Vail baking column: Elevate the common brownie to dazzling dessert
VAIL CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
How do you elevate a bar cookie to the status of a dazzling dessert? Start with a moist, fudgey, pecan-studded brownie that’s impressively good on its own and take it over the top by adding a filling of rich, thick caramel, (known as dulce de leche). Served with chocolate sauce and another dose of caramel, it’s a mighty fine way to end a meal.
Happily, the cook will be as pleased with this dessert as those to whom it’s served. It takes only about 30 minutes of active time to make, doesn’t require hauling out your electric mixer, waits patiently in the refrigerator for days before you need it, and is as appropriate at a casual picnic as it is at a dinner party. I think it’s a real winner.
Unfamiliar with dulce de leche? It’s sweetened milk that is heated slowly until the sugar caramelizes and the mixture thickens. Commercially made, it’s available in most grocery stores as well as in the grocery section at Walmart.
Dulce de Leche Brownie Cake
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Adjusted for Altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
Make in a 9 1/2 inch fluted tart pan with one inch or higher sides and a removable bottom
3 ounces of good bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
14 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons of cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons of superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
3 large eggs at room temperature
2 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
3 ounces of cream cheese, (don’t use non-fat) at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of flour
A pinch of salt
1 cup of toasted and cooled pecan pieces or coarsely chopped pecans
1 14 ounce container of commercial Dulce de Leche
1/2 cup of chocolate sauce, homemade or commercial
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Generously grease the pan with a vegetable oil-flour spray, line the bottom with a round of parchment or waxed paper, and grease the paper.
Coarsely chop the chocolate and place it in a microwaveable mixing bowl. Cut the butter into quarter-inch pieces and add them to the bowl. Microwave on a medium-low temperature (I use #4 out of 10 settings) for 30-second bursts, until both ingredients are almost fully melted (only small lumps are visible). Remove from the heat and stir until the mixture is fully melted, smooth and shiny.
Gently whisk in the cocoa until fully incorporated then add the sugar and whisk until completely blended and smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until well mixed after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Cut the room-temperature cream cheese into small pieces, add them, and whisk until only tiny bits remain. Use a rubber spatula to stir in the flour and salt, stopping as soon as they are fully absorbed into the batter. Fold in the pecan pieces.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smooth and level it. Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet and bake only until the batter is set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Start checking at about 30 minutes. Don’t overbake! While the cake bakes, grease a dowel (I use the end of a wooden spoon) or other round object that is about a quarter of an inch in diameter. Place half of the container of dulce de leche in a reclosable quart-sized freezer bag, seal the bag, and knead the outside of it to soften the dulce de leche. If necessary, microwave the bag briefly on a very low heat setting. The dulce de leche should be soft but not liquid.
When fully baked, remove the cake from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. Immediately and carefully, poke holes (insert the greased dowel, twisting it gently) about an inch apart all over the hot cake’s surface and going all the way to the bottom. Push the softened dulce de leche into a corner of the plastic bag, snip the corner with scissors, and pipe the dulce de leche into the holes, filling them completely. Let the filling settle and refill any holes as needed. Once the cake has cooled, refrigerate it for about an hour, until the filling is firm. Remove it from the refrigerator, gently invert it onto a plate, remove the pan and the paper pan liner, and re-invert the cake on a serving platter, or, if not serving it immediately, return it to the tart pan, cover, and refrigerate it. The dessert can remain in the refrigerator for five days.
When you’re ready to serve it, let the cake come to room temperature, cut and plate it. Warm the remaining dulce de leche and the chocolate sauce, drizzle them prettily, one after the other, over the pieces, and serve.
This is a variation of a recipe by Rose Levy Berenbaum.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.