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.


  • Awesome recipe, I am actually drooling.

    Also, what a lovely website! Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Nicole G

    My husband would love these! Thank you for sharing such a personal story. Your mother was beautiful and from the brief stories you’ve shared of her, she seemed like a wonderful woman and loving mother. What a wonderful way to remember her.Best wishes.

  • I love reading Frosting for the Cause. I know what it is to live without an immediate family member there for the big moments, and it is hard. Thank you for sharing this. And thank you for the delicious recipe!

  • Nancy

    Brownies look delicious. I love the “play-by-play” pictures. Glad it brought me to such a great website with wonderful recipies. Can’t wait to get home and try some!

  • Beautiful post Annie. Those brownies look amazing. I have no doubt your Mom is shining down with such pride at who you have become.

  • Didn’t know that website existed, it’s great to have guest posters sharing their stories, and thank you for sharing yours. Love these brownies!

  • These brownies look wonderful, thank you for sharing your touching story.

  • Kathleen

    That was a beautiful post and tribute to your Mom. The brownies look wonderful!

  • Amanda

    I always think you and Davy look so much like your dad, and that Steven looks like your mom. In this picture- I TOTALLY see you and Davy. Your mom was wonderful and I miss her!!

  • Liz N

    The turtle brownes look amazing and I’m sure you did your mother proud! Thank you for sharing your story which was heartwarming and beautiful to read. Your story, your love for food and amazing photos are what make your blog so successful with a loyal following, including myself.

  • Elizabeth

    Awesome recipe but i really wanted to say that you look so much like your does your son.Im sure she is looking down beaming with pride at what a wonderful daughter,sister,wife and mother you have become!!

  • Those brownies look amazing. Thanks for sharing, both your story and the brownies. It was a very touching post… I wish you and your family the best.

  • These brownies are lovely!

  • Beautiful post, thanks for sharing!

  • Stacy Gilmore

    Your story made me cry ,it trully touch my heart. I don’t know personally but I know your mom and grandfather are proud of you and are always watching over you.

  • Hi Annie! I love reading your blog and often use your recipes at family gatherings. I just read your blog at Frosting for the Cause and I was interested to see you are a Hodgkin’s survivor. I am also a Hodgkin’s survivor (diagnosed at age 25) and almost 4 years in remission. I am glad to see you have gone onto have a family and remain active. I enjoy your positive outlook on life and your baking skills!

  • OW! I just read this post and I didn’t put 2 and 2 together. hahaha. I did my post on August 20th for frosting for the cause! Great recipe and wonderful story by the way!

  • That was a wonderful post, Annie. I also lost my mom early to cancer, and your story resonated with me. I still remember one of the last things she enjoyed eating was an apricot tart that I made for her.
    Your brownies look wonderful and I have to make them for myself.

  • Alyssa

    Such and adorable photo… you still look the same. :)

  • Paula B.

    One of your best posts ever Annie. Sharing with all my friends, thank you.

  • I must say that the brownies look absolutely amazing. Also, your kids look JUST LIKE you when you were little!!! So cute!

  • JILL Haggerty

    I’ve always been impressed by your “go get ’em” attitude and your humility. My husband is in medical school, we also have two kids, a very busy life and I’ve wondered many times, as I love the food on your blog, how you manage to balance and do all that you do. You’re inspiring. Thank you for sharing something so dear and encouraging me to “go get ’em” instead of just continuing to think about it! :) What you wrote made me think of this…

    I’m not trying to be weird, and I respectfully realize with a religious reference you probably won’t be able to post this, but it is really just ment for you anyways. I hope you read it. I think it really describes you well and how you are trying to live your life.

    Anyways, as always, can’t wait to try this one. We always enjoy your eats! Thanks.

  • Christina

    What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your story. I can’t wait to try these brownies, and will think of you and your mom when I do.

  • These brownies look great. That photo of you and your mom is adorable. She was absolutely gorgeous.

  • Melissa

    Wow Annie, what a story! I also, lost my mom at a young age (I was 2) and can really relate to the way you feel. I too think about all of the moments I’ve needed her, my dad did a wonderful job with 3 girls, but something has always been missing. Anyways Annie, these brownies sound amazing!

  • linda

    Annie, Such a beautiful post full of memodries and love–isn’t that just what life’s journey is all about? You are a special, talented, and remarkable woman. Thank you

  • Kelsey

    I made these tonight for my little brother who loves turtle candy! he loved them so no doubt your mom would’ve loved them too:) however, i cheated and used storebought caramel instead of making my own, because i don’t know where to find vanilla beans. are they in normal grocery stores?

  • Nadia Mustapha

    Very sorry you had to go through that ordeal at such a young age. My family has genetically inherited cancer, breast, stomach and colon, and I also lost a parent, whom I miss a lot. Please look after yourself.

  • Annie –
    I have been following your blog for a long time now. I am always eager to take 5 minutes to myself and look at your beautiful creations. They are inspiring! This post, however, hit close to home for me. I am 38 years old, a mother of 5 beautiful children (15 yrs – 11 mo.) and as of last February, a breast cancer survivor.
    I was touched by your story and experience and wanted to thank you for sharing it. It is not an easy thing. I have a feeling that your mom is very proud of you and is very aware of all the wonderful things you are doing. Thank you for all that you share.
    Danae Shill

  • Annie I’m so touched. I sometimes don’t think about the stories that come with the people I read about. Your mom is beautiful and I know she’s proud of you. I love how you turned a cherished memory into a recipe :-)

  • Joelyn Wong

    Hi Annie,
    Having recently read your previous post on cancer back in 2008 and Frosting For the Cause, you continued to warm our hearts (and stomach!) with with all the goodness from your kitchen and your heart. Thank you and keep pressing on ~ p/s totally agree with you on having a super cute Caroline helping you out, she is so adorable.

  • Annie

    Wow, thank you for sharing. I cannot even imagine all you have been through. I wish you continued health and happiness.

  • Annie

    Kelsey, you can find them in grocery stores in the spice section. However, they are usually sold in a bottle of only one or two and are outrageously overpriced. If you bake much you might consider ordering some online. I get them from Amazon and they are much, much cheaper not to mention I then have enough to last for a long time.

  • Judy

    Annie, I completely adore your post on “Frosting for a Cause”. Thanks for sharing your thoughts feelings. I will be making these brownies very soon.
    judy williams

  • Emily Clark

    God bless you Annie. What a nice tribute to your mother. The picture of you two is darling. Thank you for sharing this, and for all you do through your blog. You constantly amaze me with what you put together! Thank you!

  • Nandini

    Hi Annie,
    Your story and the way you have decided to focus on the positive aspects of life is very impressive.
    I am sure your family is very proud of your achievements. I am a recent follower of your site and am loving getting to know you & your recipes better.
    Wishing you a wonderful life, with lots of cooking companions in your life (your daughter, granddaughters, etc)

  • Kelsey

    thank you, I want to make the vanilla bean cake next! your blog has the best recipes; I’m only seventeen but I love looking for more dessert recipes to make for my brother and my dad!

  • Tamara

    Annie – Thank you for sharing your story. Your Mom was beautiful!

  • Christina

    Thanks for such a great story! Your mom would be proud of all you have accomplished! I made the turtle brownies tonight and my family loved them!

  • Chandan

    Hi Annie,

    I read your blog almost everyday. love the blog. your beautiful family. Love the picture of you with your mom.

    I am from Bangladesh. I used to live in Texas about 20 years back. I love to cook too.

    Take care. Stay beautiful & happy as always.

    lots of love

  • Maggie Donaldson

    Wonderful recipe and such a lovely photo, Annie. Your mother’s warmth and beauty shines through

  • I tried your recipe yesterday and honnestly this is the best brownie I have ever eaten ! Thank you again for sharing both your story and the recipe.

  • Annie you are truly an amazing young woman and an inspiration for so many. Thank you for your beautiful post on Frosting for the Cause. Your graciousness and strength of spirit reverberates through your words and I cannot express how much I appreciate you having shared so much with all of us.

    Your brownies are truly decadent and I’m sure will be re-created in countless of kitchens.

  • Pandagirl047

    I can’t find the recipe please help I must make these!!!

  • annieseats

    Follow the link in the post.

  • Moddsquad

    I can’t find the recipe either! I followed the link, then clicked on the date. What came up was something about dried beans. Help!

  • annieseats

    Visit Frosting for the Cause. Search turtle brownies.

  • Nikishep

    I cannot find this recipe either! The link doesn’t work, nor does “searching” for “frosting for the cause”…it only brings you back to this page without the recipe :(

  • annieseats

    I tried it myself. Go to Frosting for the Cause. Search “turtle brownies”. Comes up right away.

  • Carlos

    Hello Annie, I’m texting you from Spain, could you post a white chocolate brownie recipe, please? These brownies look amazing!

  • Connie Voelker

    I just came across your blog a few days ago… you are amazing Annie! I have lost both of my parents and I wont even touch the thoughts of they not being there when I have kids, or when I marry,… You deserve all the good things on this earth, for being so strong and for your wonderful blog!

  • annieseats

    Thank you Connie! You re so sweet. So sorry to hear about their parents as well. It’s never easy.