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Taste-test Tuesday: Salted Caramel Brownies

I love salty and sweet treats. After declaring the Bacon Maple Bar doughnut at Portland Oregon's Voodoo Doughnut the best doughnut EVER, a friend in Seattle introduced me to the Salted Caramel Doughnut at Frost Doughnuts. A battle of doughnuts? Yes, please. In the interest of maintaining friendships, I declared those two doughnuts the two best doughnuts EVER. Truthfully, I'd be hard pressed to choose one over the other. Both are excellent examples of salty-sweet confections.

That trip to the Northwest officially kicked off my obsession with combining salty and sweet flavors. Most recently I've decided to commit some quality time to making the best salty brownie. Salt and chocolate, yum! In tomorrow's Life & Taste column, I'll talk about making these Bourbon Bacon Brownies contributed by Kat Kinsman to Food & Wine magazine.

But today is all about Amelies Salted Caramel Brownies. The recipe is from Amelie’s French Bakery in North Carolina. After it was printed in Charlotte Magazine, it became accessible to home cooks with Internet access. (Yay, technology!)

The basic brownie recipe is amazingly easy and makes a delicious almost fudge-like brownie. The caramel sauce is a bit more challenging. This wasn't my first experience with caramel sauce, but I'm most certainly not an expert. My caramel sauce turned out too gelatinous, so I would suggest using half the recommended amount of gelatin powder. When I make these brownies again, and I certainly will be making them again, I'll cut the gelatin powder to one tablespoon.

According to the Pioneer Woman this gelatinous caramel sauce has been an issue for several other home bakers, so keep that in mind if you're attempting them yourself. Even with the jelly-like consistency of the sauce, these brownies were still popular with my co-workers. In fact, one referred to them as "exquisite." (Only cameraman Joe Paull complained about the "weird" caramel.)

A few suggestions:

I lined my pan with parchment paper instead of foil and after its overnight trip to the fridge, my caramel was sticking to the paper. The directions call for foil not parchment, so I guess that's what I get for going in my own direction!

Next time, I'm also going to sprinkle fresh sea salt on top of the caramel sauce after I've poured it over the brownies. This recipe just wasn't quite salty enough for me.

Be patient. I think the hardest thing about making caramel sauce is letting it just sit in the pan without stirring it. Be brave. I washed my dinner dishes while waiting which allowed me to look at the sugar and water combination about every 30 seconds but also helped me keep my spoon away from the concoction. Safety note: Be very careful with the caramel sauce. It will badly burn you if you let it. Leave it alone until it's time to add cream, and when you're adding the cream keep your face away from the pan and make sure your hands are not in positions to be splattered.

Make these a day before you want to serve them. I started my brownies around 6:30 p.m. and after baking and cooling the brownies, making the caramel sauce and refrigerating the caramel-topped brownies, the caramel still hadn't set at 11 p.m.

Stay cool. Store the finished brownies in the fridge. They taste really good cold, and it keeps the rich fudge-like texture intact.

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