Today I’m guest posting on Frosting for the Cause.  This is a really amazing site featuring a different guest blogger every day sharing a story about someone in their life who has been affected by cancer.  Please head on over to read my story and get the recipe for these turtle brownies I made in memory of my mom.  (Note: I’ve since included my post and recipe below because of malware and other warnings I get whenever I visit the Frosting for the Cause website).  

I wish I didn’t have a reason to post on Frosting for the Cause. I wish I didn’t feel so extremely familiar with cancer having encountered it on a personal level three times in my 28 years. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I was diagnosed with and treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma when I was 18 years old. Five years later I lost the best grandfather anyone has ever had to pancreatic cancer. And before all of that, my mom lost her battle with liver cancer when she was 39 years old. I was 10, and my brothers were six and four. Losing my mom at such a young age was without a doubt the most life-altering event I have ever experienced. It shaped the rest of my childhood, my career path, and the person I have become.

When we experience a loss of such magnitude, it is very easy (and also natural) to focus on the negative. I won’t lie – I still think constantly of the moments I wish Mom was here for. Our wedding, my graduation from medical school, and the births of her grandchildren just to name a few. With every milestone comes a little sadness created by her absence. I think of her constantly throughout the holidays as I remember how much she enjoyed the season. I know she loved cooking and baking and I wish we had been able to share in that joy together. I can just imagine us talking and laughing together in the kitchen as we prepared some new recipe we couldn’t wait to try. But dwelling on the negative never makes me feel better. Instead, I try to focus on the positive. I do my best to live every day to the fullest, and cherish every moment I spend with my family and friends. I try to make things happen and achieve my goals instead of putting them off until later because really, who knows if we’ll get be around later? And I do my very best to honor Mom’s memory. Since I’ve lived more of my life without her than with her, I don’t remember as much about her as I wish I did. But I do remember that she had a great sense of humor, a fantastic and infectious laugh, and an incredible love for life and fun.

One of my most vivid memories of mom is from when I was fairly young and Mom was pregnant with one of my brothers. Throughout her pregnancies she craved ice cream, specifically turtle sundaes. We would go to our favorite local ice cream shop and be waiting in the parking lot before they even opened at 10 am. As a child, you can imagine how completely awesome I thought this was. My mom – letting me eat ice cream – at 10 in the morning. I loved being the first customers in the shop, and that the owner knew what Mom’s order would be.

When deciding what recipe to share on Frosting for the Cause, I knew I wanted to make something that Mom would have loved. It only took a moment of thinking before this memory came to mind, and so I settled on turtle brownies. It is a combination of her favorite sundae and one of my favorite treats in one awesome dessert. I thought of her the whole time I baked these brownies, and then I donated them to the hospice that cared for her during the final months of her life. Though nothing will ever make it easier to live in a world where my mom doesn’t exist, continuing to remember her and live in a way that would make her proud is all I can do. And so, I made these brownies.


For the brownies:
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup (16 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tbsp. cocoa powder
6 large eggs
2½ cups sugar
4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans

For the caramel sauce:*
1 cup sugar
1¼ cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
¼ tsp. coarse salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the ganache:
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¼ cup heavy cream

*Note: These recipes will make more caramel and ganache than you need for the brownies. But really, when was it ever a bad thing to have extra caramel or ganache?


  • 01

    To make the brownies, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.  In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Set aside to cool.


  • 02

    In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt; whisk until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the warm chocolate mixture until incorporated. Then stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until just combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread with a spatula to make an even layer. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, maintaining the oven temperature, and sprinkle the chopped pecans over the top of the brownies. Gently press the pecans into the batter. Continue to bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, about 10 minutes more. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature.

  • 03

    To make the caramel, spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium-low heat, watching carefully. When the sugar begins to liquefy around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to gently stir it towards the center. Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted, taking care not to over stir. Measure out the heavy cream in a liquid measuring cup and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream. Set aside. Once the caramel reaches a deep amber color, immediately remove the sauce pan from the heat. (To test the color, spoon a drop onto a white plate or bowl.) Carefully whisk in half of the heavy cream along with the vanilla bean seeds. The mixture will steam and bubble violently. Stir until the cream is well incorporated, then whisk in the remaining cream. Stir in the salt and the vanilla. If any sugar has hardened, place the saucepan over low heat and whisk until smooth. Set aside and let cool slightly.

  • 04

    To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a small bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan or the microwave. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes. Whisk together until a thick, smooth ganache forms.

  • 05

    Drizzle the caramel sauce and warm ganache over the cooled brownies. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill for about 2 hours. Use the edges of the foil to lift the brownies from the pan. Remove the foil and cut into 24 or 30 pieces. Serve and enjoy.