Fudgy, ultra-chocolatey brownies kicked up with a salty pretzel crust and caramel drizzle. Want to win a bake off? This is your guy.
Have you heard? Have you heard the news about Great British Bake-Off? Have you? Have you heard it? Of course you have, I imagine it’s all people are talking about down your way. It’s certainly all they’re talking about in our neck of the woods. Of course, the show is not technically ending, but it’s been bought by Channel 4 and won’t have Mel, Sue, or Mary, and will no doubt be presented by Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell and Paul Hollywood all exploding in an underground parking garage or something. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, bless your very face, and go and find an episode or three. It’s shown on PBS in the US, and they have to call it “The Great British Baking Show” because apparently Pillsbury has a legal lockdown on the term “Bake Off” and will send goons, floury goons, to give you a right drubbing should you flout compliance.
The Great British Bake Off (#gbbo) was a baking contest on the BBC set in a tent in the garden of a manor house somewhere in England, presented by Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc and judged by bakers Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. The season starts with twelve competitors – just normal Brits who happen to be decent bakers, none of your professional chefs here – and every week the competition is whittled down by one until the final when one person is declared winner and given a plaque. That’s it. But what I’ve missed out there is the essential nature of the programme, the twee middle-class loveliness and daft puns and people dropping their flans on the floor, helping each other out when they only have two minutes to pipe their creme pat into their eclairs or stick a gingerbread house together.
The first week, you don’t really know anyone’s name and when the first person gets kicked out you don’t care too much, but by week 3 you are BY GOD invested in every single one of these people and it could be YOUR NAN in that tent struggling over a soggy Jammie Dodger and pretty much every week you just bawl when someone is eliminated, and bawl even harder when someone’s not eliminated and they get interviewed saying “I thought I’d be sent off, I didn’t think I was worth anything but they’ve showed me I can do it”. Frankly, I’m bawling just writing this and I have to take a moment to wipe the snot off my keyboard. As enthusiastic as we at Nerds with Knives are about baking, we would not hold a candle against anyone in the tent, and would be roundly sent off in week 1, with nobody knowing our names. Here’s to all the star bakers out there.
On a happier but related note, it’s bake sale time of year again! Last year we made Five-Layer Magic Bars for the local For Goodness Bake pop-up sale run by Kristen Pratt and Tara Tornello and a team of volunteers. This year they helped raise funds for the Beacon Community Kitchen which delivers meals to local people in need. Bake sale goods should be easily divided into pieces, not be too goopy, they need to pop off the plate screaming “Buy me! Eat me!” and of course should be really tasty. Our contribution this year is Ultra-Chocolatey Brownies with a Pretzel Crust and Salted Caramel Drizzle.
We hadn’t used a pretzel crust for brownies before, and I can tell you it was a big hit. We’ve used a salted graham cracker crust for lemon bars and other hand-held dessert treats, but I think we’ll be using this variation a lot more from now on. We also use well-greased parchment paper to line the brownie tin, to avoid the base burning or sticking.
The final part of this brownie is the caramel and chocolate drizzle. It gives it another level of pizzazz, and also keeps the pretzel glued on top! Sometimes we like subtle flavors but honestly, for a bake sale, go for the crowd-pleasing stuff, give ’em a show. (Those child teeth are going to fall out anyway, so let’s send them off with a fanfare.) You’ll want to find plain, chewy caramels – usually these come in a bag of individual pieces, avoid anything with added flavors like mint or coffee. We combined this with a drizzle of melted semi-sweet chocolate chips.
These brownies we made on the large side so that we could fit a mini pretzel on top of each, but you could definitely reduce the size of each one and top them with broken pretzel pieces.
Our chicken Olive contributed to the eggs we used in baking, and what’s funny is that our friends Kit and Nate, unbeknown to us also made brownies for the bake sale, also made with eggs from their chicken, who is our chicken’s sister, and who is also called Olive. (Other chicken names are available.)
A few tips:
- Don’t over-work the batter once you add the flour. You don’t want to develop the gluten which would make them tough. Just stir enough to incorporate and call it a day.
- Lining the pan with a slightly large piece of parchment (or foil) doesn’t just helps with clean up, it also allows you to lift the brownies straight out of the pan. None of that chiseling away with a spatula.
- Don’t over-cook them. You want them just ever-so-slightly gooey in the center. Since every oven is different, don’t just rely on the time. The best way to tell is the toothpick test – insert it into the middle and it should come out mostly clean with just a little chocolate sticking to it. Better to err on the side of slightly under-done.
- Be careful with the hot caramel but work quickly or the pretzels won’t stick.
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups mini salted pretzel twists (1 cup crushed, 100g)
- ½ cup packed light brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
- 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), melted
- 2½ cups granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
- 4 large eggs
- 1¼ cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch, if possible)
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
- 12-16 small mini pretzels twists, if desired
- 2-3 oz semi or bittersweet chocolate chips
- 12 soft caramel candies
- Flaky sea salt
- Preparation: Line a 9x13x2 pan with parchment. Preheat oven to 350ºF
- Make pretzel crust:
- In the bowl of a food processor add pretzels, pulse a few times until moderately fine crumbs form (a few larger pieces are fine). Add flour, brown sugar, and baking soda. Pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse again until mixture looks like wet sand. Tip mixture into the bottom of the parchment- lined baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.
- Make brownies
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or large mixing bowl) beat the melted butter, sugar, espresso powder and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly blended.
- In a medium bowl add flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Whisk until no lumps of coca power remain. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour/cocoa powder mixture into the butter/egg mixture until blended. Don’t over mix. Stir in the chocolate morsels. Spread the batter evenly over the pretzel crust.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until top is crackly and an inserted toothpick comes out mostly clean (some batter n the bottom is fine). Remove, and set pan on a wire rack. Cool pan fully before cutting and drizzling toppings.
- Make and drizzle topping: Note: Make sure brownies are fully cool before topping.
- Cut brownies and lay them close together on a sheet of parchment or foil.
- In a small glass bowl, add caramel candies. Place bowl in microwave set on half power setting, Heat in 10-15 second bursts, stirring between each one until candy is fully melted. Dip a spoon in and drizzle all over brownies. Working quickly while caramel is hot, gently press pretzels into caramel, one for each brownie.
- In a separate bowl, repeat process with chocolate chips. Drizzle melted chocolate over brownies (of drizzling with the spoon doesn’t work, add melted chocolate to a zip top bag and snip one corner off). Sprinkle with just a little flaky sea salt and serve.