Sometimes, you require something over- the- top to satisfy a chocolate craving, and my need was straddling life or death.. OK, not really, but my sanity was at stake, and for the sake of everyone else around me (see, I’m very considerate), I needed to make a decadent brownie –for the greater utilitarian good, of course. So there I was, as per usual, indecisive about what to make because two recipes lay before me (one from Bobby Flay and the other from Luna Cafe). Both had the ubiquitous brownie bases, but with different fillings swirled throughout the dense chocolate batter… but being in dire need of chocolate (nooooow!), I threw caution to the wind and “Did it My Waaaay”; I created my own rendition and adapted from Flay and Luna.
I made and used BOTH fillings.
Overkill? Actually, not really, no. I thought it would be, but the flavours really jived together.
In this one outrageous and glorious brownie, there’s the deep dark chocolate with its earthy complexity, the creamy rich peanut butter softened with caramel’s good graces and its salty edge, and the tang of the chevre brightened with cheery lemon zest. Lastly, the toasted bittersweet walnuts balance everything with a crunch magnitude that would be off the Richter scale.
Of course, butter is imperative in a brownie and there’s no shortage of it here. This is probably the first time I’ve ever used an entire cup of butter for a 9-inch pan of brownies (rather than the usual 13×9 inch pan). With so much of Julia Child’s beloved ingredient in these chocolatey squares– you cannot go wrong with the recipe…
Except for over-baking it.. that would make it a FAIL brownie.. do not make a FAIL brownie. Stand by your oven vigilantly and peer through the little light-bulbed lit window of your oven and watch them like a hawk. Baking times are unreliable because the temperature that you set may not be the one your oven’s providing you with (it can be from a few to even 100 degrees Fahrenheit off). I would highly recommend investing in an oven thermometer (especially if like to bake frequently). It will give you an accurate reading of your hot box every time.
Layers of delectable fillings and toppings
I admit that this recipe is quite involved. You have 4 components to make: the salted caramel (which I sourced from Deb via Smitten Kitchen), the salted peanut butter caramel swirl, the lemon chevre topping, and the brownie batter itself. However, I guarantee that it is worth the effort (pinky swear!).
Taste, aroma, and sight-wise, this has all the elements you could possibly desire in a brownie: chewy, raggedy crisp edges, oozy molten chocolate pate, AND a sensational duo of peanut butter and chevre to boot.
A word of caution: not everyone is a fan of chevre (aka goat cheese). If you’re iffy about its taste.. that is– if you don’t like to eat it by itself– you can omit it and substitute for all cream cheese instead. The goat cheese flavour is heightened in the brownie and would be an unpleasant experience for those averse to this strong-willed cheese.
I have to restrain myself from making these too often.. they are like my crack. It leads me to believe that I could make a lucrative career from selling these on the street… well, that is, if I could stop myself from eating all the product first.
My suggestions and comments are in italics.
Salted Peanut Butter Caramel Swirl meets Lemon Chevre Brownies
For the brownie batter:
6 ounces best-quality, bittersweet chocolate (70-75% cacao) (I used Guittard)
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup best-quality unsweetened, natural cocoa powder (not alkalized or Dutch process) (I used Valrohna)
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp dark corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp pure almond extract (optional)
1 tsp instant espresso powder (optional)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
Prepare Salted Caramel Sauce and cool to room temperature (about 30 minutes– but if pressed for time, place pan in an ice bath to speed things up).
Prepare Salted Peanut Butter Caramel swirl. Set aside.
Prepare Lemon Chevre topping. Set aside.
Line an 9- by 9-inch, metal baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, and then lightly grease and flour the foil or parchment, tapping out excess flour.(this is essential for easy removal)
Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl set over a pot of simmering water. (Be careful not to splash any water into the chocolate or it will seize and the texture will be ruined) Take bowl off the pot. Cool chocolate until just warm to the touch.
In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together. Stir together to combine. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugars, and corn syrup until pale and creamy.
Add the vanilla, espresso powder, almond extract (if using either one or both), and salt. Blend well.
Add the eggs and mix until incorporated and creamy, about 1 minute.
Add the cooled chocolate and mix until homogenous (no streaks of white batter).
Add the flour mixture to the batter and mix until just combined. Do not overmix.
Spread half the brownie batter evenly into the prepared baking pan.
Spoon mounds of Salted Peanut Butter Caramel evenly over the brownie batter.
Spread the remaining half of brownie batter over the Salted PB caramel mounds. You will need to spread gently in order not to mix the two layers. (An offset spatula helps with this). Using a knife or tip of a rubber spatula, gently swirl the two batters together to that they are mixed but not completely blended.
Dollop mounds of the Lemon Chevre mixture on top of the brownie batter. Spread to the sides as evenly as possible.
Tap the pan hard several times on the counter to level the layers.
Sprinkle toasted walnuts over the top.
Place pan on a baking sheet.
Bake at 335F degrees for 40-45 minutes. The batter will still jiggle somewhat in the center even after the brownies are done. The knife test won’t work here because the caramel is sticky and wet when hot. Do not overbake!
Cool completely on a wire rack, and then lift the brownies from the pan with the foil. Peel away the foil from the sides and bottom of the brownies, and cut with a large chef’s knife into 2-inch squares. (You will need to dip the knife into hot water and wipe clean between each cut.)
Yield: 16 brownies or 9 honking, fat- happy pieces (for gluttons like me)
(Wrapped well, you can store these at room temperature for 2-3 days in a cool dry spot. They also freeze well)
Salted Caramel Sauce
1 cup granulated sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) best quality salted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp heavy cream, at room temperature
1/4- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Melt the sugar in a medium pot on medium heat, whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice, dark copper colour (can take anywhere from 4-7 minutes… depends on the size of your pot). Add the butter all at once and stir it in. Turn the heat off and pour in the heavy cream (take caution when you do this: the cream will steam and sputter). Whisk to make a smooth sauce. Add desired amount of salt to taste.
Use immediately or store in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Yield: about 1 1/3 cups
Salted Peanut Butter Caramel Swirl
1/2 cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter (not natural) (I used Maranatha smooth peanut butter)
1/2 cup of salted caramel sauce
Mix together in a medium bowl and set aside.
Creamy Lemon Chevre Topping
4 ounces cream cheese (full fat, used Philadelphia), room temperature
4 ounces fresh mild goat cheese, room temperature
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp pure lemon extract (optional)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese, goat cheese, and sugar until smooth.
Beat in the egg until creamy and then beat in the lemon zest, juice, and extract (if using).
Yield: about 1½ cups