I know it sounds difficult, but let’s try to imagine what bad caramel shortbread tastes like.
Here are my thoughts on things that can go wrong:
- The shortbread is too flaky
- The shortbread is too dense
- There's not enough shortbread
- There's too much shortbread
- There's not enough caramel
- There's too much caramel
Ratio. It’s absolutely crucial. We’re talking about equal amounts of shortbread and caramel with a thin chocolate glaze on top. It’s this perfect proportioning that makes caramel shortbread refute normal confectionary categories like ‘biscuit’ (too much caramel, y’see – it would fall apart dipped in tea) or ‘dessert’ (this time it’s too much biscuit!).
Achieving the perfect ratio of biscuit to caramel to chocolate is what keeps these firmly in the 'it’s-4pm-I-need-a-pick-me-up-with-this-coffee-or-I-shall-surely-collapse-before-dinnertime' mindset. They may also be okay at 11am, I’m not sure.
There are other issues that could go wrong with a caramel shortbread, albeit none so pertinent. The shortbread could be too buttery and flaky and not cut into neat squares. But that’s probably because it’s all-butter shortbread, which is delicious. So even if it’s messy I’m just not willing to condemn that sort of shortbread. Or perhaps the way you’ve made caramel has too much sugar and not enough cream making it taste more like Scottish tablet, or fudge, than gooey caramel. Or the other way round – the caramel is soft and refuses to set in a nice layer for cutting through. Both of these ‘flaws’ I can live with, quite happily.
But we needn’t! This, as I’ve been ranting about, is the ratio. Perfect shortbread, perfect caramel, perfect chocolate, plus silly detailing with some white chocolate and a toothpick.
I ‘cheated’ with the caramel and made it from condensed milk rather than slowly boiling a sugar syrup then beating in the heavy cream. Because these are humble desserts and we won’t tell anyone. Everything else is homemade. We just wanted them to be done in time to enjoy with our 4pm cup of tea, right?
Note: You don't have to cut the pieces up and play Tetris with them, but I hear it helps.
Let's go through this step by step. First we need ingredients for our shortbread. Flour, Sugar, Salt, Vanilla, Butter. Easy!
Butter is chopped into cubes and added to the flour and sugar mix. We get our fingers dirty making breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs become dough.
Dough gets smooshed into an 8x8 inch cake tin and dotted with fork tines so that it bakes smoothly and evenly.
Next: Caramel! We're taking a tiiiiny shortcut, remember? So let's pack sugar, condensed milk, golden syrup and butter together. And sea salt. I live for salted caramel.Pour liberally over base BUT RESISTING THE URGE TO EAT THE CARAMEL because it is very hot and dangerous. Then freeze it. Not for long. Trust me. This will set the caramel quickly and it's also much easier to cut through the layers if it's chilled beforehand.
Finally chocolate. Milk, white, and double cream. Double cream will make the chocolate spread nicely and helps it keep a nice shiny lacquer when it dries, and the white chocolate will... allow us to make swirls, duh.
Yield: An 8x8 tray of shortbread, cut in whatever iterations you like
Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
- Shortbread (10 mins prep and 45 mins baking)
- Caramel (15 mins cooking and 30 mins freezing)
- Chocolate (5 mins preparing and 1 hour to fully chill & set)
- 175g (1 ½ c) plain flour
- 55g (1/4 c) sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 115g (1 stick) butter, cubed
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tin (397ml) condensed milk
- 115g (1 stick) butter
- 110g (1/2 c) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) golden syrup
- Generous pinch of sea salt
- 300g milk chocolate
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) double cream
- 100g white chocolate
- Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F.
- Mix together the flour, salt, and sugar. Mix the butter into the dry ingredients to form breadcrumbs then add the vanilla extract. Continue to work the mixture until it forms a dough. Make sure not to overwork the mixture as this will cause it to become tough rather than the desired crumbly texture.
- Press the dough into the prepared cake tin. You will need to be quite firm to get it to layer straight but that’s fine – we want it to be quite thick so that it cuts neatly.
- Prick the dough with the tines of a fork and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until the shortbread is a light golden brown. Leave to cool in the tin.
- Melt the milk, butter and sugar in a saucepan. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring continuously, until the syrup becomes thicker in consistency and darker in colour. When you’re happy with how it looks, stir in the salt.
- Pour caramel over the shortbread and chill until set – about an hour or so in the fridge, and about 30 minutes in the freezer.
- Melt milk chocolate either by zapping in the microwave in 30-second increments and adding cream or by placing in a heatproof bowl over a gently simmering pot of water and stirring. Once melted add in the double cream and stir until combined and glossy. Pour over the set caramel and coax to the edges with a knife or rubber spatula.
- Quickly – before the milk chocolate has time to set – melt the white chocolate in a similar way. Add streaky teaspoons of the white chocolate to the milk chocolate and, using a toothpick, create a swirl pattern.
- Allow to chill in the fridge for an hour before cutting with a knife. To keep edges smooth keep a warm & damp dishcloth nearby. A warm knife will easily cut through the chocolate and by cleaning after every slice there will be no unsightly build-up of crumbs.
I'm warning you, this is ridiculously good:
Oh my god, Rebecca, step away from the caramel shortbread now.
— Rebecca Di Mambro (@rebeccadimambro) January 18, 2013