Ever since I first looked through Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan, I knew I needed to make this cake.  Not only that, but I needed to make it for Ben.  He is a major caramel lover, and I have also noticed that every time I use honey-roasted peanuts for a recipe, the remainder of the can mysteriously disappears within hours.  So, when Ben’s birthday rolled around this year and we had a small get-together with some friends I thought it was time to give this dessert a try.  Part of the reason I waited so long to try this recipe was that I was intimidated by making my own caramel.  I’ve done it several times before but because it plays such a starring role in this cake, I was nervous it wouldn’t turn out.  There was no need to worry though because as usual, Dorie’s fantastically clear and simple instructions took all the guesswork out of the process and made this a very enjoyable experience.  I was gleeful as I watched my sugar mixture turn from clear to yellow to a gorgeous amber brown.  The final assembled dessert was every bit as delicious as I had hoped for.  The caramel was perfectly gooey and the brownie base was fudgy and decadent.  I can’t wait to make it again!

I took quite a few pictures throughout my baking process to help provide some visual aids to accompany Dorie’s clear instructions.  I hope they are useful if you choose to try this recipe.

The brownie base will sink in the middle after baking.  Dorie ensures this is normal, so don’t worry.  I think this is actually best because it can hold more of the fabulous topping this way.

The sugar mixture starting to boil – clear at first.

Starting to take on a slight golden tinge, but obviously not the dark color you are going for.

Definitely test a drop against a white background to be sure of the color.  It really helps monitor the color carefully.

Now that looks like a nice amber color.

And the white background confirms it – just right!

Yummy caramel peanut topping waiting to go on top of the cake.

Just a few of my other favorites from Dorie:
Devil’s Food White-Out Cake
Banana Cream Pie
Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte
Carrot Spice Muffins
Chocolate Biscotti

Caramel Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake

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For the brownie cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
3 tbsp. light corn syrup
½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the topping:
2 cups sugar
½ cup water
1½ tbsp. light corn syrup
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup honey roasted peanuts

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F.  Butter an 8-inch springform pan, dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment paper.  Place the springform pan on a baking sheet.

To make the cake, combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl; whisk together and set aside.  Add the butter and chocolate to a heatproof bowl set over simmering water.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients are just melted – do not let them get so hot that the butter separates.  Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugars until well blended.  Whisk in the corn syrup, followed by the vanilla.  Add in the melted butter and chocolate mixture, and whisk until combined.  Gently whisk in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are just incorporated.  The batter should be thick, smooth and shiny.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and jiggle the pan a bit to even out the batter.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a thin knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean.  Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 15 minutes, then run a thin knife between the cake and the pan and carefully remove the sides of the springform.  The cake may have puffed up during baking, but don’t be concerned if it develops a crater in the center while cooling.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  When the cake is totally cool, invert it, remove the base of the pan and peel off the parchment paper.  Turn the cake right side up onto a serving platter.

To make the topping, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring just to combine the ingredients.  Place the pan over medium-high heat.  Heat, without stirring, until the caramel turns deep amber, 5 to 10 minutes depending on the size of your saucepan and the intensity of the heat.  As the sugar is caramelizing, wipe down any splatters on the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.  To test the color of the caramel, drop a bit onto a white plate.  Don’t be timid about the color – if it’s too pale, it won’t have much flavor.

Lower the heat a bit and, standing back from the saucepan, add the cream and butter.  When the spatters are less vehement, stir to calm down the caramel and dissolve any lumps.  Stir in the peanuts and pour the caramel and peanuts into a 1-quart Pyrex measuring cup or a heatproof bowl.

You will have more caramel than you need, but you want to get all of the peanuts onto the cake, so spoon all of the peanuts out of the hot caramel and onto the top of the cake.   Pour or spoon enough caramel to cover all the nuts, drizzling a bit over the edges of the cake for presentation.  Allow the topping to set at room temperature, about 20 minutes, before serving.  Keep the leftover caramel at room temperature and save for another use.

Source: Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan