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Baked Sunday Mornings: Sweet & Salty Brownies

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I can’t believe it’s May 17, 2020. After more than 7½ years, today is my very last Baked Sunday Mornings post ever. I am in disbelief that I joined this group in 2012 and have baked through 3½ cookbooks with this wonderful group. It’s hard to put into words how meaningful BAKED in Brooklyn has been to me personally and in the evolution of my baking during these years. BAKED came into my consciousness sometime around 2019, probably shortly after their first book, BAKED: New Frontiers in Baking, was published. I was just starting to dive into baking, and this book was transformative to my understanding of cakes, cupcakes, cookies, caramel, and everything in-between. Probably the most impactful recipe for me was the BAKED Brownie. When I first made that brownie, I knew immediately (and I still feel the same way to this day) that this is the only brownie I will ever need in my life. It lives at the intersection of cakey and fudgy, and I believe it is the most perfect brownie that ever existed. That brownie is the very last recipe of Baked Sunday Mornings; I think it is the most apt recipe that the group admins could have chosen to wrap things up. It is the iconic recipe that defines BAKED. However, I have already posted that brownie on Stellina Sweets, so instead I decided to bake the Sweet & Salty Brownies from their second book, Baked Explorations. It is almost the same brownie (minus espresso powder), but with salted caramel swirled in. Somehow I have never actually made this brownie, though I’ve bought them several times when visiting BAKED in New York.

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I’ll come back to the brownies in a minute. But first I want to write a final tribute to the bakery. As I said, around the time that I discovered the cookbook, I was starting to explore baking more deeply. My first visit to BAKED around 2009 was equally transformational. I got to taste their layer cakes, bars, pastries, and of course the brownie  in person for the first time. I brought good friends to visit BAKED every chance that I got– I wanted to introduce as many people as possible to this special bakery. At home, I continued diligently baking and re-baking my favorite recipes from the book. When the second book came out, I was delighted– the next volume of BAKED recipes was even more beautiful, delicious, and creative. At some point, the group Baked Sunday Mornings came onto my radar, and I thought about how fun it would be to join– it’s basically like a book group for bakers. But I didn’t have a blog, and I didn’t think I would have time for that. Life went on for a while, and then BAKED’s third book, Baked Elements, was announced. Baked Sunday Mornings came up again at some point, and I made a decision that I really wanted to start a blog and join this group. I was excited about the idea of connecting with a bunch of other nerdy bakers who love that bakery as much as I do. So I started writing Stellina Sweets and joined BSM when the group was about ⅔ of the way through Baked Explorations, and simultaneously started Baked Elements. Instead of every other week as usual, we were baking a new recipe every weekend and I loved it. At that time, we had at least a dozen bakers participating every week– it was so cool to see how everyone’s recipe had turned out, and I made friends with several of the bakers. I also met Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, the owners of BAKED, through the group. The next time I visited New York, I met them at the bakery, and we are still friends. Fast forward a bit– Matt and Renato asked our group to be official recipe testers for their fourth book, Baked Occasions. I was over the moon at the opportunity to test recipes for not only a professional cookbook, but this particular book. When it was published, we were all invited to the book release party in New York, which was held at their upcoming new bakery location in Tribeca, where I got to meet several of the bakers I’d been blogging with for two years. Not to mention the testers’ photos are in the book, which was just amazing! No trip to New York is complete without a visit to BAKED.

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Unfortunately, the golden age of BAKED has faded. Matt and Renato parted ways as business partners, the Tribeca location closed a while back, and Renato has gone on to open a fabulous new Italian-leaning bakery/café in Brooklyn called Ciao, Gloria. I am so, so glad that I was able to visit there on my way to Spain in November. At the moment, who knows when my next trip to New York will be. Anyway, I’m so glad for all these years of BAKED recipes, for the friendships that I’ve made, and for the immeasurable learning from the four cookbooks. When I think back to what my layer cakes looked like back in 2012 compared to today, I’m kind of blown away. I remember that of all the types of pastries featured in their books, layer cakes intimidated the crap out of me. I had the tools, and I had taken classes before, but my cakes were still very amateurish and sloppy. My first BAKED layer cakes were sooo clumsy– it took many tries to get the cooked frosting right and to make them look elegant and semi-professional. But I quickly began to love the challenge of layer cakes, and I grew to have so much pride in my cake making skills, all thanks to BAKED. I know I already said this, but I cannot believe this group is winding down to an end. We used to have many bakers, and now it’s down to two or three of us per week participating. I’m happy to be one of the last faithful, and I will always be so grateful to BAKED and Baked Sunday Mornings for helping me become the baker that I am today. Here are some shots of some of my cakes from the past, starting with way back in the day (oof), with more recent ones on the bottom.

Now. Let’s talk about some brownies. As I mentioned, this sweet and salty version is very similar to the original. I first made the salted caramel sauce by boiling sugar, corn syrup, and water to a deep amber sugar syrup. I then poured in heavy cream, and added fleur de sel (flaky French sea salt). Finally, I stirred in some sour cream– I had never heard of using sour cream in caramel, but when you taste it, you simply can’t fight it. I didn’t have any on hand, but I did have vanilla bean Greek yogurt, and I was kind of surprised that it turned out great!

While the caramel cooled, I put together the brownie batter. I melted 72% Guittard chocolate with a couple sticks of butter over a pot of boiling water. Once this was all melted and smooth, I took it off the heat and added granulated and brown sugars, which took the mixture to room temperature after whisking. Next are the eggs– it is ultra, and I do mean ultra, important that your eggs be at room temperature. In the past I made the mistake of not taking this step seriously, if you use chilled eggs, you may get rubbery streaks of egg white in your brownies, as the cold eggs won’t incorporate into the batter as well. I whisked in the first three eggs, then the remaining two more, followed by vanilla extract. Finally, I added the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, salt). The batter should be thick and luxurious. Once in a while my batter turns out a bit greasy-looking and gloppy; for some reason that happened this time, and I don’t know why. I was afraid my brownies would turn out greasy, but they were just fine fortunately. The only thing different about baking this recipe versus the original brownie is that you’ll spread half the brownie batter in the bottom of your pan, drizzle salted caramel over the batter and spread it evenly, then add the rest of the brownie batter on top. Now, the instructions specifically say not to add extra caramel, even though it’s tempting… I really just couldn’t help it– I drizzled more caramel over the top and swirled it with my offset spatula before sending the brownies into the oven.

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The brownies baked for the recommended 30 minutes, though I would have actually left them in for another minute, as they were just a smidge on the softer/fudgier side, probably because of the extra caramel. But I’m nitpicking here – the brownies were absolutely delicious. Unfortunately I forgot the very last step, which is sprinkling the top with sugar and more fleur de sel when they come out of the oven. To compensate for that, I drizzled more caramel on top and sprinkled them with salt for serving. Because you can never have enough salted caramel.

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I always feel like no other brownie compares to the classic BAKED Brownie; while I still feel that way, this one is a damn close second. This is a special brownie, and will always bring back warm, fuzzy memories of the time I have spent at the BAKED bakeries and countless hours spent with their cookbooks. I will eternally be grateful to BAKED for publishing an amazing series of books, transforming my cake making, and always getting me to think a bit outside the box and trying fun twists on classic pastries. If you don’t own these books, I cannot recommend them more – they are approachable, well written, and your loved ones will thank you over and over again for the amazing treats you make them. Find the recipe for Sweet & Salty Brownies at Baked Sunday Mornings… and consider perusing the other ten years of BAKED recipes. Thank you for reading along– I’ve got lots of other baking projects in the works! 🙂

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2020.

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. This includes recipes, photos, and all other original content. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dafna Adler and Stellina Sweets with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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