I think dessert is nature’s way of making up for Mondays. Especially when you’ve had a long, relaxing weekend, you might need an extra decadent dessert to keep in the fridge to snack on throughout the week. Trust me, it helps. We are going all out with this weeks dessert- chocolate caramel shortbread. One layer of a sweetened cookie shortbread, topped with a thick caramel filling, and a glossy sea salt chocolate ganache to finish it off. There is nothing subtle or ‘light’ about this recipe (unless you count the fact that we are using light whipping cream in the ganache). These bars are decadent, and dreamy, and everything you want in a Monday night’s dessert.
Now one quick disclaimer- this is not technically a shortbread. ‘True’ shortbread is made up of butter, flour and sugar, and that’s it. But this version of a shortbread has to support 2 thick layers of caramel and chocolate, so I made it a little softer, sturdier, and sweeter than your classic crispy shortbread crust.
As far as the prep goes, the whole thing is pretty easy to make. Just give yourself plenty of time to let each layer cool before adding the next. I didn’t rush anything, and spent the whole day making this shortbread a little bit at a time. The caramel will require the most of your attention, as it needs to be stirred pretty frequently. But this is my favorite fool-proof soft caramel recipe out there. No candy thermometer required!
This recipe actually yields 25 servings (bars). You could probably even squeeze out a few extra, because this shortbread is best when cut up into small squares. It has so much richness in the caramel and ganache that the serving sizes are decently small. That’s not to say I didn’t have 2 in a row at one point, but cut the bars into smaller sized pieces than what your stomach tells you.
Start by preparing the first layer, the shortbread. Beat 2 sticks of softened butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until creamed. Add in both the white and brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
Add in an egg yolk and some vanilla extract (keep that bottle of vanilla out- we’re going to be using it a lot in this recipe) and mix well until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Adding in an egg yolk will keep the dough sturdier to help when cutting the shortbread, which usually breaks unevenly and scatters crumbs everywhere.
Add the flour in gradually so the batter really has time to absorb the flour. Sprinkle in some salt about halfway through your flour additions. The mixture should be slightly crumbly, not over-beaten.
Press the dough into a 13×9 inch baking pan lined with parchment paper. The easiest way I found to do this was by gently pressing with your hands. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, until the edges are slightly golden. Allow the shortbread to cool while you prepare the caramel topping.
To make the caramel, combine 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, butter, light brown sugar and corn syrup in a medium sized heavy saucepan over medium heat. Using a spatula, stir frequently until the butter has melted and the ingredients are combined. Continue to stir frequently until the mixture comes to a boil. This may take several minutes, but be patient and do not increase the heat.
Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat slightly to a simmer, still stirring very frequently. Continue to stir about another 15 minutes, or until the mixture turns into a rich caramel color and has thickened. The mixture should begin pulling away from the sides of the pot as you stir.
Remove from heat and immediately stir in the vanilla and salt. Pour the caramel over the shortbread and smooth out the top. Allow to cool to room temperature for 3 hours or in the refrigerator for 1 hour before topping with the chocolate.
To make the chocolate ganache, combine some semisweet chocolate chips and light cream in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Sub in some heavy cream if you want an even richer chocolate ganache. I won’t tell.
Stir frequently until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in a splash of vanilla.
Allow chocolate to cool for 5 minutes before spreading over the layer of caramel.
Add a touch of sea salt.
Let the chocolate harden in the fridge for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.