They say that freshly ground black pepper wakes up the salivary glands and enhances our ability to taste food. Who wouldn’t want to taste their brownies more completely? Black pepper also adds an unexpected smoky, floral note to the classic treat, making them complex and irresistible. The bittersweet, salty caramel is indulgent but heavenly. Whole batches of these have been known to disappear in our house in less than forty-eight hours.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line it with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter the parchment.
To prepare the brownies, whisk together the flour, cocoa, pepper, and baking powder in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, vanilla, salt, and eggs. Add the melted butter to the sugar mixture and whisk until smooth. Fold in the flour mixture. (You could throw in some chocolate chips at this point, but that might just be gilding the lily.)
Pour into the prepared pan and bake until just set, 24 to 26 minutes. As soon as a toothpick inserted 2 inches from the center pulls out very moist crumbs, not runny batter, pull the brownies out of the oven. Set on a rack to cool.
To prepare the caramel, add the water to a medium saucepan. Add granulated sugar to the center of the saucepan, making sure the sugar is evenly moistened. Cook over medium heat, without stirring (although you can gently swirl the pan, if necessary), until the caramel is medium amber in color, 5 to 6 minutes. Slowly add the cream, whisking constantly; be very careful, since it will bubble up and spatter. Add the butter and cook, whisking constantly, until the caramel is smooth and slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes more. Whisk in the vanilla. Pour the caramel over the brownies and spread evenly.
Cool in the pan, on a rack, for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and refrigerate until the caramel is set, about 1 hour.
To serve, cut around the edge of the brownies to loosen them from the pan, then use the parchment to lift the brownies out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Use a long sharp knife to cut the brownies into squares. (Little pieces go a long way!) Store the brownies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
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Reprinted with permission from The New Sugar and Spice, by Samantha Seneviratne, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.