Bourbon Caramel Brownies + A KENTUCKY DERBY GIVEAWAY!

Let me tell you about my FAVORITE holiday of the year.  It involves Spring weather, show-stopping hats, bourbon,  and very fast horses!  It’s The Kentucky Derby and just around the corner! 

Here’s why the Derby is so so great whether you’re in Louisville Kentucky or not – it’s not just the greatest two minutes in sports – it’s an all-encompassing celebration of Southern food, cocktail, and style.  Y’all, we’re lifestyling! 

While flocks of people to Churchill Downs every May for Mint Juleps, horses, and Southern-style hat fashion, for years I’ve been celebrating the Derby with my dear Kentucky friend Whitney.  We’ve gone full out with hats and  floral head pieces, piles of chicken, rows and rows of Mint Juleps, potato salad, betting, and of course…. we’d all rowdy cheer for the horses, but only after singing My Old Kentucky Home.  It’s like, for this one day a year, if you have a Mint Julep in hand, you’re an honorary (very proud) Kentuckian.  

We have very good reason to celebrate the 144th Kentucky Derby this year.  We’re alive and thriving, reason number one!  Reason number two, there’s a incredible amount of iconic Southern food to celebrate whether or not we’re at Churchill Downs cheering.  Consider the Kentucky Derby your next party inspiration because it’s not just a race, it’s totally a lifestyle! 

We’re making brownies today to celebrate the upcoming Derby and a little more caramel never hurt anyone, I’m sure of it! 

This year, in very DREAMS-COME-TRUE fashion, I’ve partnered with The Kentucky Derby to bring you an approachable at home Derby-inspired menu.  I’m inviting you to create your own Kentucky Derby inspired dish, share it with us and have the chance to WIN A TRIP TO THIS YEAR’S KENTUCKY DERBY!  Specifically:

  • Two tickets to the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, May 4 and the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 5, 2018
  • One hotel room in Louisville for three nights
  • $2,000 gift card to be used toward travel

I want all of you to live your best Kentucky Derby lifestyle wherever you are and one very lucky person will win a trip to the Kentucky Derby and… since this feels like a once in a lifetime adventure – I want all of you in on this! 

Here are the details! 

Upload your original photo to your Instagram account featuring your Kentucky Derby inspired meal or recipe.  Caption must include the hashtag #DerbyDishContest.  Photo and caption must be posted between April 10th at 12:01am EDT and April 18th at 11:59pm EDT.  The winner will be chosen at random and notified on Instagram!

See official rules, here! 

For our Derby-inspired menu I made:  

Grilled Pimento Ham and Cheese Sandwiches!  Think, melty pimento cheese, crunchy grilled bread, and salty ham in one bite! 


Sweet Potato Potato Salad with Yogurt and Mint!  A very playful spin on traditional potato salad that’s lightly sweet, tangy and bright with a hint of that Derby’s iconic mint.  

and, of course it wouldn’t be the Derby without a classic Mint Julep cocktail.  Find that official cocktail, here

Also take a look at the official menu of the 144th Kentucky Derby crafted by Chef David Danielson!  

But let’s get to making these brownies because friends… there is bourbon… there is caramel.  If you make these – I swear, it’s like we all win. 

Brownies are, no matter how many fancy baking techniques you might learn, always one of the most satisfying things to make.  

It starts with a homemade double boiler:  a pan of shallow simmering water, and a heat proof bowl for butter.   

To the butter we’ll add semi-sweet chocolate chips.  

If you don’t have chips, but you have a bar of semisweet chocolate you can coarsely chop…. go for it! There’s no wrong way to chocolate here.  

We’ll also add a good dose of unsweetened chocolate to melt along with the butter and chocolate chips.  All of the chocolate will add richness and balance. 

Stir until melted and glossy.  It’ll only take 5 minutes or so.  

A double boiler help ensure that the chocolate won’t burn or seize as it melts. The steam heat is more gentle and guarantees a good melt. 

To the melted chocolate and butter we’ll add a cup of granulated sugar.  

The mixture may seem grainy and it’s stirred together. Not to worry! That’s normal. 

Whisking in two eggs, one at a time, will solve that grainy problem.  

The eggs will smooth the mixture to thick and glossy.  

Set the chocolate mixture aside, and we’ll stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

It’s time for all that glossy chocolate to make its way into the dry ingredients. 

Fold the batter until there are no hidden pockets of flour or cocoa powder and then spoon it into a parchment lined square pan.  Set aside because it’s time to whip up a caramel swirl! 

I’ve found that if you add straight caramel to these brownies, they’re disappear into the brownies, offering sweetness, but no distinct swirls.  We’re in it for the swirls. 

We’ll add some stability to the bourbon caramel so it has something to sit with in these brownies.  Cream cheese, powdered sugar, and add egg yolk will help support the caramel swirl.  

Start by whipping together the powdered sugar, cream cheese, and egg yolk.  The mixture will be thick, but smooth. 

This caramel is made from scratch by simmering water, sugar, and corn syrup until the sugar begins to brown and… you guessed it – caramelize!  Once the mixture simmers to a deep amber color, we’ll remove it from the heat and quickly whisk in butter and heavy cream.  The fat is what gives caramel it’s lusciously pliable richness.  And!  To finish off the the hot caramel: a generous pinch of sea salt and a big splash or two of bourbon.  

You may remember making caramel for the Salted Caramel Cheesecake Pie.  It seems intimidating but if you can boil water, you can boil sugar for caramel – I promise. 

The caramel needs to be made ahead of time and allowed to cool before it whipped into the cream cheese mixture.  

The whole concoction will be pale and thick, undeniably delicious… and we’ll add an extra splash of bourbon because we’re in it to win it.  

Now, this is a generous amount of caramel sauce for this proportion of brownies.  This isn’t a mistake.  We’re living large.  

Spoon the caramel on top of the unbaked brownie batter.  

And use a butterknife to gently swirl the two together.  

I like to leave big streaks between the two batters so all of our hard work and bold flavors shine through. We’ve come so far; let’s not muddy these brownies. 

The brownies will bake in a low oven for about 45 minutes – until the jiggle has settled in the center and the top looks dry.  

Now the hard part.  The brownies need to cool to room temperature before they’re removed from the pan and sliced.  

Warm brownies are a fight with to slice and we don’t want to fight. 

Slice into generous nines or smaller sixteens.  Whatever feels right for your gathering. 

Look at this swirl, maintained! 

These brownies are dark and fudgy, the caramel has depth with more than a trace of bourbon.  

I might suggest making a double batch!  They’ll be hard to keep at a Derby party.  In my experience, anything bourbon related flies off the buffet spread… and since there’s chocolate involved too? These will be a goner.  

I genuinely, sincerely, truly CAN NOT WAIT to see your Kentucky Derby inspired recipes.  Please share all the goodness with us on Instagram using the hashtag #DerbyDishContest.

And don’t forget we have two deliciously savory recipes for you to find inspiration from too!

Sweet Potato Potato Salad with yogurt and mint + Grilled Ham and Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

And, of course, Chef Danielson’s very official Derby Menu is here with loads to drool over and daydream from.  

Really! I hope you enjoy this, and every Derby Day and much as I do! 


Bourbon Caramel Brownies

  • Author: Joy the Baker
  • Prep Time: 30
  • Cook Time: 50
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes


For the Caramel

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 tablespoon bourbon

For the Brownies

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
  • 4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the Cream Cheese Filling

  • 4 ounces (half a block) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • the prepared caramel from above
  • sea salt, for finishing


  1. Start by making the caramel. In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar, water, and corn syrup. Place over medium heat and allow to mixture to come to a simmer without stirring it. Swirl the pan if you feel the urge to stir the mixture. Keep an eye of the bubbling sugar mixture. It will begin to brown and caramelize.
  2. Once the mixture reaches a medium amber color, remove the mixture from the heat and quickly stir in the butter and heavy cream, whisking constantly. The mixture will froth and bubble, that’s normal. Whisk until the butter melts and whisk in the bourbon and salt.
  3. Transfer mixture to a small bowl and allow to cool. The caramel will thicken as it cools.
  4. Next, make the brownies! Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan, line with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over two sides of the pan (this will make it easier to remove the brownies from the pan after baking). Set the pan aside.
  5. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.
  6. Simmer a few inches of water in a medium saucepan. This will be the steam for our double boiler.
  7. In a heat-proof bowl add the butter, bittersweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate. Place the bowl over the simmering water and allow he butter and chocolate to melt to smooth, stirring occasionally. When chocolate is completely melted, remove the bowl from the double boiler.
  8. Whisk the sugar into the chocolate mixture. The mixture will seem grainy – that’s ok!
  9. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, whisking until smooth and glossy.
  10. Add the chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients and fold to combine. Don’t over mix, but ensure that all of the flour bits have been incorporated into the batter.
  11. To make the cream cheese mixture, whisk together cream cheese, powdered sugar, egg yolk, and bourbon. Blend until smooth. Whisk in the cooled caramel until thoroughly combined and you’re good to go!
  12. Spoon the brownie batter into the prepared pan. Spoon the cream cheese and caramel mixture over the brownie batter. There’s a lot of the caramel mixture. Don’t worry, we’ll swirl it all together.
  13. Use a butterknife to swirl the brownie batter up and over the caramel. Keep the swirls big so that big caramel and brownie patches remain and the mixture doesn’t get too muddy.
  14. Place in the oven and allow to bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the brownies have set. A toothpick inserted in the brownies should come out with a few loose crumbs, but not wet batter. The brownies take a long time to cook in a low oven so be patient. Just rotate the pan a few times during baking.
  15. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before slicing. Slice generously and enjoy!


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