|Salted caramel pretzel brownies|
I approach baking the way many folks approach cooking: with impatience, reluctance, and a bit of insecurity. Experimenting with baking seems to require hours to chill the dough or mix batter in just the right order and vats of special, cupboard-busting ingredients. And in matters of the pastry, my gut seems to be useless (at least in the kitchen--my gut does just fine at the table). Dough that tastes beautiful in the bowl bakes up bland, and cookies go from uncrisp to cremated before my eyes.
For example: On Thursday, I decided to whip up some easy cookies for Shabbat dessert. But since I can never leave well enough alone, I subbed mashed bananas for some of the oil (lots of commenters said they had good results with applesauce, but it wasn’t on my shelf). I also tossed in the apricots and almonds from the chicken I was making, plus a few handfuls of chocolate chunks and raisins.
Probably because of the banana, possibly because of all the mix-ins, the results were more Cliff bar than cookie—dense, vague lumps instead of chewy, tangy morsels.
Duncan was there for me when I needed him most. Like the perfect man, he becomes whatever you want him to be: Low-fat, high-altitude, chewy, cake-like, and/or filled with whatever mix-ins you please. He makes friends easily: I served the gooey brownies with the oatmeal cookies, now toasted into crunchy discs, and the combination was actually tasty. And he's a head-turner: The table went silent when I brought out dessert.
Later this weekend I visited The City Bakery, where every dreary, sludgy day of February they serve a different flavor of delicious, sludgy hot chocolate. My friend M. and I split a cup and one of their signature pretzel croissants.
|A golden afternoon at The City Bakery|
Since then I haven’t been able to get the combination out of my head. So I whipped up another batch of Duncan, this one with a salted caramel and pretzel crust. This weekend I’m dreaming of something that pulls together rich milk chocolate with pillowy, salty pretzel. Maybe a grilled chocolate sandwich on a pretzel roll? Don’t worry: Duncan doesn’t get jealous when you fantasize about someone else, because he knows you’ll always come back.
Salted Caramel Sauce
|Salted caramel sauce. Whether you make it cream-filled or|
vegan, just make it
Like the patient brownie he is, Duncan lets me dress him in all sorts of yuppie clothes. Salted caramel is one of my favorites—it's quick (under 15 minutes), uses common ingredients, and always impresses. I’ve provided measurements to give you a sense of scale, but this is one of those recipes where you can approximate and experiment, especially if you’re going to pour it over something before serving instead of passing it around in a bowl since the texture matters less.
1/2 cup white sugar
~1/6 cup water (i.e., a little bit--this slows down the caramelization and reduces your chance of burn)
1-2 tbsp solid fat (butter, margarine, coconut oil)
3-4 tbsp liquid (heavy cream or full-fat coconut milk for a creamy sauce, or dairy, soy, or reduced-fat coconut milk for a drizzle)
1 tsp salt, or to taste
- Put sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat over medium-high until sugar dissolves (1-2 minutes)
- As the water boils, start stirring with a spoon or by swirling the saucepan
- The sugar will start to turn yellow around 5-7 minutes. Keep swirling until it turns brown, a shade or two lighter than the final caramel-y color you want
- Turn off the heat. Stir in the solid fat
- Once fat has melted into the caramel, remove from heat. Stand back to avoid splattering as you pour in the liquid. Stir thoroughly until mixed fully
- If you use a thinner liquid like milk, you may need to cook this down further over medium-low heat to reduce
- Allow caramel to cool and thicken
Notes for the Naked:
- The trick to this recipe is watching the sugar carefully. It quickly goes from boiling to burnt. That's why you remove it from the heat before it hits the color you want--it will keep caramelizing until the liquid cools it down
- If you’re passing this around as a topping, after three minutes of cooling in the saucepan, pour into a jar or bowl and let it thicken further. Refrigerate, and let it sit out for 20 minutes before serving
- For my brownies, I crushed an individual bag of pretzels and poured them on top of the brownie batter before baking. Right when I pulled them out of the oven, I sprinkled chocolate chunks on top, and after they had cooled I drizzled on caramel and kosher salt