If you knew me well, you would know that I can almost always relate a life experience to an episode of Friends. It’s one of my many valuable and indispensable traits. Quoting one-liners from Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, Monica or Phoebe has become almost a pastime for my family. We do it so often, in fact, that it has really become second nature. It’s scary sometimes. Perhaps though, it’s because I can relate to those characters so much, especially Monica with her obsessive behavior and OCD like qualities where everything has to be in its place and freakishly clean. Yep. That’s me.
There is one particular episode where Monica physically exhausts herself to make the apartment guest ready, complete with a presentation of baked goods, and as the other Friends arrive, she proclaims in a voice of exasperation, yet contentment “I’m always the hostess.” Well, that’s me too. I feel such a burning need to provide and impress guests sometimes that it can become overwhelming and stressful. I know I’m not alone in these emotions, but even when I tell myself that there is simply not enough time or resources to project the welcoming I intend to, my need to be a good hostess almost always takes over.
My way of offering hospitality to guests, whether it be family, friends or acquaintances, more often than not, comes in the form of food. In a way, it’s what I do best. I’m almost always guaranteed a smile or recognition in the form of a compliment (gosh, I do love those…) thanking me for my efforts in the kitchen. Plus, I do like to show off my culinary skills I suppose, but who doesn’t?
My mom finally came to visit a few weeks ago, for the first time since February when her and my dad graciously drove up the remainder of my belongings to Arizona by way Texas. Although I’ve lived in Tempe for a year now (can you believe that?), there is still a lot of work to be done to the house. (Poor Jon has had to deal with the constant evolution of his home. He has been more than patient and receptive to my nesting notions). And even though my mom has been insanely busy making small renovations to the new home her and my dad have only lived in for a mere two months, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep her away from the power drill once she arrived at my house. I’m immensely grateful for the hard work my mom puts in every time she visits- she truly has a talent fore turning a house into a home- but the hostess inside me feels guilty. She knows that I should be entertaining, if not pampering, my mom or at the very least allowing her to rest and take a vacation from her constant house work.
So that’s why, when one Saturday morning I happened to stumble across these Knock You Naked Brownies on an episode of The Pioneer Woman, I knew exactly what I would be offering to my mom as a sort of “welcome to our home” and a “thank you for all you do.” Perhaps it was the use of German chocolate cake mix as the base of the brownies (my mom’s absolute favorite dessert of all time), or maybe it was the layers of caramel and walnuts (two more of her favorite things). All in all, I think it was a combination of all the decadent elements, which culminated in a gooey, chocolatey, rich, layered mouthful of goodness.
It’s no secret that my mom has a sweet tooth, and the hostess inside me felt a little more assured that I could at least satisfy that craving for her. A smile, a hug and a “Oh my gosh, that was soo good!” was all I needed to know I had done my job, even if the sound of the power drill buzzed in the background.
Knock You Naked Brownies
Recipe Adapted From The Pioneer Woman
The Pioneer Woman's recipe calls to use 60 whole caramel candy squares and evaporated milk for the caramel layer. If you don't have a candy thermometer, or if you just don't feel like making real, homemade caramel, then feel free to use her version of the recipe here. However, I strongly feel that the caramel, which was actually taken from my Chocolate Espresso Caramel Bars, is much more fitting for this recipe. The flavor is so much more authentic and delicious. I feel like caramel using wrapped candy caramels tastes somewhat artificial. Plus, taking the time to unwrap 60 candy caramels is certainly more time consuming then making caramel from scratch. Take my word for it.
1 box German chocolate cake mix (I, like The Pioneer Woman, prefer Duncan Hines)
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup, plus 2 tbsp heavy cream
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups lights brown sugar
1 tbsp water
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
Special equipment: a candy thermometer
1. Preheat oven to 350º F. In a large bowl, mix together the cake mix, pecans, evaporated milk and melted butter until completely combined. Don't worry, the mixture should be very thick, more like cookie dough than brownie batter.
2. Spray a 9x9 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Draw a line down the center of the dough to divide in half, then press half the mixture into the greased pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
3. As the first brownie layer is cooking, begin making the caramel. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine heavy cream, 1 stick of butter, brown sugar and the tablespoon of water. Stir over medium heat until the mixture is smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, without stirring, until the candy thermometer registers 240º F, about 5-7 minutes.
4. Pour the caramel over the cooked brownie base, then sprinkle the chocolate chips over the caramel evenly.
5. Put the remaining brownie dough on a clean work surface. Using your hands, press the dough into a large square, about the size of the baking pan, but slightly smaller. Use a spatula to lift the dough square and set it on top of the caramel and chocolate chip layer.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes and remove from the oven to cool to room temperature. Cover and chill in the fridge for several hours. If you try to dive right into the brownies at this point, the caramel will ooze out much quicker than you would like.
7. After sufficient chilling time, let the brownies sit out at room temperature for 20 minutes or so before serving. Generously sift the powdered sugar on top of the brownies. Really pile it on there- you actually want a visible layer of powdered sugar. Cut the brownies into 9 to 12 squares, depending on how much you feel like sharing. Feel free to add even more powdered sugar at this point. Serve and enjoy!
Makes 9-12 servings