Back to Basics – Whole Wheat Bread

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Whole wheat bread is our favorite around here. Rarely do I make white bread and I usually throw at least a little whole wheat flour in just about every baked good I make. To the uninitiated, baking with whole wheat flour can be fraught with issues: dry, dense bread and crumbly loaves. There are a few tricks in the trade that can make the difference between stereotypical dense, dry whole wheat bread and light, soft bread that tastes mildly of nutty whole grain goodness.

If you have never baked bread before, check out my post on white bread first. Baking with whole wheat can be just a tiny bit tricky and it helps if you are already familiar with yeast and the steps of making bread.

White whole wheat flour
When I first started baking with whole wheat, way back in the early 90s, I only had access to standard whole wheat flour. It was dark and strongly flavored and if I wasn’t careful it made heavy, overly wheaty bread.

Then I discovered a new product: white whole wheat flour. It is a different strain of wheat from regular whole wheat and it was a revelation. White whole wheat is basically albino wheat. And its flour has all of the nutrition of regular whole wheat flour with none of the bitterness. It is usually ground as finely as all-purpose flour, which helps make baked goods come out with a texture similar to white flour products.

That said, if you have traditional whole wheat flour, as long as it isn’t stoneground, your bread will turn out very similar to mine. It will, however, be a little darker and have a stronger flavor.

A word on stoneground flour
Don’t get me wrong, stoneground flour is a wonderful product. And if you are used to baking with it, it can produce lovely baked goods. But if you are a novice baker, you probably want to wait to use stoneground flour until you have at least a few loaves of bread under your belt. Stoneground flour requires a little more liquid, a longer rest time and a light hand with flour during kneading.

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Bran and its challenges
The problems most people have with whole grain baking (not just whole wheat) stem from the bran in the flour. Whole grain flour is the whole grain, ground into flour. That sounds a little obvious, but stick with me. Because you have the whole grain, you have the bran and the germ, along with the rest of the kernel (called the endosperm). White flour contains only the endosperm. The germ has lots of nutrition and a little fat (the good kind) and doesn’t really affect the texture of the bread. The bran contains most of the fiber in the grain (which we all want to eat more of) and is what can cause problems when baking with whole wheat flour.

Bran absorbs liquid slowly. This can cause an issue if you mix your whole wheat bread dough exactly as you would mix white bread dough. If you don’t build in extra time for the bran to absorb the liquid you can end up with heavy, dense bread.

One simple trick solves all, though: a rest period. Mix up the dough, including all of the whole wheat flour, and then stop. Cover the bowl and do something else for fifteen minutes. It doesn’t matter what. Wash the dishes. Start a load of laundry. Or take a rest yourself. While the dough is resting, the bran will have plenty of time to soak up all the liquid it wants. When you come back, your batter-like dough should have firmed up just a bit. Now you can proceed with the rest of the recipe without worry about adding too much flour.

That’s pretty much it. Start with white whole wheat flour, which you can find in any grocery store. Take a pass on stoneground flour until you have a little baking experience. And give the dough a rest. Now all that’s left to do is get your ingredients and your bowl ready. Just think, in about two hours you can have your very own loaves of warm, soft whole wheat bread. The butter is waiting.

Download or print the recipe.

Basic Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
Homemade Bread Cookbook
Makes 2 loaves

If you don’t have 9 by 5 inch loaf pans, you can use a large baking sheet. Follow recipe directions for shaping and simply place the loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet, far enough apart so they have room to rise. Bake as directed, but for only 20-25 minutes.

2¼ cups milk
3 cups whole wheat flour (white whole wheat or regular)
2¾-3½ cups all-purpose flour, approximately
1 package instant or active dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons)*
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

*Be sure you don’t buy rapid rise yeast. That particular yeast only works in recipes written specifically for it. Look for instant or active dry yeast packets in the baking aisle of the grocery store.

Heat milk until very warm (120-130 degrees). It will feel very warm if you test it with your finger. If it is hot, let it cool a little before you use it. Combine the 3 cups whole wheat flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and warm milk. Stir vigorously until well-mixed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 10-15 minutes. This will allow the whole wheat flour to absorb more of the liquid and help guard against adding too much flour during kneading.

Add 2½ cups of all-purpose flour gradually, about a cup at a time. The dough will become stiff and hard to stir. Continue to work in flour until the dough is firm enough to knead. You might need up to an additional cup of flour, but try not to make the dough dry.

Lightly sprinkle a kneading surface with flour. Turn dough out of the bowl onto the flour. Flour your hands and start to knead, adding sprinkles of flour as needed. If you are used to baking with white flour only, the dough might feel a bit rougher to you and not quite as bouncy. It is supposed to feel like that.

Knead gently at first: pull the far side of the dough toward you and fold over, pressing it away from you with the heels of your hands. Turn dough a quarter turn and repeat. When dough is less sticky, you can be less gentle. At first you might need to scrape your kneading surface with a rubber spatula if dough sticks. Add flour as necessary to the dough and your hands to prevent sticking. Try to add flour gradually, only until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands. Knead the dough 5-8 minutes or until it is no longer sticky. It will become smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a large bowl (at least 3 quarts). Place the ball of dough in the bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. You don’t want the dough to dry out while it is rising. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 60 minutes. I like to use the turned-off oven with the light on. It gets surprisingly warm.

While the dough is rising, lightly grease two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans.

If you aren’t sure if your dough is doubled, poke your finger into it at the edge. If the hole doesn’t fill in immediately, your dough is ready. Turn the dough out onto your kneading surface and knead briefly to press out any large air bubbles. You shouldn’t need any flour.

Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, flatten the dough into a rough rectangle about 9 inches wide (as wide as your pan is long). Starting from one 9-inch side, tightly roll the dough into a cylinder. Pinch the seam and the ends closed. Roll the top side against the surface to smooth. Turn seam side down and fold the ends under slightly. Place in pan, seam side down. Repeat with the second half of the dough.

Lightly cover the loaves with a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Let rise at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or until the middles of the loaves are about 1 inch above the tops of their pans.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while the loaves are rising.

Bake the risen loaves for about 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Check the loaves after 20 minutes, and tent loosely with foil if the tops are browning too fast.

Remove loaves from the pans and cool on wire racks. Try to wait at least a few minutes before cutting into the loaves. Ideally wait until they are fully cool before slicing. You are going to want to sample your bread before it cools. I know you are. That is fine, but be very gentle when you slice the warm loaves or you will crush them.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container or ziplock bag. Homemade bread dries out much faster than commercial bread. Slice loaves and freeze if keeping for longer than a couple of days.

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Decadent Fudge Cake for Easter

DSC_0012For the last several years I have made a lamb-shaped cake for my family’s Easter dinner. Last year I did a yellow cake, baked in the two halves of the open mold. The year before I made a carrot cake in the closed mold. Both years I made a tasty cake, though not without a few mishaps.

This year I decided not to mess with the potential frustrations of the lamb pan. I have a new swirly bundt pan that I am using every chance I get, so I used that to bake a chocolate cake. I didn’t expect any of the family to even notice that the lamb didn’t make an appearance.

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Boy, was I wrong. Everyone wanted to know what kind of lamb I had made this year. And everyone remembered the lamb from two years ago with his head held on with skewers. But they were all suitably impressed with the chocolate cake and the cool shape from the pan.

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The cake. Oh the cake. I have made this cake before, but this time it was at its best -darkly chocolate, slightly crispy on the outside, especially on the ridges from the pan, but very fudgy on the inside, almost like a flourless chocolate cake.

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This cake started out as a recipe from a card I received in the mail, which I have since lost. Companies used to send out sample recipes for monthly recipe clubs you could subscribe to. The internet sounded the death knell for these clubs. I never subscribed to one, but I did make this cake, with a few changes. The chocolate I use is darker than the original, I increased the vanilla and I changed margarine to butter. And I eliminated the fussy chocolate and white chocolate leaves that the original cake was topped with. The cake can certainly stand on its own, with no embellishment.

The cake uses chocolate syrup, which I rarely buy. I would like to find a substitute for it, since I just used up the last of the bottle to make the cake. It provides some liquid, some sugar and some chocolate. I am playing around with the idea of more buttermilk and a little cocoa, though maybe not more sugar, to make the cake even darker. Or I could just leave it out and see what happens.

I want to do some experiments, but I need to have another holiday or party so other people can help us eat the cake. If you have any ideas for substitutions, send them my way.

Download or print the recipe here.

Decadent Fudge Cake
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 12-15

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
4 ounces 70% chocolate
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks butter (8 ounces), room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
⅓ cup chocolate syrup (like Hershey’s)
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heavily grease a 10-inch bundt pan and set aside.

Melt the baking chocolate and 70% chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler. Set aside to cool. Stir the baking soda together with the flour in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter with the sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy and no longer grainy – 3-5 minutes.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

Add about one-third of the flour mixture and mix well. Add half of the buttermilk and mix again. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk, ending with flour. Mix in melted chocolate and chocolate syrup until well mixed, with no streaks of plain batter remaining. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top. The batter will almost fill the pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, until the top springs back when touched. Bake the shorter amount of time if you want the middle to be slightly fudgy.

Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges of the cake with a knife or thin spatula and turn out onto a serving plate. Place the plate on a wire rack and cool until room temperature before covering.

Dust cake with powdered sugar just before serving. Cake keeps well at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with a Twist

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I have a favorite chocolate sandwich cookie that I make every so often. It started out as a basic cookie, until I tinkered with the recipe. I increased the cocoa and decreased the flour. Later, after more taste testing, I replaced some of the cocoa with some black, extra dark cocoa I had ordered from King Arthur Flour. Perfection. Darkly chocolate, slightly crunchy cookies surrounding creamy vanilla filling that tastes slightly of butter. After a day or two in an airtight container the cookies get slightly softer, which I really like.

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If you don’t want to buy special cocoa for these, they are perfectly good with only natural cocoa powder. I have seen a few different kinds of darker cocoa in the grocery store, next to the regular cocoa. I have only used natural cocoa and a little of the black cocoa, as noted in the recipe, but feel free to experiment. If you use only natural cocoa your cookies might be a lighter brown than the pictures, but they will still taste fabulous.

The last time I made the cookies, we were brainstorming different fillings we could try. We came up with cinnamon, cherry and bacon. Cherry and bacon were a little more complicated than we wanted to mess with that day, so we decided to try cinnamon. I will tinker with the bacon and cherry possibilities some day soon.

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I wanted some cookies with plain vanilla filling, so I divided the filling in half and added cinnamon. I started with ¼ teaspoon, but it was barely discernable. So I doubled it. The cinnamon flavor was stronger, but I thought it might get lost against the dark chocolate of the cookies. So I added another ¼ teaspoon. Perfection – richly cinnamon without straying across the line into too spicy.

I started out dolloping a tiny portion of filling onto the middle of a cookie and then gently squishing the filling flat with a second cookie. While this made a pretty cookie, with smooth edges on the filling, there wasn’t enough filling. I went back to my old method of smearing the filling on and adding the top cookie. Not as neat, but definitely a better ratio of cookie to filling.

I could have pulled out a piping bag to pipe the larger amount of filling into the middle of the cookies, but that was way more complicated than I wanted to get. Full disclosure: I have used my piping bag just a handful of times over the 10 years I have had it. Maybe someday I will get inspired to use it more often, but I’m not holding my breath. If you want picture perfect cookies, you can certainly use a piping bag. But I’m in favor of saving the time and cleanup and eating my slightly less-than-perfect cookies that much sooner.

Download or print just the recipe.

 Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
From 365 Great Cookies and Brownies
Makes 45 small sandwich cookies

If you want to bump up the chocolate flavor a bit, you can substitute 2 tablespoons of dark or black cocoa for 2 tablespoons of the natural cocoa. This is totally optional, but really good.

Cookies:
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup natural cocoa powder (see headnote)
¼ teaspoon salt

Vanilla Filling:
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk, approximately

Cinnamon Filling:
1½ teaspoons cinnamon for the full recipe
¾ teaspoon cinnamon for half the recipe

Do not preheat the oven. The dough needs to chill before baking.

Beat the ½ cup butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again until well combined and light. Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt and mix on low speed until dough is smooth.

Divide dough in half and shape each half into a long log, about 1¼ inches in diameter. Make the logs as smooth and uniform as possible so your cookies will be uniform. Wrap the dough logs in parchment paper or plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

While dough chills, make the filling. Beat the 2 tablespoons butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined. Add milk, a teaspoon at a time, until the filling is light and fluffy.

If you are making the cinnamon filling, add the cinnamon now. Use 1½ teaspoons cinnamon if you want to make all the filling cinnamon. If you want half vanilla and half cinnamon, divide the filling in half and use ¾ teaspoon cinnamon in one half. Beat the cinnamon filling until uniform in color with no lighter streaks. Cover the filling(s) and leave at room temperature until ready to use.

When the dough is chilled preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease.

Work with one log at time, leaving the other one in the freezer until ready to slice. Use a sharp knife to cut the log into ¼-inch, or slightly thinner, rounds. Try to keep them uniform so they all bake at the same rate. Place the rounds fairly close together on the prepared baking sheets. They do not spread or rise very much at all.

Bake cookies, one pan at a time, for 5-6 minutes, or until they are firm to the touch, but not hard. The cookies will not change color, but they will puff very, very slightly.

Remove baked cookies to racks for cooling. When cookies are room temperature, spread 1-2 teaspoons of filling on the flat side of one cookie. Top with another cookie and gently press the cookies together. Leave filled cookies on the wire racks until the filling dries and sets up a bit, at least an hour. Store cookies in an airtight container for several days, or freeze for longer storage. The cookies will soften slightly after the first day.

Note: If you want to make the dough ahead of time, make four shorter logs and slip them into a ziploc bag. If it is tightly wrapped, you can freeze the dough for a month or so before using. Slice directly from the freezer and bake as directed.

Sweets for Your Sweetie

Not sure if you’ve heard, but Valentine’s Day is Friday. How could you miss the diamond commercials, the restaurant specials and the greeting card ads? I don’t buy into the idea that we have to get candy, flowers or jewelry to recognize the day. I really think Valentine’s Day should be more about celebrating however you like.

Rich and I sometimes go out for a date night dinner, but the last few years we have decided to cook at home and treat ourselves to a homemade dessert. Some years we make the expected decadent chocolate treat. Other years we go for something more non-traditional.

I have a few suggestions if you want to make something sweet for your sweetie, or yourself.

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If you want to have some fun, and make something impressive, try making your own candy hearts. They are much easier than they look. If you can play with play-dough, you can make these.

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For a supremely easy treat, try snickerdoodle bars. If you feel fancy you can cut them into hearts instead of bars.

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Try toffee bars for another easy treat that combines caramelly goodness with chocolate.

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If you feel like something a little more involved, try my version of zebra cakes. This is a great group project to share with your family or your better half.

We are still deciding what to make for our dessert this year. We do know we are having steak, baked potatoes and roasted green beans for the main event.

What are your plans for Valentine’s Day?

Twice Baked Potatoes

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You can’t really go wrong with potatoes and cheese. And if you brown the cheese it’s even better.

Rich and I had a date night a few weeks ago and we were looking for something that was tasty, but not too indulgent. We are still coming off our holiday indulgences and are happy with lighter meals. We decided on spuds and salads, but we wanted to jazz up the potatoes just a bit. Twice baked potatoes to the rescue.

The potatoes are a nice change from regular baked potatoes and are only a little more work. You can cut the work down even further if you use leftover baked potatoes – it is easy to throw a few extra potatoes in the oven for later in the week.

Twice baked potatoes are the epitome of a customizable dish. Make them early in the day, or even the day before, and stash them in the fridge until ready to bake. Or make them right before you want to eat them. Use less cheese, or more. Add bacon, chives, green onions, garlic or bits of whatever you have in the fridge. I kept the recipe pretty basic, but feel free to make it yours.

What’s your favorite way to eat baked potatoes?

Print just the recipe here.

Twice Baked Potatoes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

Use more cheese if you like your potatoes really cheesy.

You can make bake, mash and fill the potato shells ahead of time. Store them in the fridge until ready to bake them the second time.

4 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
1 egg, slightly beaten
2-4 tablespoons milk
Salt
Pepper
1 cup grated cheese (Cheddar, Swiss or a combination of your favorites)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake potatoes for about an hour, or until they are soft when poked with a fork. Cool potatoes until you can handle them comfortably. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the insides of each half, leaving about ¼ inch shell of potato inside the skin. You don’t have to be precise. Set potato shells aside.

Mash the scooped out potato with a fork or potato masher. Try to get most of the lumps out, but don’t get obsessive. Add the egg, about 2 tablespoons of milk and a few sprinkles of salt and pepper and mash again. If the mixture seems too dry, add a bit more milk and mash again. You want a mixture that is a little wetter than mashed potatoes.

Mix in about ½ cup of cheese. Reserve ½ cup of cheese for topping the potatoes later.

Fill the potato shells with the cheese-potato mixture, mounding the tops fairly neatly.

Place the filled potato halves on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet, propping the potatoes against each other if they won’t stand up.

Bake the potatoes at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, or just until the tops are starting to turn golden brown in spots. Remove the potatoes from the oven and sprinkle the tops with the reserved cheese. Return to the oven for 10 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Broil the tops for a couple of minutes if you want the cheese browner.

How to Evaluate a Recipe

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I have had several conversations lately about how to decide if a recipe is worth making. Recipes are everywhere and it isn’t always obvious which ones will give good results.

A simple online search for just about any recipe brings up thousands of results. Not all of them are worth making. Some are not tested, some contain inaccuracies and others don’t give you enough information or direction. Many are just fine. Some are spectacular. The same goes for recipes in cookbooks, magazines and newspapers. Just because a recipe is in print doesn’t mean it will necessarily work. A few simple tricks can help you determine if a recipe is worth your time and effort.

First, read through the whole recipe, including the directions. Are the ingredients listed in the order you use them? If they aren’t that is a red flag. Recipe convention is to list the ingredients in order of use. If the ingredient list is all over the place, the results might be too. It is overstating it a bit, but if the recipe isn’t carefully written, you should wonder if it was carefully crafted and tested. You don’t have to automatically pass by a recipe written like this, but make sure everything else checks out before you make it.

Read through the directions to make sure you understand how to do everything. If you don’t, check any accompanying pictures or headnotes to see if they help you. Sometimes recipe authors assume you have skills or experience that you don’t. If you really don’t understand what you are supposed to do, you might want to find a recipe that is more detailed.

Check to see if the proportions of ingredients are similar to other recipes. If you have never made a dish before, compare the amounts of ingredients from several recipes for that dish online or in cookbooks. If one recipe has ingredient ratios that are wildly different from most of the others, you might want to skip that one.

This is not a comprehensive list, by any means. But these are the steps I follow when I am searching for recipes. No, they are not foolproof. I have certainly made some bombs. But for the most part, these are starting points for finding good recipes, both online and in print.

How do you decide if a recipe is worth trying?

Fudgy Toffee Brownies

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These brownies should be called, “The Brownies That Must Not be Named.” I apologize to J.K. Rowling. The minute you even talk about the brownies, your blood sugar will rise and your arteries will clog just a bit. But they are worth it.

I started out with the idea of making caramel swirl brownies for Rich for his birthday. I wanted to make them even more of a special treat, and make the caramel for the topping. I have never made caramel candies, only caramel sauce, so I went in search of a recipe online. I should have done a tiny bit more research into the chemistry of candy making before deciding on a recipe. And of course, no recipe I found did exactly what I wanted, so I tweaked one recipe and combined it with another, which is a big no-no in making a new recipe. The kitchen gods were smiling though, so the results were fabulous, though unexpected.

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The caramel cooked up into a thick sauce-like concoction. Halfway through the brownie baking time, I drizzled them with our caramel attempt and a sprinkling of chocolate chips. Once they came out of the oven I added a sprinkle of very coarse salt.

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The brownies baked up soft and fudgy, with a buttery lusciousness supporting the expected chocolate. The topping reminded us of a soft toffee, with a thin, crackling crust on top and a sugary toothsomeness under the crust.

The topping made more than I needed for the recipe. I kept the proportions the same in the posted recipe, so you will have leftovers too. Once cool, the mixture thickened into a sweet mass of soft praline-like candy that is wonderful on pretzels, graham crackers and fingers. I’m sure you’ll figure out how to use it.

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Download or print the recipe here.

Fudgy Toffee Brownies
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12-15 brownies

I topped the brownies with chocolate chips and coarse salt. They were icing on the cake, so to speak. Feel free to leave them off.

Toffee topping:
1¼ cups sugar
¼ cup water
5 tablespoons heavy cream
5 tablespoons salted butter, cut into 5 pieces
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Brownies:
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
6 tablespoons salted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour

Additional toppings:
¼ cup chocolate chips, optional
coarse salt, optional

Make the toffee topping before making the brownies. Stir the sugar and the water together in a 2-3 quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Swirl occasionally or stir very gently. Do not scrape down the sugar that collects on the sides of the pan, or you might re-crystalize the mixture and have to start over. Measure out the cream and the butter and set them next to the stove.

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Once sugar comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium or slightly higher. Swirl the pan or stir only if one part of the mixture starts to darken before the rest.

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The sugar will turn golden and then amber colored. Try to let it darken until is a dark amber or caramel color, but not dark brown. Watch it. It can go from dark amber to black in no time. The whole process should take about 10 minutes from the time you turn on the heat.

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Remove the pan from the heat and add the cream. It will bubble up and the cream may seize into a hard mass for a second. Don’t panic. Just stir fairly quickly, without splashing, and it will combine.

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Add the butter, once piece at a time, and stir it in as it melts. Keep stirring until all the butter mixes in. Add the vanilla and stir again. Set the toffee topping aside to cool while you make the brownies.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch square pan.

Melt the chocolate and the butter together in a large bowl in the microwave. This should take about 60 seconds on high power. Stir until the chocolate totally melts and the mixture is smooth.

Stir in the sugar and vanilla until smooth. Add eggs and beat until well combined. Stir in flour until no white streaks remain.

Spread the brownie batter in the greased pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and drizzle the toffee topping all over the top of the brownies. You probably will not use all of the topping. See end of recipe for suggestions on using the remaining portion.

Sprinkle the top of the toffee topping with the chocolate chips, if using.

Return the brownies to the oven for about 15 minutes, or until middle is barely jiggly and the edges are puffed and pulling away from the sides of the pan.

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Remove brownies from the oven and sprinkle with a few pinches of coarse salt, if desired. Cool to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack. The top of the brownies will crackle and parts will sink as it cools. This is fine.

Cut into small squares and serve. Store in an airtight container for several days.

You will have about ½-¾ cup of the toffee topping left over. Dip pretzels in it, warm it up and pour it on ice cream, spread it on graham crackers or just eat it with a spoon.