Monday, September 9, 2013

DIY Caramel Brownies

Once upon a time, I met this girl named Steph.  We hit it off immediately – kindred spirits, you know the drill.  We’d stay up late talking about life and love, or the lack of either.  We were in grad school and were total nerds.

Soon after we met, fate intervened and we parted.  We tried to keep in touch, but this was not the digital age.  There may have been written letters involved.  Time passed and our lives went in different directions.  We lost touch.

Three years later, I was married and pregnant.  In a flurry of manic and sudden grown-up activity, I sent her a Christmas card.  It found her after the holidays, being forwarded at least one time to her current address.  She wrote to me, indicating that she lived in the next town over, which was a slap in the face kick you in the gut kind of coincidence, since our original meeting place was a couple of states away.

From that moment we stayed in touch and got together a few times a year, caught up on each others’ lives and experiences. 

Steph and I have known each other for sixteen years.

I’ve always felt like we were meant to meet and then meet again for several reasons.  One day early in our reunion we got together for a meal, and Steph brought brownies.

They rocked my world.  They were the best brownies I had ever eaten, and from that day on, these brownies have gone down in our history as one of the main reasons why Steph and I became friends.  In my mind. 

And with her permission, I am sharing the recipe with YOU!

Steph’s Incredible Caramel Brownies!

First, collect your ingredients:

For the caramel layer:

50 light caramels.  A 14 oz. package will work for this.  Don’t bother to count them, unless you have a small child who is learning how to count.  Then let him/her do it.  Don’t freak out if there are only 46 in the package.  These are brownies, not chemical peptides.  I don’t even know what that is.  If you’re worried about not having 50 caramels for the recipe, just get two bags.  Jeez.  You are more OCD than I am.

Chewy, gooey, delicious.

 1/3 cup evaporated milk.  Just get the small (5 oz) can for this.  Don’t be a hero.  A small can contains 2/3 cup of evaporated milk, and you will use the other 1/3 cup later.  I know this because I Googled it.  This recipe is nothing if not capable of using up full portions of the ingredients you will need.  I am nothing if not capable of Googling things.

For the brownie:

1 box German Chocolate Cake mix.  I have to say that I have never made a German Chocolate Cake, and when I eat it there is always coconut icing on the top, which because of the sole use of coconut should make it my favorite, but I have to say I’m not a fan.  The only time I actually like German Chocolate Cake is in these brownies.  And that is about everything there is to say about that.

3/4 cup margarine or butter, melted.  Now, look.  Steph’s recipe calls for margarine.  I don’t use margarine.  We are a butter-eating family.  I have never made these brownies with margarine because we simply never have it.  I’m not sure how they’ll turn out if you use melted Country Crock or your standard-issue Fleischman’s, but the recipe calls for marg and I always use butter, so whatever.  Maybe you’re one of those people who doesn’t like either and you’ll want to use coconut oil or applesauce or mayonnaise.  I am not going to condone these behaviors but I certainly can’t stop you from using whatever kind of fat you want.  These are your brownies.  I’m just trying to make your life better here but I can’t help you if you don’t help yourself.

1/3 cup evaporated milk.  This is the other half of the can you used for the caramels.  You didn’t even have to measure it, did you?  I told you so.

1 cup chopped nuts (optional).  In my opinion, nuts are always optional.  I would make an inappropriate joke about that but non-edible nuts and food don’t mesh well in my mind.  I will say that I am not a big nutty brownie girl and these brownies are awesome without them.  I won’t say that they’re any good with them because I’ve never had them with nuts.  But if you love nuts in your brownies then get a cup of chopped nuts for this recipe.  You probably won’t be disappointed, but if we were at a picnic and I grabbed a brownie and discovered that they had nuts in them, I would be.

1 cup (6 oz. package) semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I have never seen a 6 oz. package of chocolate chips, but this recipe is pretty old so they probably don’t even make them anymore.  And to that I say good for you, chocolate chip producers, because who needs anything less than 12 oz. of chocolate chips anyway?  In our house there are always chocolate chips, which is the source of both joy and sorrow in my life.

Got your ingredients?  Good!  Next, here’s what you do.


Grease and flour a 13x9 pan.  I hate this step of any recipe.  I don’t use cooking spray because it says to grease and flour.  If you think cooking spray will work, do it.  And then let me know how it turns out.  But as for me and my brownies, we will grease and flour.

Combine the dry cake mix, margarine, 1/3 cup evaporated milk, and nuts.  Stir by hand until the dough holds.  You’ll know what I mean about the “dough holding” when you do it.  It will look like a soft ball.  Here’s a funny story.  The first time I made these brownies, my in-laws were visiting.  I was reading the recipe and when it said “Stir by hand” I simply put my hands in the dough and mixed it up, squishing it through my fingers.  My mother-in-law probably thought I was a maniac or gross or both, and mostly likely hoped that my hands had been washed.  Later I realized that “Stir by hand” probably just meant use a spoon or spatula and not a mixer.  I am kind of dumb sometimes.  These days I just use a spatula.

This is only half of the dough.
I get ahead of myself and forget to take pictures sometimes.
But at least you see what it means when I say "the dough holds."

Press half of the dough into the prepared pan, and bake at 350 for 6 minutes.  This part is hard; I’m not going to lie.  It’s kind of a pain because the dough will slide over your greased pan a little, and when you press it down it will press through to the bottom and you will have to cover up the bare spots on the bottom with more dough.  Just do your best and hope for success.  You are a star!  And I know what you’re thinking: bake for six minutes?  That is not enough time!  I know, it doesn’t sound like enough time.  But it is.  I would not lead you astray.

This is after the 6 minute baking time.
It's a little bit jiggly.  Just like most things around here.

Combine caramels and 1/3 cup evaporated milk in a saucepan, and cook over low heat until caramels are melted.  Stir constantly.  Probably the most charming part of this recipe is that it never says to prepare the caramels before you do anything else.  Let me be clear: you will have to unwrap 50 individually wrapped caramels for this recipe.  It will not be fun and it will take a long time.  Your fingers will be sticky.  You will want to eat them as you unwrap.  Stay strong.  If you only have one bag of them you cannot spare even one.  If you have helpers you are smart, but you also must instruct them not to eat the caramels.  Slapping little fingers who bring unwrapped caramels to their owners’ mouths is not part of this recipe, but it should be.

Unwrapping caramels is a thankless job.

Especially when you're not allowed to eat any.

High-maintenance caramels meet their demise.

When they finally submit, they will look like this.

And then this will happen.

Take the crust out after 6 minutes.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips over it.  Then, spread the caramel mixture over the chocolate chips.  Place small pieces of the remaining dough over the caramel, and carefully spread to cover the caramel.  Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes.  Things are about to get real here.  The crust will be jiggly and puffy, the chocolate chips will melt and the caramel will threaten to destroy everything.  Stay in control.  Placing the dough in pieces over this mess and then trying to cover the caramel/melted chocolate chips will make you want to rethink your life and why you are on this journey in the first place.  Then you will get it all finished and you will finally exhale, and it will look like you are about to bake a pan full of ground meat and melted cheese instead of the best brownies you will ever have in your life.  When they are finished baking they will still jiggle a little bit because one of the main ingredients is melted caramel, for goodness’ sakes.  That stuff won’t harden in the heat, silly!  I think the last batch I baked, I left them in the oven for more like 20 minutes until the edges looked done.  But whatever.  You do what you think is right.


Caramel!  And dough pieces!

And spread-out dough pieces!
That look like hamburger!  With cheese!

When finished baking, set out to cool.  When brownies are still slightly warm, refrigerate for 30 minutes to set the caramel.  Cut into squares.  Let’s get serious here.  I have finished these brownies like this, but honestly what I usually do is let the pan sit on my counter for an hour or two, then I cover it and stick it in the fridge for a few hours, or even overnight.  I like to cut them when they are cold all the way through.  I cut off the edges first and then cut them into squares, especially when I’m taking them somewhere, because these brownies are not for looks and they are slightly improved in that department if you cut off the edges.  Plus they shrink quite a bit while cooling.  Remember: these are brownies, not angelfood cake.  And you know what?  Store them in the fridge while you’re at it.

Just out of the oven, they're still jiggly.
And puffy.  Don't be fooled.  They will  cool, then deflate.
It's sad, really.
Into the fridge!

Waiting to be cut. Finally, brownies that look like brownies!

And Voilà!  You are done.  It was a labor of love, wasn’t it?  A love that is unsurpassed, because you just made some kickin’ caramel brownies, courtesy of my friend Steph.  Except when I asked her if I could use the recipe for my blog, she admitted that it wasn’t her recipe at all, but that she got it from another friend.  Which, sigh.  I’m not the FBI, people.  I can’t track everyone down.  Just enjoy your brownies.


It's breakfast brownie time!


  1. When you asked if you could post my brownie recipe, I had no idea you were going to include the "story of us". It brought a few tears to my eyes to read how you described our meeting and friendship . . . and I feel the same! It was pretty remarkable how we ended up close by each other again . . . but, alas, I had to ruin a good thing and move several states away again :( I do feel, though, that we will continue to reunite throughout our lives! Ah, the power of a good brownie :)

    1. I love that you commented first on this! The story is too good not to tell, and when I bake these brownies I always think of you. And we will continue to meet again. Who knows where our children will go to college?

      You are so right. A good brownie can be VERY powerful. :)

  2. So sweet! (Both the story of your friendship and the delish-looking brownies. These look awesome and totally worth peeling all the wrappers off the caramels.

    1. Thanks Kim! It never fails when I make them that the caramel wrappers seem to mock me. But you're right - the brownies are worth it.

  3. My husband is a brownie fiend! I'm going to have to try this. But I'll have to make my own caramel because I can't find caramel squares in Malaysia. I'm also going to have to figure out how to make it from scratch since I'm opposed to cake mix (not that I'm holding it against you). I will follow your awesome directions though!

    1. Making your own caramel might be quicker than unwrapping all those candies. And I can't help you with the German Chocolate Cake mix. I'm pretty sure it's not made with actual Germans.

  4. This looks surprisingly complicated! Maybe that's because I don't have caramel chips and would have to make that GF cake from scratch. But it does look good. Friendships have been formed over less.

    My dad had a roommate in Indiana University. They lost touch. We moved across the street from his family in Syracuse, NY. Yes. That.

    1. That is an amazing story! I love small world stories. Did your dad and his old roomie continue to be friends?

      I didn't realize that the recipe was so complicated until you mentioned it. It is a lot of steps. I think I see as easy because there are so few ingredients, and you don't have to measure much. But yes, there is a lot of hands-on action.

  5. This sound divine....and you are utterly hilarious. You need your own cooking show.

    1. Thank you - I would love to have my own cooking show! I would make meatloaf and bake from recipes that I steal from old friends. There was a picture that I decided not to use that showcased my work surface, which in itself is comical. There were wads of paper towels, the empty cake mix box, the receipt and bag from the store, several knives, and a box of Ritz crackers. I don't know.

  6. those look DELISH!

    and I love that you got back in touch with your friend. i have done that with a few pals via facebook recently and it is SUCH a great feeling.

    1. I know, right? Getting back on touch with old friends is so great. And they are delish, and I need to stay away from them.

  7. "I love you for your brownies" - ha! They totally do look amazing. Worth keeping a friendship for, for sure.

    1. I've kept friendships going for much less, certainly. :)

  8. Best recipe post ever - you need to vlog.

    1. That would be interesting, and fun! There sure would be a lot of editing!

  9. I love those twists of fate that bring friends back together again ... and especially how conversation can pick up right away without that awkward period, despite how long it has been.

    Having a new awesome brownie recipe as a result is icing on the cake!

    1. You are so true! I think a great friend is one who you can pick up with where you left off no matter how much time has gone by.

  10. Looks like I have a new recipe to try for my dad's annual Christmas/birthday cookie delivery! I'm dying laughing at your running commentary throughout. That's exactly how I write up recipes (have one in draft).

    1. I can't wait to read it! Let me know how the brownies turn out.

  11. I don't think I've ever laughed so much reading a recipe. These look AMAZING.

  12. You couldn't have posted this before I gave up the sugar?

    1. I KNOW, right? Pin it and sock it away for the one time you really want to cheat a little.