Folks sometimes ask what inspires my recipes. Such a hard question. Anything and everything is my truthful response. I am almost always thinking about food.
This brownie recipe, for instance, was inspired by the following nearly concurrent events:
- Sampling goat’s milk cajeta in a Mexican grocery store in Portland.
- Making cajeta myself.
- The All Chocolate! All Month! celebration at LunaCafe.
- Plan to work cajeta into a brownie recipe for the celebration.
- A Brownie Throw Down on The Food Network, which the Vermont Brownie Company won with their chevre brownie.
I had been procrastinating for weeks testing the cajita brownie idea, but something jelled with that throw down. Immediately after the show, I dashed into the OtherWorldly Kitchen and whipped up my Ultra Chewy Brownies (will post later this month) but with a few twists that would hopefully enable the batter to hold over 2 cups of caramel and chevre-cream cheese mixture, without becoming a gooey mess.
I liked the idea of chevre in the brownie (rather than in the caramel), but I didn’t want it to be too dominant, so I combined it with cream cheese and then added lemon to brighten the flavor.
Instead of making cajita (which takes a full hour and a quart of goat’s milk), I whipped up a creamy caramel, taking the sugar almost to burnt.
Then the only thing left to consider was how to combine the three elements—brownie batter, caramel, and chevre-cream cheese filling. I spread half of the brownie batter into the pan, spooned the caramel in dollops on top and then spooned the chevre mixture into the spaces between the caramel dollops. After spreading the remaining brownie batter on top of the caramel and chevre, I attempted to cut through it with a spatula to swirl the caramel and chevre mixture underneath. That worked only marginally well, however.
Next time, I will keep the caramel in the middle but spoon the chevre mixture on top of the final layer of brownie batter. Swirling it will be much easier this way and create a pretty contrast on top of the brownies. The caramel doesn’t need to be swirled; it seems to go all over the place on its own.
So there you have it: a wonderful new recipe unfolding out of the everyday occurrences of an ordinary life. As with all artistic endeavors, simply pay attention, connect the dots, and jump into action when inspiration strikes. Something delicious always comes of it.
LunaCafe’s Burnt Caramel & Lemon Chevre Brownies
The flavor contrasts here are sophisticated and marvelous. I wouldn’t hesitate to serve these brownies to the most discriminating dinner guest. The bittersweet chocolate layer is deeply flavored with the addition of unsweetened cocoa powder and espresso. The caramel is just shy of burnt with a complexity that pairs beautifully with the chocolate. The periodic hits of sharp, creamy lemon chevre filling are surprising and delightful. Every bite brings a different combination of the elements.
Even though these brownies are very rich, it’s hard to stop eating them. You have been warned.
SERVING NOTE These brownies need time to set up before removing from the pan and attempting to cut them. So be sure to bake well ahead of when you plan to serve them. I think they are even better one or even two days after baking.
Burnt Caramel (recipe below)
Lemon Chevre-Cream Cheese Filling (recipe below)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour to coat the baking pan
6 ounces best-quality, bittersweet chocolate (70-75% cacao)
1 cup King Arthur unbleached, all-purpose flour
¼ cup best-quality unsweetened, natural cocoa powder (not alkalized or Dutch process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
- Prepare Burnt Caramel and cool to room temperature. You can speed this up by putting the pan into an ice water bath, being careful of course not to get any of the water into the caramel.
- Prepare Lemon Chevre-Cream Cheese Filling. Reserve.
- Line an 8- by 8-inch, light colored, metal baking pan with aluminum foil, and then lightly butter and flour the foil, tapping out excess flour. Don’t be tempted to forgo the aluminum foil here. The caramel sticks to the pan like crazy. (A 9-by 9-inch baking pan will also work here as the batter rises to the rim of the 8- by 8-inch pan.)
- In a glass bowl or measuring cup, melt the chocolate in a microwave, giving it two 30 second intervals to begin with and then 10 second intervals thereafter, stirring after each interval with a dry spatula, until the chocolate softens and can be stirred smooth with a chopstick or narrow flexible spatula. (Be careful not to introduce even a drop of water into the chocolate during this process or subject the chocolate to too much heat, or it may seize and become irretrievably crumbly, rather than creamy and smooth.) Cool chocolate at room temperature to just barely warm.
- In a mixing bowl, sift the flour, cacao, and baking soda together. Whisk thoroughly to distribute the cocoa powder and baking soda. Reserve.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugars, and corn syrup until pale and creamy, a full 3 minutes.
- Add the vanilla, espresso powder, and salt, and blend well.
- Add the egg and beat until incorporated and creamy, about 1 minute.
- Add the cooled chocolate and mix briefly to incorporate.
- Add the flour mixture to the batter and pulse just until combined.
- Spread half the brownie batter evenly into the prepared baking pan.
- Spoon mounds of Burnt Caramel evenly over the brownie batter.
- Spread the remaining half of brownie batter over the caramel mounds. You will need to spread gently in order not to mix the two layers.
- Spoon mounds of Lemon Chevre-Cream Cheese Filling on top of the brownie batter. Using a knife or tip of a rubber spatula, gently swirl the two batters together to that they are mixed but not completely blended.
- Tap the pan hard several times on the counter to level the layers.
- Bake at 350 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.)
Makes 16 brownies, about 2-inches high.
This is a beautiful, thick caramel that is taken almost to a burnt sugar edge in the caramelization process. If this is your first time making caramel, you will want to aim for a medium-amber rather than a dark-amber color. The latter takes a bit of practice. Just a shade too dark, and the caramel will have a bitter edge to it, which is not desirable.
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup water
¾ cup heavy cream, room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- To caramelize the sugar, in a 2-quart saucepan, combine sugar, cream of tartar, and water in a small saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves and the syrup clears. To prevent crystallization, do not rush this first step; use a pastry brush dipped in cold water to wash down the sides of the saucepan.
- When the sugar is fully dissolved, raise the heat, bring the syrup to a boil, and stop stirring. Continue heating without stirring until the syrup turns a medium-dark amber color. (An instant-read thermometer will test at 340°, but color alone is a better indicator.)
- Remove from the heat and carefully add the cream and then the butter. The mixture will foam and sputter, so be very careful. When sputtering subsides, stir with a silicon spatula until smooth.
- Return to a boil and boil until the mixture reaches 250°. Add the salt and incorporate.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
- To cool the caramel rapidly, pour it into a 4-cup glass measuring cup. Set the cup into a ice water bath, making sure that no water gets into the caramel while it is cooling.
Makes about 1 cup thick-set caramel.
Lemon Chevre-Cream Cheese Filling
This filling is excellent with chocolate brownies or cupcakes.
4 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces fresh mild goat cheese
¼ cup sugar
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 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 and juice.
- Dollop the entire amount in mounds over the top of an 8- by 8-inch pan of brownie batter and swirl in, or top individual cupcakes with about two teaspoons of the filling.
Makes about 1½ cups.
More blondie and brownie recipes from LunaCafe
- Oh You Great Big Beautiful Blondie
- Chewy Gooey Congo Bars (Blondies on Steroids)
- LunaCafe OtherWorldly Silky Fudgy Brownies