Baking has always been a sort of an enigma to me. The precision, the finicky instructions, the volume vs. weight measurement debate – they all confuse and irritate me. Perhaps this is because I tend to cook by the seat of my pants. Perhaps I’m simply too thick to follow directions. Maybe… but I’ve made more complicated desserts with success in the past. It’s fun, sometimes, to venture out and tackle the technique-heavy world of pastry. But a part of me always knows that I make these things to prove something, or to have a story to tell. Let’s be honest, I would never make macarons or homemade puff pastry to satisfy my late-night munchies. Those aren’t what I love to make, what I crave on the regular (for both taste and nostalgia).
[Insert a generic emotional backstory about my grandma/dad/some relative baking hodgepodge cakes and cookies for the family]
Imagine, if you will, your dream dessert. Some amalgam of everything you love in sweets. Maybe it includes crispy, salty pretzels, smothered in a smooth, so very sweet chocolate coating. Or are you more of a fruit person? Imagine warm, spiced apples, a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting into them. Are you imagining it? Can you almost taste it?
That’s what I like baking to evoke for me. That dessert of my not-so-wildest imagination. Little thought, just instinct. There is a time and place for creativity in the kitchen, and now is not that time.
And so, I present to you my absolute perfect dessert. The treat I bring to any gathering or friendly function. What I used to say thank you to my neighbors down the hall for helping me move my furniture. Peanut butter brownies topped with, for the purpose of this blog post, ice cream and peanut butter caramel sauce (because this peanut butter addict is never satisfied).
To be frank, I barely adapted this from my normal go-to brownie recipe – a recipe I posted over two years ago on my seldom updated YouTube channel. Trust me when I tell you that the peanut butter swirl makes all the difference. It melts into the already fudgy, chocolaty center, adds yet another wonderful saltiness. And, let’s be real, chocolate and peanut butter were made to be combined.
Think of the caramel sauce as a better version of salted caramel, with an extra nuttiness that makes it hard not to spoon into your mouth. Like liquid gold made from your local jar of Jif.
But at the end of the day, this is a brownie recipe. I added a couple steps to make it the perfect brownie recipe. There’s a glossy top, three forms of chocolate, and you’ll have it made in thirty minutes.
If you decide to eat it as I made it, with all the fixings of ice cream and sauce, then prepare for what I can only describe as the feeling of home encompassed in a bite. Cold, velvety ice cream, sticky caramel, fudgy brownies. And peanut butter. So much peanut butter.
This is what love is.
Peanut Butter Brownies
(Makes about 12 brownies)
1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, diced
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I used 72%), finely chopped
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips.
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
Preheat your oven to 350° F.
Microwave the chocolate and butter for three 30-second intervals until mostly melted. Stir to get all those last lumps.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar (I used an electric mixer) until thick and a pale yellow, almost like a custard. Whisk in the melted chocolate, vanilla, and salt. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and gently fold until just incorporated. Do the same with the chocolate chips, just mixing them in until they’re evenly distributed.
Pour the brownie batter into a 9×9 inch baking pan lined with parchment paper. Spoon the peanut butter over the batter so that there are about nine little pockets. Using a knife or a spoon, swirl the peanut butter throughout so that you have beautifully marbled peanut butter throughout.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Peanut Butter Caramel Sauce
(Makes about one cup)
½ cup sugar
1 stick (4 oz.) butter, diced
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup creamy peanut butter (make sure to use an emulsified one — I used Jif natural)
½ teaspoon sea salt
Cook the sugar in a saute pan over medium-high heat until it starts to turn golden brown. Sway the pan around and cook for another three minutes. Add in the butter and whisk until melted. Take the pan off the heat and carefully pour in the heavy cream while continuously whisking. Be careful, the caramel is very hot!
Once the sauce is creamy, add in the peanut butter and sea salt and whisk until smooth.
To serve: Pile on the brownies, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a drizzle of the caramel sauce, and some crushed peanuts. Dig in.