Caramel-peanut-topped brownie cake

There was supposed to be a compromise about the cake for my husband’s and my daughter’s joined birthday celebration. But there was not. Because my husband, a peanut butter addict (as well as a coffee addict – but that’s a different story) really wanted this cake. He used some very grown-up arguments, and when they did not work, he used some arguments worthy of a five year old. And in the end he simply overruled. She’ll have another birthday party with her classmates, when she can choose whatever cake she wants and he’s not allowed to say a word. But he won’t – his mouth is glued together with the leftover caramel.

Caramel was the reason I was drawn to this cake as well: I had made it only once, some twenty years ago (in highschool), but the only thing I remember was cleaning the sides of the pan with a pastry brush. So I considered myself a caramel novice and followed the instructions closely. My caramel took almost twice as long to reach the “dark amber” stage, but that was probably because I was too timid and kept the heat low. But it turned out perfect – just as the cake.

Just one word of caution: I unmolded the cake twenty minutes after topping it with caramel ( just like Dorie said), but the topping immediately started running down the sides. I quickly put the sides of the springform back and let the cake stand until visitors came which was more than an hour later. By that time the caramel was still soft enough to allow the sides to be easily removed but it stayed more or less on top of the cake.

Everybody loved the cake, of course, from our three-year old nephew to my still-young-in-spirit father-in -law. And my daughter did not admit liking it, but cleaned her plate anyway.

Caramel-peanut-topped brownie cake
From Dorie Greenspan: Baking
makes 10 servings
For the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
3 tbsp. light corn syrup
½ tsp. vanilla extract
For the topping:
2 cups sugar
½ cup water
1½ tbsp. light corn syrup
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup salted peanuts
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter an 8-inch springform pan, dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment paper. Place the springform pan on a baking sheet.

To make the cake, combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl; whisk together and set aside. Add the butter and chocolate to a heatproof bowl set over simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients are just melted – do not let them get so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugars until well blended. Whisk in the corn syrup, followed by the vanilla. Add in the melted butter and chocolate mixture, and whisk until combined. Gently whisk in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are just incorporated. The batter should be thick, smooth and shiny. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and jiggle the pan a bit to even out the batter.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a thin knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 15 minutes, then run a thin knife between the cake and the pan and carefully remove the sides of the springform. The cake may have puffed up during baking, but don’t be concerned if it develops a crater in the center while cooling. Allow to cool to room temperature. When the cake is totally cool, invert it, remove the base of the pan and peel off the parchment paper. Wash and dry he the springform pan and return the cake to it right side up. Refasten the sides around the cake.

To make the topping, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring just to combine the ingredients. Place the pan over medium-high heat. Heat, without stirring, until the caramel turns deep amber, 5 to 10 minutes depending on the size of your saucepan and the intensity of the heat. As the sugar is caramelizing, wipe down any splatters on the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. To test the color of the caramel, drop a bit onto a white plate. Don’t be timid about the color – if it’s too pale, it won’t have much flavor.

Lower the heat a bit and, standing back from the saucepan, add the cream and butter. When the spatters are less vehement, stir to calm down the caramel and dissolve any lumps. Stir in the peanuts and pour the caramel and peanuts into a 1-quart Pyrex measuring cup or a heatproof bowl.

You will have more caramel than you need, but you want to get all of the peanuts onto the cake, so spoon all of the peanuts out of the hot caramel and onto the top of the cake. Pour or spoon enough caramel to cover all the nuts, drizzling a bit over the edges of the cake for presentation. Allow the topping to set at room temperature, about 20 minutes (or longer – see above), before serving. Keep the leftover caramel at room temperature and save for another use.

At serving time, you should be able to run a blunt knife between the caramel and the pan and simply remove the sides of the springform. If it isn’t the case, hit the sides with some hot air from a hairdryer or wrap the sides in a towel moistened with hot water.


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