The recipe ended up not being as scary as I first thought. The creation of these brownies spanned a weekend, and I was able to work on one small part at a time. As long as you read the recipe ahead of time, you can tell which parts should come first if you aren't assembling the dessert all at once.
To tell the truth, the most difficult part of this recipe were the candied pecans. This was a little confusing to me; I've made them a few times using my mom's loose recipe (eye the pecans, butter, and brown sugar in a pan until they are perfect) and met with success. The recipe Bon Appetit recommended simply did not want to carmelize. After my third try with the pecans, I got an acceptable result; the pecans were just too hard and sugary for me, whereas my mom's are delicate, crunchy, buttery, and perfect.
My favorite part of the finished product was the bittersweet chocolate ganache. This was actually the first time I had ever made or eaten ganache and I was very pleased with the subtle sweetness and the deep chocolate flavor.
Layered Brownies with White-Chocolate Caramel
Makes about 16 servings
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup pecan halves, toasted
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (54% to 60% cacao), chopped
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon natural unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons water, divided
3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
4 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
4 ounces high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina), finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced, room temperature
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (54% to 60% cacao), chopped
First, make the candied pecans. Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil until sugar syrup is light golden, occasionally brushing down sides of skillet with wet pastry brush, about 8 minutes. Add pecans and stir until syrup coats pecans, about 1 minute. Immediately pour pecans out onto prepared baking sheet; spread in single layer with heatproof spatula. Cool completely. Coarsely chop nuts. The pecans can be prepared up to two days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
To make the brownies, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil. Butter foil. Combine 1/2 cup butter and bittersweet chocolate in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Whisk cocoa powder, flour, and salt in small bowl. Whisk sugar, eggs, and vanilla in medium bowl to blend. Pour butter mixture into sugar mixture; whisk until blended. Add cocoa mixture; whisk until blended.
Transfer brownie batter to prepared baking pan; smooth top (layer will be thin). Bake brownie until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 18 to 20 minutes. Allow brownie to cool slightly, then gently press down on edges to form flat, even layer. Cool completely in pan on rack.
Next, prepare the white-chocolate caramel. Spoon 1 tablespoon water into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over and stir to blend. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine remaining 2 tablespoons water, sugar, and pinch of salt in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil until syrup is deep amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 8 minutes.
Slowly add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Reduce heat to low. Stir to dissolve any caramel bits. Remove from heat; let cool 5 minutes. Add gelatin mixture; stir until gelatin dissolves. Add white chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk in butter. Pour caramel atop cooled brownie; spread evenly to cover completely. Chill uncovered until caramel firms slightly, at least 8 hours or overnight.
For the bittersweet chocolate ganache, bring cream to simmer in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Cool until mixture is slightly thickened but still pourable, about 15 minutes. Pour ganache atop caramel on brownie; spread just to edges. Sprinkle chopped candied pecans evenly over. Chill uncovered until ganache is firm enough to cut, about 4 hours. The ganache can be prepared up to two days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.
Using foil as aid, lift brownie out of pan; place on work surface. Fold foil sides down. Using sharp knife, trim off about 1/4 inch of brownie on all sides. Cut brownie into eight 3 1/2-inch-long, 13/4-inch-wide bars. Place 1 brownie bar and scoop of Cacao Nib Gelato on each of 8 plates and serve.
Cacao Nib Gelato
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup cacao nibs
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
Combine 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, 1 cup whole milk, and 1/2 cup cacao nibs in heavy large saucepan. Scrape in seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean; add bean. Bring mixture to simmer. Remove from heat. Cover and let mixture steep 30 minutes. Uncover and return to simmer.
Whisk 5 large egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar in large heatproof bowl until mixture is pale yellow and slightly thickened. Gradually add hot cream mixture to yolk mixture, whisking until well blended. Return mixture to same saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and coats back of spoon when finger is drawn across and instant-read thermometer inserted into custard registers 170 degrees, about 5 minutes (do not boil).
Transfer custard to medium bowl. Cover and chill overnight. Whisk 5 large egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar in large heatproof bowl until mixture is pale yellow and slightly thickened. Gradually add hot cream mixture to yolk mixture, whisking until well blended. Return mixture to same saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and coats back of spoon when finger is drawn across and instant-read thermometer inserted into custard registers 170 degrees, about 5 minutes (do not boil). Transfer custard to medium bowl. Cover and chill overnight.
Pour custard through fine strainer set over bowl; discard solids in strainer. Transfer custard to ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer gelato to freezer container. Cover and freeze until ice cream is firm, at least 8 hours or overnight. This can be made up to 3 days ahead; keep frozen.