Tuesday, August 28, 2012

dark chocolate and salted caramel shortbread

Remember these salted caramel bars?

The truth is, I cut them as cleanly as possible, but they really looked like this:

The caramel oozed, zliched, and was incredibly salty. It was light brown instead of that beautiful, deep, caramel color. I kept scraping away the caramel that fell over the sides, but then they just drooped some more. I had followed the directions to a tee, and they just did not turn out. So disappointing! When I saw this post on Doughmesstic, with just a tiny bit more specificity in the instructions, I decided to try again. The proportions in the two recipes are nearly identical, but Doughmesstic clarified that you must watch for the caramel to hit 230 degrees, allow it to boil at 230F for several minutes, and cook until it begins to climb over 235F, all the while stirring continuously. My hunch is that the original caramel did not cook long enough or reach a high enough temperature.

It must have worked, because although the caramel in this batch was still soft, the bars held their shape and tasted good. Success!

Did I mention that I used less than half the salt the recipe calls for? I was a bit of a nervous Nellie, but I didn't want to screw up a second batch of caramel, and I figured I could always sprinkle sea salt on the top if it needed more. This time, I spread a very thin layer of chocolate over the top.

These were not my favorite bar, but they were good, and I felt better having mastered them. I don't like being defeated by a cookie. If you are a fan of salted caramel, it is definitely worth a second look - just go easy on the salt and watch the caramel closely!

Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Shortbread
Makes 64- 1" squares

1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of half an orange
1 egg yolk, whisked
1 2/3 cups (7 1/8 ounces) flour

1 3/4 sticks butter
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 - 1 teaspoon sea salt (original called for 2 teaspoons, but that was too much for me)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 3/4 teaspoons vanilla
sea salt flakes, to top

Chocolate Topping
6 ounces dark chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon shortening

Line an 8" square pan with parchment paper so the paper hangs over two of the sides (so you can easily lift out the bars once they are cool).

To make the shortbread crust, combine the melted butter, sugar, salt, and orange zest with a fork in a large bowl. Add the egg yolk and combine again. Add the flour and stir with a heavy spoon or with your hands until it is well-combined. Press dough evenly into pan. Refrigerate 30-60 minutes, then remove and bake at 350F for 25-28 minutes until very lightly browned. Allow shortbread to cool while you prepare the caramel.

In a heavy bottomed pot - such as enameled cast iron - combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, between 1/2 teaspoon and 1 teaspoon sea salt, and heavy cream. Bring to a boil and stir until sugars are dissolved and the mixture is well-combined. Using a candy thermometer, watch for the goal of 230F. Allow the caramel to boil at this temperature for several minutes until it begins to climb over 235F. Stir continuously. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Allow the caramel to cool for a few minutes, and then pour over the shortbread base. Chill completely.

Melt dark chocolate and shortening (you can't taste the shortening - it just helps the chocolate melt smoothly). Working quickly, spread the chocolate over the cooled caramel bars and sprinkle with sea salt, if desired. Cut into squares while the chocolate is softly set, before it hardens too much (or else it will crack). If your caramel is firm enough, you can store the bars at room temperature, but I had better luck keeping them in the fridge, and I would certainly recommend that if the weather is at all warm!

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