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I Planned This {with Turtle Brownies}

I was making brownies yesterday and before I knew it I was on fire–and I don’t mean “on fire” like the time I had two tequilas at a karaoke bar and sang half an Aerosmith song before wandering off to look for my shoes; I mean actual flames.

It happened so fast.  I was trying to light the burner, and all of a sudden blue and red air was wicking up my arm and Scott was yelling “Oh my God, what are you doing?” and I was yelling “OH I’M SORRY; I PLANNED THIS BUT IF MY FLAMING LIMB IS INCONVENIENCING YOU I GUESS I’LL PUT IT OUT.”

Here’s the deal: my arms have lots of little hairs on them.  And since fire loves a hairy arm like it loves a dry forest floor, I was bound to ignite sooner or later.

In fact, it’s a good thing I was wearing jeans instead of shorts.  If my winter leg hairs had been in the mix, we’d be having a Great Chicago Fire: Part II right now and I’d go down in history alongside Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.

But I’m fine, thankfully.  My arm hairs have feathery blonde ends now!  They look very hip.

brownie batterYou know what else is hip?  Slathering caramel all over your brownies.   brownie batterHere are the brownies that started this whole shebang.  They’re turtle brownies, and they’re one-pot wonders–you don’t need an electric mixer. browniesThey come out of the oven thick and fudgy, and then you slather pecans and caramel on top.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of disasters making caramel, but this caramel is a cinch.  You don’t even need a candy thermometer.turtle browniesYou can chill the brownies for a while, in which case the caramel sets and you’ll get clean cuts when you serve them, or you can chill them only a little, in which case the caramel will stay gooey.  They’re delicious (dangerous, I guess, on a couple levels) either way.

Turtle Brownies {Download & Print Recipe}
Slightly adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl
If you have bittersweet chocolate on hand, make the recipe as written.  If you have unsweetened chocolate, you can substitute it for the bittersweet chocolate and increase the brown sugar to 1 cup.
Speaking of Ruth Reichl–the editor of this cookbook–if you like food memoirs you should read her books Tender At The Bone and Comfort Me With Apples.  I really enjoyed them.


For the brownie layer

3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. flour

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

4 oz. semisweet chocolate

1 oz. bittersweet chocolate

1 stick (8 Tbsp.) butter

3/4 c. brown sugar, packed

1 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

For the caramel-pecan layer

3/4 c. granulated sugar

1/3 c. corn syrup

3 Tbsp. water

a pinch of salt

1/3 c. cream

1 tsp. vanilla

1 c. pecans


First, make the brownie layer.  Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and lightly flour an 8″ or 9″ square baking pan (I’ve used both, but I prefer a thicker brownie so I like an 8″ pan better.)

In a small bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Melt the chocolates and the butter over low heat, stirring occasionally.  It’s important to keep the heat low; you don’t want the chocolate to burn.  As soon as the mixture is evenly melted, turn off the heat and let it cool.

When the chocolate mixture is lukewarm, stir the brown sugar and vanilla into it.  Add the eggs one by one, beating after each.  (I find that a wooden spoon works better than a whisk at this point.)  Stir for another minute or two, until the mixture is glossy and smooth.  Add the flour mixture and stir until it disappears.

Spread the batter into the pan.  This will be a little hard to do since the batter is so thick.  It’s okay if the batter doesn’t totally reach all the edges; just try to make it somewhat even and the heat of the oven will take care of the rest.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the brownies comes out clean.

Make the caramel topping:

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Stir until the sugar dissolves.  Then boil the mixture without stirring for about 10 minutes, until it turns a golden caramel color.  Turn off the heat and carefully–because the caramel will momentarily seize up and could spurt at you–add the cream and vanilla.  Stir vigorously until the caramel is soft again and there are no more streaks of cream in it.  Stir the pecans in and immediately pour the caramel over the brownies, all the way to the edges of the pan.  Cool completely on the counter.

When the brownies have cooled on the counter, cover them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours so that the caramel firms up, then cut into squares to serve.  If you’re taking them somewhere and don’t have 4 hours, that’s okay.  The caramel will just be very gooey and will slide around the top of the brownie layer in transport, and will spill over the sides of the brownies when you cut into them.  It’ll be a bit messier, but just as delicious.


seymour with snow ballIt’s good to know that Seymour’s emergency fire protocol includes putting out the flames one snowy tennis ball at a time.

43 Comments Post a comment
  1. I hate electric cooking, but you don’t have to worry about lighting the stove.

    February 3, 2014
    • Other than my parents’ house when I was little, this is the first gas stove I’ve ever had. I love being able to control the heat (except for the times like this when I clearly cannot control the heat!)

      February 3, 2014
  2. Love the fun anecdote at the beginning—must have been scary, though. Is there a brand of baking chocolate that you prefer? Thanks!

    February 3, 2014
    • Gosh, I wish I could say that there’s a brand of chocolate that I prefer. I like Ghirardelli 60% chips. I use those in most of my cookies when they call for semi-sweet. Otherwise I usually use the ubiquitous Baker’s brand. I have never baked with Dutch-processed chocolate but a couple of recipes I’ve been looking at call for it (and I’m glad I read this post over at Joy The Baker because before I did, I didn’t understand the difference.) What about you and chocolate varieties? Do you have more experience with different brands?

      February 3, 2014
      • Thanks so much for this! When I can find Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips, I like those the best so far. I’ve been trying out organic brands like Dagoba, too. I didn’t realize that Dutch-processed chocolate was different either, so I appreciate the info.

        February 3, 2014
  3. hahaha I’m sorry to laugh but such a funny story – glad you’re okay! And this recipe sounds yummy!!

    February 3, 2014
    • Hi Lucy! These brownies are p-r-e-t-t-y darn good. They’re probably my only foray into caramel that hasn’t involved a lot of stress. (I tried to make a caramel cake a couple times last year and it was a messy disaster every single time.)

      February 3, 2014
      • Ahhh I’ve never actually tried making caramel – perhaps I’ll give it a try and see how I fare!

        February 4, 2014
  4. First, these brownies look delectable and I would like to eat some immediately.

    Second, have you considered braiding your arm hair? Or perhaps utilizing some sort of hairnet? I think it might help…

    February 3, 2014
    • These are the kind of excellent suggestions I’ve come to expect from you, movita.

      February 3, 2014
      • Ooo! I can see fashionable, finger-less, arm nets becoming the rage on all the TV cooking shows.

        “I meant to do that” is actually a cat’s standard response to any occasion—running into the wall after chasing Martians, falling off the bed after an aborted leap—anything that might look the slightest bit awkward. Because, as we all know, cats *mean* to look awkward.

        February 4, 2014
  5. I used to work at a Greek restaurant, where one of our more popular appetizers was a block of deep-fried cheese that we doused with brandy, lit on fire table-side, and then extinguished by squeezing lemon juice on it. The first time I did it, I singed the ends off my bangs and my eyebrows. It was terrifying. So, you know, solidarity.
    And also, I need these brownies in my life RIGHT NOW.

    February 3, 2014
    • Dana, that is amazing. The cheese dish also sounds really good (at least, it sounds good when it’s not covered in eyebrow hair ash.) Your story reminds me that my friend Kate once got her hair cut and styled with lots of gel or hair spray or whatever, and then she went out to a low-lit bar where she leaned over a votive candle and WHOOOSH!

      February 3, 2014
      • Oh dear!! It’s hard out there for the recently-coiffed! I actually never sampled the cheese dish; I’m sure it’s delicious, but I just couldn’t bring myself to try it while I worked there. Trauma.
        Also, I read your post, commented, and immediately went and cut a slice of pie. Neeeeeeds.

        February 3, 2014
        • I felt compelled to chime in and say that the flaming cheese dish is PHENOMENAL.
          It’s called saganaki, and the first and best rendition I’ve ever had was in Chicago, at the Greek Islands restaurant. You guys should go, eat every single thing, and make very, very jealous.

          February 6, 2014
  6. Oh my! I’m so glad you survived! Remember to stop-drop-and-roll next time, lady!!! (Advice which I never full understood as I don’t want to catch the floor on fire either). I hear that catching on fire is all the rage these days, anyway.

    You didn’t have to light yourself on fire to impress us, really, the brownies were enough!

    But seriously – so happy you’re safe. And that the brownies are safe. They. look. amazing.

    February 3, 2014
    • Natalie, I have a question about stop-drop-and-roll, too. Do you think it works on LINOLEUM? The kitchen in the house we’re renting has a cursed linoleum floor. I was under the impression that pretty much everything that was popular in the 70s turned out to be flammable. So I have my doubts. . .

      February 3, 2014
    • Wait, WHAT?? I just read the iPhone fire story. Good God. If my iPhone catches on fire in my pocket, I AM NOT TAKING OFF MY PANTS IN PUBLIC. No matter how bad it gets. My underwear collection hasn’t been updated in a while and it’s just not prepared for something like that.

      February 3, 2014
      • Trish #

        Is this the 2014 version of your mother telling you to wear clean underwear in case you’re in a car accident? “Honey, be sure to wear pretty underwear in case your phone catches fire in your pocket and you have to strip!” Also I need to know if this is restricted to iPhones, I’m an Android girl and hope that means I’m safe from flaming pants.

        February 3, 2014
        • Excellent advice for everyone to follow!

          February 7, 2014
  7. Thanks for the reading suggestions! I am 8 weeks away from my baby’s arrival and stocking up on reading materials. ALSO, yummmm, these brownies are beautiful.

    February 3, 2014
    • Oh my goodness, yay! If you want to send me your address, I’ll totally send my copies to you. I actually think I have two copies of Tender At The Bone.

      February 3, 2014
      • Really?!? Okay, yes, I will send you my address. Then we can be PEN pals as well as web pals. Hurray!

        February 7, 2014
  8. Oo, those look sooo good. And I bet they’d be sooo good with a little vanilla ice cream, too, like a brownie version of a turtle sundae.

    I’m glad you didn’t seriously burn your arm and glad you didn’t start the Great Chicago Fire, Part 2! That’s super scary, and makes me want to invest in some fireproof elbow-length gloves, in the style of Audrey Hepburn, so I don’t catch my arm hairs on fire while cooking…

    Oh and I love those Ruth Reichl books, too! Also “Garlic and Sapphires”—about her having to dress up in disguises to not be recognized as the NY Times food critic—is great.

    February 3, 2014
  9. Alexis #

    I recently set a shi-shi NYC restaurant on fire. Then I put it out. Then they gave me a shot of ridiculously good rum for my heroics. I probably didn’t need the rum by that point in the evening, but it sure was tasty.

    February 3, 2014
  10. Could your experience be a possible substitution for a future wax? yeah, I think so. Btw your brownies are great, I’m sure that they were beautiful as you planned, maybe too risky but beautiful!

    February 3, 2014
  11. You could use cooking armour. Not sure if it exists yet but let’s use this traumatising experience to invent it and therefore make our millions. Yeah?

    February 4, 2014
  12. You are hilarious. Seriously. I burst out laughing at least five times reading this. These brownies look delicious!! I’m of the firm belief that caramel makes everything better (EVERYTHING!!!) so I pretty much love these.

    February 4, 2014
  13. I would love to have a gas stove, but would probably burn myself weekly…I pretty much already do already, but usually from touching something fresh out of the oven…not actual flames! Turtle brownies are soooo worth it, they’re ridiculously addictive!

    February 4, 2014
  14. jenny_o #

    I have those arm hairs, too! Maybe that’s why I instinctively distrust our gas BBQ and have permanently delegated its use to my husband. Seriously, I hope you didn’t burn any actual flesh, and I also hope it never ever happens again, dog-firefighters or not. Yikes.

    February 4, 2014
  15. These look too good!

    February 5, 2014
  16. Kath the Cook #

    Give me an ‘Amen’ for the hip arm hairs! Hilarious, but glad you’re not hurt and 911 did not have to be summoned. Brownies look fab

    February 5, 2014
  17. Greetings! I’ve been following your weblog for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead
    and give you a shout out from Dallas Texas! Just wanted to tell you keep
    up the great job!

    February 5, 2014
  18. Three in the woods #

    Well that “Mrs. O’leary’s cow” comment was a belly laugh ! Don’t often laugh out loud at food blogs because, well, food is serious business but glad you’re intact ! Can’t wait to try this for dinner guests this Sat. Many thanks !

    February 6, 2014
  19. Funny story. Brownies look incredible!

    February 6, 2014
  20. I’m a nanosecond away from licking the screen brownies.

    February 7, 2014
  21. As usual, I can’t even get the simple things over here. karo syrup? Not a chance. Sigh.

    But I have to say I mentally thought ‘I love you!’ for mentioning the winter coat, aka leg fur. Our husbands must really, really love us furry-coated winter women! Actually I don’t think mine cares a bit if I’m hairy or not this time of year, we are both bundled up constantly!

    February 8, 2014
    • You said it, sister–there’s nothing but flannel pajamas and high wooly socks to see over here!

      It’s annoying that you can’t get corn syrup (although…maybe that’s a good thing, in a way).

      February 8, 2014
  22. Well these just look ridiculous. I love Turtles, and we don’t sell them in the UK. Whenever I’m back in Toronto I bulk buy and rinse the local convenience store of their supply. I hide them in a cupboard at home and eat them like a total beast. I must bake these brownies. IT MUST BE DONE.

    February 14, 2014
  23. we are ALL about the brownies right now at my house. And also not burning our arms off, but mostly about the brownies.

    February 17, 2014
  24. Amy #

    I’ve burnt off my finger hairs quite a few times when lighting the burner and that smell is horrid, so I can only imagine the scent in your kitchen after alighting your arm hair. Glad you’re ok! These brownies look delectable, and I’m all about slathering caramel on things. Yum!

    February 19, 2014
  25. You are damn funny. Just doing some serious catch up. Brownies looking divine and hope your arm hair grew back- or not. I grew up in Florida wearing long sleeves as often as humanly possible in humid 90° weather due to very hairy arms- like I’d never get married hairy arms.

    March 20, 2014

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