There are two things I love about this recipe:
1) It can sort of be made all in one pot so there are fewer dishes for all my fellow chocolate-craving, backache-ridden mommas-to-be.
2) If you get tired halfway through and decide to quit, you still have delicious homemade salted caramel to snack on. I won’t lie, I will probably make just the caramel part of this recipe at some point and eat all of it. It’s that good.
I was originally working from a Smitten Kitchen brownie recipe, but I decided to change all of the ratios of dry-to-wet ingredients (because we all know that’s a smart thing to do when baking) and I ended up making some awesome cake bites instead. I was careful to keep track of the exact measurements, but I will be testing these again in the near future to be sure that I didn’t just get lucky with some magical baking chemistry the first time around!
I will be the first to admit that there are times when you crave the fudgy, richness of a brownie. I recently posted some caramel brownies that will do just the trick, but these aren’t going to satisfy that craving. These are for the times when you want something a bit lighter. These cake bites aren’t too rich or sweet, so they are an awesome option when you’re looking for a less decadent, less heavy dessert. The only downside to this is that, if you’re anything like me, you and your household (… or mostly just you) will destroy an entire pan in a matter of days.
Salted Cocoa Caramel Cake Bites
(makes one 8×8 pan– i.e. probably more than a single human should eat in two days, whoops)
for the caramel:
4 tablespoons salted butter [I used good, European-style butter for this to give the caramel the creamiest flavor possible]
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt [I used a local, vanilla-infused sea salt]
for the cake batter:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 stick salted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup flour [warning: I used White Lily AP flour, which can sometimes behave differently than other AP flours]
Begin by making the caramel. This process is surprisingly simple, but it can get dangerous so be careful! Caramel is notorious for giving people serious burns. As long as you are conscientious of this and stay mindful of the splattering, you will be fine.
In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter and sugar together over medium-high heat. The butter and sugar will likely stay somewhat separated, but you want to get them as mixed as possible while the sugar is melting. Once the sugar is largely integrated and simmering, watch for color changes. You are looking for a golden color if you prefer a mild butter flavor, and a light brown color for a richer, nuttier flavor.
This process may take a few minutes. Just be sure not to let the butter get too dark. I like mine a bit burnt, but you don’t want it getting too brown in color, and when you begin to smell a nuttiness, you know you need to remove it from heat because it can quickly turn too burnt and become bitter. There is a sweet spot to butter-browning, and it can take some practice to know when that point comes. You’re better off leaving it a bit underdone rather than burning it. I mean- it’s butter and sugar, it’s going to taste great either way.
While you’re waiting for the sugar to melt and the butter to darken, prepare a plate for the caramel. Cover it in parchment paper and butter the parchment paper.
When the sugar is well integrated and the butter has changed colors, take the mixture off of the heat and add in the salt and milk. When you add in the milk, be careful. The mixture will sputter a bit, but quickly begin to look like a beautiful, traditional caramel! Stir everything together with a rubber spatula and return to medium heat.
Let the mixture simmer for several minutes. Stir your caramel until the last bits of sugar are melted. [Note: if you are planning to eat the caramel straight and forego the cake part, I would recommend leaving some whole sugar because it will give a beautiful, crunchy texture to your finished caramel.] Pour the mixture onto the parchment paper covered plate and place it in the freezer.
If your freezer is kept very cold, like mine (0°F), it will not take much time for the caramel to cool, and you can begin making the batter. If you have a warmer temp freezer, you may want to wait twenty minutes or so before starting up on the batter.
To make the batter- cover an 8×8 pan in parchment paper and butter! Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Set up a double boiler. I reused the caramel pot and filled a much larger pot with boiling water. Over the double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter- yes more butter! It helps to cut the butter and chocolate up beforehand. Stir with your rubber spatula until the mixture has melted completely.
Take it off of the heat and add in the sugar, salt, and vanilla extract.
Before you add in the eggs, you may want to crack them in a separate bowl and prepare yourself to quickly stir! The mixture won’t be boiling hot, but I’m always nervous about curdling eggs, so I try to add them in quickly. Finally, mix in the flour.
Pour the batter into the prepared dish.
Take the salted caramel from the freezer and chop it into bits. Mine was like a soft caramel and I could NOT resist snacking on some of it, I highly recommend doing so! Again- if you get tired and don’t feel like making the cake batter, these homemade soft caramels alone are good enough to satisfy a sweet tooth!
At this point you can really do whatever you want- toss the pieces on top of the batter, mix them into the batter, do a little of both! It’s completely up to you. Next time I make these cake bites, I will probably mix the caramel in to make for prettier pictures, but it will be delicious either way. The caramel will melt in the oven and sink into the cake, so do be aware of that if you decide to put them all on top.
Bake the cake at 350°F for 30 minutes.