These Salted Caramel Espresso Brownies are made with a gooey caramel layer on top of a fudgy chocolate espresso brownie. They’re easy to put together in under an hour and will reward you with the best gooey brownies ever.
Read on to learn how a failed attempt at Smitten Kitchen’s salted caramel brownies became a much easier caramel brownies recipe and all the fool-proof tips and tricks you could want. Or just grab your spatula, hit that Jump to Recipe button, and let’s make brownies!
While chocolate and peanut butter is by far the best combination of flavors there could be, chocolate and caramel come in a close second, whether with a chocolate cake frosted with caramel icing or these chocolate caramel chip cookies.
- Chocolate – These chocolate brownies use three forms of chocolate – melted bar chocolate, cocoa powder, and chocolate chips. Feel free to use either bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, but use the best chocolate you can.
- Espresso powder – Espresso powder brings out the taste of dark chocolate. I always have a jar of instant espresso in my pantry and use it in my triple coffee cookies, tiramisu cake, or coffee and walnut pound cake. I even use it in my espresso martinis when I can’t get a shot of fresh espresso!
- Salted caramel – Turns your basic espresso brownies into gooey caramel brownies! If you love salted caramel, try this salted caramel pudding.
Please see the recipe card below for complete information on ingredients and quantities.
Variations and substitutions
- Serve the brownies warm out of the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with the caramel sauce.
- For more espresso flavor, increase the espresso powder to two tablespoons.
- Reduce the salt in the caramel to just a pinch for plain ole caramel brownies.
- Use the caramel sauce as a filling in this triple layer chocolate cake instead of the ganache.
Backstory: Smitten Kitchen’s Salted Caramel Brownies … fail
In the spirit of the Ugly Duckling Bakery, I occasionally share my mistakes, because getting things wrong is how we learn the most. Just check out my juniper lime drizzle cake for how much learning there can be!
The Smitten Kitchen caramel brownie recipe calls for making caramel, freezing it, then mixing some into the brownie batter and sprinkling the rest over the top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
I made sure the temperature was right, and I checked at 25 minutes. Caramel was bubbling through like a simmering soup, but the brownie itself was far from done. I baked them for another 7 or 8 minutes, until my toothpick came out clean.
They weren’t a total failure, but the brownies tasted of burnt caramel. I’m guessing I cut the frozen caramel pieces too small. Or maybe SK undercooks these ooey-gooey brownies so they’re like molten chocolate cake. But it wasn’t worth trying again.
Instead, I decided to simplify and create a caramel brownie recipe that used a plain brownie base topped with salted caramel sauce. I started with my blackberry swirl cheesecake brownies, lightened them up, and added the espresso powder. Making the brownies and caramel separately allows you to focus on making each one, with a result that is greater than the sum of the two parts.
Recipe tips and tricks
Making the espresso brownie base
Step 1: Turn on the oven to heat it to 350℉. Then coarsely chop the chocolate and butter and melt them together in a double boiler or bowl over an inch of simmering water. When melting chocolate, the bowl should not touch the surface of the water. Set aside to cool.
Step 2: Line an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan with parchment or aluminum foil. I find parchment easier because it doesn’t tear or stick.
You can use binder clips to help secure the parchment, but make sure to remove them before baking! Lightly butter the parchment or foil and set aside.
Step 3: Sift or whisk the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder, and salt) together in a small bowl.
Step 4: Combine the sugar and eggs in the bowl of your stand mixer. You can also use a large hand mixer or beat by hand. Beat them together on medium speed until lightened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Then add the vanilla and beat another minute.
Step 5: Slowly beat in the melted chocolate and butter. This step is why I like using a hand mixer – you can pour in the chocolate without getting it stuck on your mixer blades.
Step 6: Add the dry ingredients and mix on low.
Step 7: Mix in the chocolate chips by hand, then turn the espresso brownie batter out into your prepared pan. Use a spatula to get the brownie batter into the edges and corners of the baking pan, but don’t worry about making it perfectly smooth. Remove those binder clips!
Step 8: Bake the espresso brownies for 28 to 30 minutes until the top is slightly firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If you’re not certain about your oven, please start checking it a few minutes early.
Make the salted caramel sauce while the brownies are baking.
Making the caramel
I recommend making your caramel immediately after putting the brownies into the oven. You want to add the salted caramel to the hot espresso brownies. Delay too long and you run the risk of needing to check your brownies at the critical parts of the caramel making. Ask me how I know…
You can use either the wet or dry caramel method here, whichever you’re more comfortable making. The wet method is easier but takes more time because you have to evaporate the water you’ve added. Either way, please use a larger pan than you think you’ll need, because your caramel sauce will bubble up when you add the butter and cream.
Step 9: Over medium-low heat, heat the sugar or the sugar-water mixture until the sugar melts and gradually turns a deeper, darker color. Swirl the pan around occasionally, but don’t stir, or your caramel may crystalize.
You’re looking for a dark amber color, the shade of a not-too-old copper penny. If you smell any hint of burning, remove your caramel from the heat. But don’t taste it – it will be very very hot!
Step 10: Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the softened butter, a few cubes at a time. Be careful not to slosh the caramel out of the pan. If you get splattered, rinse immediately with cold water.
Step 11: Stir in the warmed heavy cream, bourbon (if you’re using, which I would), vanilla, and salt.
Set the salted caramel sauce aside until the espresso brownies are fully baked.
Step 12: When the brownies are done, move the pan to a cooling rack and then pour in the caramel sauce. Use a spatula to spread the caramel sauce over the entire batch of brownies.
Let the pan cool. Once the pan is no longer hot to touch, you can chill the pan in the fridge or freezer until ready to serve. Chilling makes the brownies easier to cut.
To cut, trim the raised edges, if you like.
Then cut the caramel-topped espresso brownies into 16 equal squares.
Eat as is or try this: top your gooey caramel espresso brownies with flaky sea salt and serve with vanilla ice cream!
If these brownies are only going to last a day, no, you can keep them covered at room temperature, and it will be fine. If you want them to last a few more days, then, yes, because of the caramel sauce, please do refrigerate them.
Yes, you can freeze caramel-topped brownies before or after cutting them into squares.
Caramel can crystalize when it’s been stirred or when it’s just not feeling happy. One way to reduce this possibility is to make sure neither your butter or cream is cold when you add it to the caramelized sugar.
Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-heart 💜💜💜💜💜 rating in the recipe card below. Let me know how much you loved it, or any problems you had, in the comments section further down.
Salted Caramel Brownies
- 1 8 or 9 inch square baking pan
- parchment paper or foil
- 5 ounces (142 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate I recommend Ghirardelli chocolate
- 4 ounces (1 stick, 113 grams) unsalted butter plus more for greasing the lined baking pan
- 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup (20 grams) cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon espresso powder
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1¼ cup (250 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
Salted caramel sauce
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons bourbon whiskey optional
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons, 227 grams) unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes and softened
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Pre-heat your oven to 350℉.
- Coarsely chop the chocolate and butter and melt them together in a double boiler or a bowl over a small pot of simmering water. Once nearly melted, remove the bowl from the heat and stir to combine. Set aside briefly to cool.5 ounces (142 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, 4 ounces (1 stick, 113 grams) unsalted butter
- Line an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan with parchment or aluminum foil, then lightly butter the parchment or foil. Set aside.
- Whisk the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder, and salt) together in a small bowl.1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour, ¼ cup (20 grams) cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon espresso powder, ½ teaspoon baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt
- Combine the sugar and eggs in the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer or beating by hand). Beat on medium speed until lightened, about 2 to 3 minutes.1¼ cup (250 grams) granulated sugar, 2 large eggs
- Add the vanilla extract and beat another minute.1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Slowly beat in the melted chocolate and butter. Then add the dry ingredients and mix on low.
- Stir in the chocolate chips by hand, then turn the espresso brownie batter out into your prepared pan. Use a spatula to get the brownie batter into the edges and corners of the baking pan, but don't worry about making it perfectly smooth.½ cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
- Bake the espresso brownies for 28 to 30 minutes until the top is slightly firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Make the salted caramel sauce while the brownies are baking.
Salted caramel sauce
- Combine the heavy cream, bourbon (if using), and vanilla in a small pot and heat on low just to warm.½ cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons bourbon whiskey, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- If making wet caramel, add a ¼ cup of water to the sugar in a wide, flat-bottomed pan, and stir until the sugar is moistened. If making dry caramel, just add the sugar to the pan. In either case, heat the sugar on medium-low, swirling the pan around, until the sugar melts and the caramel turns the color of a copper penny.1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the softened cubes of butter, a few at a time, stirring constantly but carefully so you do not splash yourself with caramel.2 ounces (4 tablespoons, 227 grams) unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes and softened
- Add the warmed cream and vanilla from the pan and stir until mixed well.
- Add the salt and stir to mix. Then set the pan aside until the brownies are done.1 teaspoon salt
Putting it together
- When the brownies are done, remove the pan from the oven and put the pan of brownies on a cooling rack. Pour the still-warm salted caramel sauce over top and use a spatula to spread it around.
- Let the caramel brownies cool in the pan. Once the pan is no longer hot to touch, you can chill the pan in the fridge or freezer until ready to serve.
- To cut, lift the brownies out of the pan and peel away the parchment paper or foil. Cut away the raised edge of the brownies if you like, then cut the brownies into 16 equal squares.
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