never melted and just burned. The second time, I got it to melt but only by whisking it the entire time (which is the opposite of any other caramel recipe). I then cooled it to lukewarm but in mixing the powdered sugar, the butter separated out again and the frosting was a mess of heavy dense caramel taffy and butter.

    Hi Jen,
    I’m sorry to hear this part of the recipe is giving you trouble. When you have browned the butter and added the brown sugar and salt, you should have a thin liquid, not a thick caramel. It will thicken some as you boil it, and a bit more when you add the milk, but it is definitely more liquid than solid. If you want to drop me an email with details, we can troubleshoot and then post the answer here. maryjane.robbins@kingarthurflour.com. I look forward to hearing from you. ~MaryJane

    Reply
  12. Nancy

    These are fabulous, the carmel is smooth the topping has the right amount of salty crunch and the smokieness is a wonderful touch. I’m going to use the smokey salt the next time I make truffles or fudge.
    Oh, man! I hadn’t thought of using the smoked salt in fudge. Imagine a 1″ square of fudge, with a sprinkling of the smoked salt and a drop of caramel on it, or smoked salt and white chocolate… time for more experiments! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  13. Lucy Price

    Bravo!!! I made a full pan of the brownies for the staff in my office, i supervise a college tutoring center. All the tutors have raved about them, and are sharing the website right and left. I used arbol chili salt and it was just fine. I really like the frosting. Also, i frosted them and cut them into pieces then put a chunk of almonds on top of each one. Made a single serving look really nice. I used sliced almonds and had no difficulty. More happy KA fans coming up!
    Hi Lucy,
    I’m so glad to hear the brownies were a success. I had thought about how nice an individual almond would look on a bite sized serving, so I’m glad you went the next step. Thanks for sharing! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  14. Kate

    I made these for my students and, amazingly, had some left over for a potluck later on in the week. The caramel frosting didn’t stay on the brownies too well (suggestions are welcome), but we made do.

    I couldn’t find smokey salt way up here in northern Maine until it was too late (who knew I had to look in the marinade section of the store), but the kosher salt worked fine. I also had some smoked, salted almonds on hand and I just ground those up to add to the mix.

    Thank you for the go-to potluck dessert for 2009!

    Reply
  15. Brenda

    Where in The County do you live, Kate? My smoked salt is running low and it’ll probably be a while before I’m back in Boston. (And about the only place I didn’t look for it was in the marinade section).

    Reply
  16. Jeri Hurd

    I used some of the salt on the rosemary focaccia I made yesterday. Wow! It kicked it up to a whole different level of wonderful. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
    OH, that sounds wonderful! I took to keeping the smoked salt in a jar on the kitchen table. I’ll have to try it on focaccia soon. Thanks for sharing! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  17. deb1223

    I had the same trouble as Jen – everything went great until I added the powdered sugar – then everything started to separate. I heated it and managed to salvage it enough to use it, but what did I do wrong? Did I let the butter/caramel mixture cool too much? Didn’t beat that enough before adding the powdered sugar? I adore this recipe otherwise!!
    It sounds like the mixture was overcooked on the stove top. Try cooking it for a bit less time next time. ~ MaryJane

    Reply

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