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$500 winner: Sweet Category

Teresa Blair Magic Valley EC

These rich, addictive brownies are balanced with a healthy amount of heat (from ground chipotle pepper) and salt. Sliced into 16 pecan-topped squares, they’re a perfect addition to holiday parties or a festive, Mexican-inspired dinner. “They say, ‘Some like it sweet and some like it spicy,’ but when you unite them together … pow! You get the best of both sensations,” Blair says.

2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons melted butter
1 teaspoon ground chipotle powder
1 1/2 teaspoons water
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided use
2 cups Texas pecan halves
Coarse or flaky sea salt, to taste
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons caramel extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Butter an 8-by-8-inch baking pan. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and apply nonstick spray or brush with vegetable oil.

2. Combine the honey, butter, chipotle powder, water and 1/2 teaspoon salt in large mixing bowl. Add the pecans and stir well to coat evenly. Pour the coated pecans onto the baking sheet and spread into an even layer.

3. Bake 40–60 minutes, stirring every 10–15 minutes, until the pecans are fragrant and a deep golden-brown color. Watch the pecans closely after 30 minutes, as roasting times vary with ovens. Remove nuts from oven, lightly sprinkle with flaky sea salt, stir once more and set aside to cool. Reserve 16 pecan halves, and chop the remaining nuts into small pieces.

4. Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees.

5. Melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler, then let cool. Vigorously stir in the sugars, eggs, caramel extract, vanilla and remaining salt until the mixture is smooth. Add the flour and stir until just combined, and then stir in chopped pecans.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, and place reserved pecan halves on top of batter, making 4 rows of 4.

7. Bake 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the batter comes out clean. Let brownies cool completely, then cut into 16 squares so that each brownie has one pecan half on top.

Makes 16 brownies.