I know this is shocking, but I don’t really like chocolate. I have said before that were there no chocolate I would exist quite happily.
But having said this, there is nothing that quite says decadence like chocolate. Lemon may be lush, but it never quite as indulgent as sinking your teeth into something dense and chocolaty.
I have to give chocolate credit; it has cornered the market on wicked, unabridged, wildly hedonistic pleasure.
So for my contribution to the Thanksgivings desert table, nothing less than the must decadent, indulgent chocolate recipe would do.
So I made turtle brownies.
I have made turtle brownies before. Many times, but I have stopped in recent years because my only recipe called for cake mix. For many reasons I have pretty much given up using commercial mixes, none the least of which is the additives and the hydrogenated oils. And while there are no good alternatives to these I still prefer to make things from scratch.
The original recipe was simple but very decadent. It called for cake mix, chocolate chips, toasted pecans, store bought caramels, and butter. That’s it. And yielded these incredible gooey dense brownies that you could ever imagine. The kind that when you picked them up, strands of caramel made mad passionate love to your fingers with every sinful bite.
I missed that recipe. Until Cook’s Illustrated (have I ever mentioned how much I love them) gave it back to me. And made it better! Oh so much better.
And while I am ambivalent about chocolate, caramel owns my soul. My one true candy love. I would rather have a single so-so caramel then a pile of the finest chocolate. And the Cook’s Illustrated recipe not only gave me back my turtle brownies but gave me a means of making the most fantastic caramel!
I confess that this recipe is a bit fiddly and quite a bit dangerous as it involves that most dreaded of all kitchen disaster waiting to happen; sugar napalm, otherwise known as boiling sugar. It is also the kind of recipe that requires constant attention for at least part of the time. Boiling sugar should NEVER be left unattended! And it is not the kind of recipe you would want to involve the kids in.
But I think that is what makes this even more indulgent and even more worthwhile.
To get the prettiest squares and most perfect looking pieces, store the brownies in the fridge until just before cutting. Then gently trim off around a quarter inch around each edge. Using dental floss, mark your cuts, following up with a gentle scoring with the knife. Once this is done, cut straight down. If you do not have a knife that is long enough to cut across the entire length of the bar, cut off individual squares. Since your surface is scored this is easy and prevents the flared edge of the knife from making ugly dents in the caramel.
The edges of the brownies will look a little dry but that is because they are cold. Once they warm up they will be fudgy and moist. Serve at room temperature.
Ultimate Turtle Brownies
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
¼ cup heavy cream plus 2 additional tablespoons
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup 
¾ cups white sugar
½ cup raw sugar 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 8 pieces
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (at least 62%), chopped
2 teaspoons cocoa powder (preferably Dutch process) 
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (3 3/4 ounces)
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar (7 ounces)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup toasted pecans + 25 whole halves, toasted
1/3 cup good quality chocolate chips
Make the caramel first.
Measure the cream. Add salt, stirring to dissolve completely. Set aside.
In a small saucepan (preferably non-stick), mix together water and corn syrup. Using a funnel or spoon, carefully add the sugar to the middle of the sauce pan making sure NOT to touch the sides. Sugar crystals on the side of the pan can cause the mixture to crystallize and become grainy. Put mixture over medium high heat stirring gently until the sugar just begins to dissolve and the edges just begin to boil.
Cover with a tight fitting lid and allow to boil until the mixture is completely clear. Covering the pot allows for steam to roll down the sides of the pan and dissolve any sugar crystals. If you do not have a lid, use a cup of water and a pastry brush. Brush down the sides all the way to the sugar sigh the damp pastry brush. If you are using raw sugar the mixture will be honey colored but clear. Remove the lid and continue to boil until the mixture reaches 290 degrees on an instant read or candy thermometer. Lower the heat to medium low and continue to cook, swirling occasionally until the mixture is lightly amber and reaches 360 degrees.
Remove caramel from heat and stir in the cream. The mixture will bubble, hiss and release a lot of steam. Do not stop stirring, making certain to scrape the bottom and sides as you do. Once the mixture stops bubbling add the room temperature butter and vanilla, stir until smooth, thick and incorporated.
Try and resist tasting…not that you can.
Set aside (this can be done several days in advance)
Toast pecans both whole halves and pieces and set aside. Select 25 perfect pecan halves to go on top. Chop the rest finely.
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x9 inch baking pan. Take a sheet of heavy duty foil and fold the edges so that you have an 8 ½ inch strip. Lay the strip down, folded side down into the middle to the pan, smoothing it to the sides. Secure the overhang and grease the foil lightly. This will create a sling to help remove the brownies more easily.
Combine chocolate and butter in a small bowl and melt over a pot of simmering water until thoroughly combined. Stir in the unsweetened cocoa powder and set aside to cook slightly.
Whisk or sift together the flour and baking powder.
In a larger bowl beat the sugar, salt, vanilla, and eggs until pale. Whisk in the chocolate and blend until thoroughly combined. Gently fold in the flour with a rubber spatula until almost combined but some white streaks show. DO NOT over mix. Add the pecan and stir just until incorporate and no white streaks of flour remain. Do not over mix.
Pour half of the mixture into your pre-prepared pan and smooth. Rewarm your caramel by microwaving it for a few seconds until it is pourable or by immersing the bottom of the pan in hot water. Dribble a quarter cup of the warm caramel over the brownie batter. It does not have to be smooth. Pools and glops of caramel make a nice surprise when bitten into. Add the rest of the brownie batter on top, smoothing so that it is even.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and evenly sprinkle chocolate chips on top of the brownies. Cover with a plate or foil and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Remove cover and evenly spread the melted chocolate chips over the surface until it is smooth. Allow brownies to cool for at least an hour and a half.
Rewarm the caramel until it pours easily. Do not boil. Pour the caramel over the top of the brownies. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or over night.
To server, run a knife around the edges of the pan then remove using the foil sling. Peel the foil off and discard. Cut into 25 pieces, topping each with a toasted pecan half.
Enjoy the raves.
 Many people thing that corn syrup is evil. This may or may not be the case, however it does keep sugar from crystallizing and while you can leave it out you have to be VERY careful to NOT so much as breath on the sugar until it reaches the caramel stage.
 The original recipe calls for all white sugar, I think that adding raw sugar to the mix gives it much more depth of flavor but if you like you can go ahead and use 1 1/4 cup white sugar instead of the mix.
 Dutch process cocoa has a more assertive, deeper chocolate taste. The original recipe called for 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate and 4 ounces of semi-sweet, but I think that using 6 ounces of excellent quality semi-sweet and 2 teaspoons of dutch process cocoa yields better results.