Sometimes I pop back into my former life for short term projects, that glamorous churn and burn business world where I spent so much time. A place where a typical work day means sitting at a desk for long periods, a closet full of shiny new office supplies and real honest-to-god lunch breaks that don’t involve questionable meals eaten standing over the stove. It’s a bit of an adjustment. I actually do enjoy my forays back into that world and let’s be honest, the pay is good and this girl has a penchant for pricey plane tickets and exotic sojourns. One of the biggest challenges, however, is to stay focused as I don’t live in that world full time anymore and have a tendency to let my mind wander off on new food-related ideas. Today’s post is the result oF one of those afternoon musings and it’s a good one.
I had just hit the vending machine for an afternoon sugar hit and was reminded of something that happened many years ago. I was working at a hip ad agency and sat in on an internal meeting to discuss some candy brands on our client roster. The account person was young, as we all were at the time, and felt the need to sell the room on what made each brand unique. At one point, while discussing the Payday brand, she cited some statistics and then launched this little gem, “Most importantly, Payday is the number one selling non-chocolate candy bar in the country.” Now if there’s one thing I know, it’s candy and this struck me as the most inane thing I’d ever heard.
Quick – name another non-chocolate candy bar. Quick. Could you? My point exactly. Part of my role in those days was to be diplomatic but since it was an internal meeting, i.e. no clients, I’m pretty sure I said something snarky. Probably something along the lines of “Is this a one-horse race?” I do remember asking for clarification on where that brand stood amogst all candy bars, because that would have been important to know. You’re not going to increase much market share by converting Munch buyers. Needless to say, Young Trixie wasn’t very fond of me. To this day, everytime I see a Payday, I laugh. But I digress.
On my last freelance gig, I frequently found my mind wandering by mid-afternoon, unaccustomed as I am to sitting still for long periods of time. My solution was to go for a quick walk to get the blood flowing and clear my head. This particular building has a great little mini-mart on the ground floor with a fantastic candy selection that never fails to delight. Old school favorites like Oh Henry!, 100 Grand, Laffy Taffy in all flavors and colors, regular AND chewy Spree, Big Hunks, Chunky and something I hadn’t seen in years – Toffifay! Remember those?! On the bottom shelf, low enough that you really have to look for them, are a big box of my favorites – Whatchamacallit. I do so love that candy bar.
I brought one back to my desk and slowly devoured it while answering my email. A faintly peanutty crispy layer, topped with a thin bit of caramel and a chocolate coating. It’s delicious. It was long gone as I started putting together a timeline, but the wrapper I casually tossed aside kept pulling my focus. That flavor combination would make a great cookie. No … wait! A brownie! A deep fudgy base, topped with peanut butter rice krispies, a bit of caramel and a layer of dark ganache to gild the lily. Sounded fantastic.
So that’s what I did. It took a few tries to get it just right but I have to say, these are pretty great. It’s a bit tedious as there are four separate components to be made for the layers but the only one even slightly tricky is the caramel but that’s just because you need a candy or digital thermometer. You can spread the steps out over a few hours or even over a few days. There’s no rush. There is one thing I’m going to call out though – do not make the mistake of packing down the crispy layer. The urge is to press it down, nice and even but if you do that, the layer is really dense and hard. It needs a little space so resist that urge.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: MY OH MY. How can turning something you absolutely adore into something even better not be fantastic? This was my own nostalgic little triumph and made me immensely happy, which is really the point of stress baking anyway. I was right on point. In fact, I had to give these away for fear I would eat every single last bit.
Makes one 9”x9” pan
for the brownie base:
4 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ¼ ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (2 ¼ squares)
2 ¼ ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (60%+ cacao)
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
3 Tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
for the caramel layer:
6 Tablespoons heavy cream (3 ounces)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon vanilla (or vanilla paste)
1 ½ Tablespoons light corn syrup
½ cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons water
for the crispy peanut butter layer:
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup miniature marshmallows
¼ cup creamy peanut butter (not natural style)
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups crisp rice cereal
for the chocolate ganache topping:
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (60%+ cacao)
¾ cup heavy cream (6 ounces)
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
- Brownie base: line a 9”x9” straight sided baking pan with aluminum foil, crossing one piece lengthwise and another piece widthwise to create a sling (this will make it easier to get the bars out of the pan later.)
- Spray the foil with cooking spray and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the lower third.
- Melt both chocolates and the butter together until smooth either over a double boiler or in a microwave in 45 second burst at 50% power, stirring between bursts until smooth.
- Stir in the sugar and salt until combined.
- Add the beaten eggs and vanilla, stirring until combined.
- Sift in the flour and beat in with a wooden spoon until smooth and glossy.
- Pour into the prepared pan and bake 20-25 minutes until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with moist crumbs.
- Set on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes then chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.
- Caramel layer: Have a candy thermometer and a glass of water ready next to the stove (for the thermometer.)
- Bring the cream, butter and vanilla just to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Turn off the heat and let sit until needed.
- In a heavy saucepan (preferably silver or light colored so you can see the color of the sugar as it caramelized), stir the sugar, corn syrup and water until combined then bring to a boil over moderate heat.
- Cook over medium-high, uncovered, without stirring but gently swirling pan occasionally, until the sugar is a deep golden color, about 10 minutes. Keep in mind the darker the caramel, the deeper the flavor. (Careful! Caramel will go from golden to burnt very quickly.)
- Immediately take pan off the heat and carefully pour in the warm cream – the mixture will bubble and steam vigorously.
- Stir until combined, then put the pan back on the heat and continue to boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 245°F on a candy thermometer, about 12-15 minutes.
- A few degrees before 245°F remove the brownie layer from the fridge. When the thermometer hits 245°F, remove it from the pan and put it in the glass of water (easy clean-up later.)
- Immediately pour the caramel over the brownie layer and tilt the pan to get a nice even surface.
- Chill until firm, at least 15 minutes.
- Crispy peanut butter layer: Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat.
- Add the marshmallows and stir until melted and well blended.
- Add the peanut butter, vanilla extract and salt and stir until smooth.
- Remove from heat, add the cereal and stir until fully combined. (I found it easiest to gently knead with lightly greased hands after the inital mixing.)
- With a greased spatula or hands, spread the mixture evenly over the caramel layer in the prepared pan. Don’t pack too tightly or the layer will become dense and hard – keep it fairly loose but try to cover the surface somewhat evenly.
- Chill at least 15 minutes.
- Chocolate ganache topping: Melt chocolate until smooth either over a double boiler or in a microwave in 45 second burst at 50% power, stirring between bursts until smooth.
- Heat the cream over medium-high to a boil.
- Pour hot cream over the melted chocolate and stir with a spatula until smooth, mixing in the corn syrup at the end.
- Let the ganache cool 5 minutes stirring occasionally to help cool and prevent a skin from forming.
- Pour the slightly cooled ganache over the crispy rice layer, smoothing with an offset spatula.
- Chill for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze to set.
- To cut: grasp the edges of the foil and lift the brownies from the pan.
- Remove the foil and place the brownies on a cutting board. Have a clean towel nearby.
- With a sharp knife (a 10” chef knife is perfect) cut firmly and cleanly to the desired size, wiping the blade clean between cuts. Keep in mind these are rather rich so smaller pieces are usually better.
- Brownies are best served at room temperature but take care stacking, as the ganache is soft and sticky. Store, tightly wrapped & refrigerated, for up to 1 week for best results. Let come to room temperature before serving.