One of my dearest friends visited San Francisco last week. Hila was one of my first SF pals, and one of my best friends in town until work moved her to LA. She frequently benefitted from my baking experiments when she lived nearby, but now she’s usually relegated to reading about my baking rather than tasting it. So when she booked her flight to visit over the 4th, I promised I’d bake something delicious to celebrate her arrival. A few days before she got here, I asked her favorite flavors so I could bring a treat to brunch. Her list back? “Dark chocolate, peanut butter and almonds.”
And so I started digging through my Pinterest boards and recipe lists. I sent Hila and our other friend Netta an email with some options to choose from. Hila picked these delectable Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting, Netta confirmed it sounded like a good plan – and off I went to find bittersweet chocolate!
These brownies are truly decadent. The combo of bittersweet chocolate, baking cocoa and espresso powder makes the base super chocolatey, with a bigger punch than many other brownie recipes. Espresso adds intensity to chocolate recipes, so it’s a good add when you want to dial up your chocolate flavor. Browning your butter is also always a good choice, and adds a little nuttiness to this brownie’s base.
Once you’ve made your brownies, you whip up a rather simple peanut butter frosting. The “salted” part is actually from a salt sprinkle, and not salt in the frosting itself. Adding salt on top of these brownies results in the ultimate salty-sweet treat. I didn’t have time to let my brownies cool before frosting them, which made the frosting melt a little and thin out. My fine sea salt sprinkle sort of melted into the frosting, too. The result tasted great, but if you want thicker frosting and chunks of salt, you should wait for the brownies to cool entirely before icing them. This also makes it easier to cut the brownies, since warm brownies fall apart if you try to move or cut them. (see photos below for evidence!)
Hila and Netta loved these brownies, and I’m sure you will too! We started eating them while in line for brunch… and then again right after we left brunch. This picture to the right is what it looks like when you pull containers of brownies out of your bag and hand them over to friends while walking around town. Nothing like strolling around San Francisco, catching up with good friends – and enjoying brownies while you’re at it!
Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting
Original recipe: The Kitchn. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.
Yield: 16 brownies
Suggested equipment: Mixer makes the frosting easier
Total Time: ~ 1 hour 45 minutes, including time for the brownies to cool
Cook Time: 30-35 minutes depending on your oven
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter
- 3 oz bittersweet chocolate (You can use chopped chocolate or chocolate chips as long as you add it up to 3 oz)
- 1.5 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (You can omit this if you don’t have it, but it does add a lot of chocolatey depth!)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter (You want to buy something like Jif Regular PB. PB with separated oil just don’t work as well for frosting!)
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon flake or fine sea salt (The original recipe suggested flake but I only had fine and it was just fine! Heh.)
Step by Step Directions
Brown your butter
- Preheat your oven to 325F.
- Grease an 8×8 square metal pan, and line it with parchment paper that hangs a couple inches over the edge. Once it’s lined, lightly grease the parchment, too. I use Pam spray for this but you could use butter instead.
- Put your butter in a medium saucepan and melt it over medium-high heat. Keep a really close eye on the butter as it cooks – butter can go from nicely browned to sadly charred quite quickly. You want to see the solids bubble up, then settle into the and turn a caramel brown. You’ll know it’s done when the solids are golden and the butter gives off a nutty aroma. It usually takes about 3-5 minutes to brown butter like this.
Make your brownies
- Pour the browned butter into a medium bowl, and add your 3 oz of chocolate.Make sure to do this when the butter is still warm – these next few steps depend on warm butter! (Unlike many recipes where you let the butter cool before using it)
- Let it stand for 1 minute so the chocolate begins to melt into the butter.
- Then, whisk the chocolate mixture until it is blended together.
- Add in your sugar and vanilla, and whisk it all together until it’s smooth.
- Stir in your eggs, salt and espresso powder. Mix it with a wooden spoon until the entire mixture is well-blended.
- Add in your cocoa powder and flour. Use a spatula or spoon to fold the ingredients together until they’re just combined. You shouldn’t see any specks of dry ingredients but also want to be careful that you don’t overmix – overmixing leads to tough brownies!
- Pour the batter into your pan and bake until a toothpick in the middle comes out clean. Start checking around 25 minutes to see how your brownies look. Mine took 35 minutes to fully bake, but my oven was acting up a bit.
- Let the brownies cool all the way before you start frosting and slicing.
Frost your brownies
- Once the brownies are cool, get to work on the frosting!
- Use your mixer to combine the butter, peanut butter and powdered sugar. You’ll know you’re done when the frosting is a light brown color, and the ingredients are fully smoothed together.
- Frost your cooled brownies with an offset spatula to get a smooth and even frosting.
- Once you’ve finished frosting, sprinkle sea salt on the top of your brownies.
- The original recipe notes that you can make the frosting up to 1 week in advance, and the brownies up to 3 days in advance.
- If your brownies are too dense to cut right away, you can refrigerate them for 30 minutes and then try again.
- Like I mentioned above: if you want thicker frosting, don’t start frosting the brownies until they are 100% cooled. Otherwise your frosting will melt a bit and thin out, and the salt will melt into the frosting too. It’s totally awesome either way, so it’s just up to your textural preferences!
Starting to brown the butter
Make sure to weigh out your chocolate if you can’t find a bar
Letting the chocolate melt into the butter
Mixing in the salt, eggs and espresso
Adding in the dry ingredients
The batter is ready to bake!
Fresh outta the oven
This is what happens when you try to move brownies before they’re cool.
Making my frosting
See how the frosting thinned out? That’s because the brownies were warm. Still delicious, though.