Shortbread Toffee Bars

One of my favorite things to bake (and other people’s favorite thing to eat) is shortbread caramel bars.  Even though I’ve made countless variations, I can never resist trying a slightly different recipe.  These Shortbread Toffee Bars are very sweet and rich, and a little goes a long way.  The shortbread bottom and chocolate topping are typical of this type of recipe, but the center is less chewy and less caramely and more toffee-like with a slight crumbly texture.  Risk takers who enjoy baking on the edge may especially enjoy cooking the toffee center as the longer you cook it, the more toffee-like and rich-flavored it will be, but you also run a high risk of burning it.

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Shortbread Toffee Bars

Makes one 9×13 inch pan of bars
(from the kitchn)
I’ve made a few tweaks to the original recipe and added more details to the original directions.

Ingredients

Shortbread 

1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) salted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour

Toffee

1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) salted butter
1 cup sugar
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
3 tablespoons maple syrup

Chocolate Topping

1 bag (10 ounces) good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
Sea salt (optional)

Directions

Shortbread

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  If you would like really easy removal of your bars from the pan, you can line the pan with parchment paper.  I did not do that, and my bars came out of the pan fairly easily, but next time I’ll probably line with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the flour and beat on low speed until crumbly, making sure not to over-mix the dough.
  4. Press the dough into the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan and make sure to pack it down well.
  5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until light golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool while you’re making the toffee.

Toffee

  1. In a large saucepan over low heat, stir together the butter, sugar, condensed milk, and maple syrup until well combined.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  The mixture can burn quickly and easily, so make sure to keep stirring.  Continue to cook the mixture until it is thick and golden brown (but not burnt), about 8-10 minutes.  The deeper brown the toffee is, the more flavorful it will be.  Lighter colored toffee will taste more like sugar.
  3. Pour the toffee on top of the shortbread, and use an offset spatula to  spread the mixture to the edges.
  4. Allow the toffee to set at least an hour or overnight.

Chocolate Topping

  1. Melt the chocolate chips in a small saucepan over low heat or in the microwave.
  2. Pour the chocolate over the cooled toffee layer, and spread to the edges with and offset spatula.
  3. Sprinkle with sea salt (if using), and cool completely.  Since these bars are quite sweet, a sprinkle of sea salt would work well.  I forgot to sprinkle mine with sea salt.
  4. Once the mixture has a cooled a little, you can put the bars in the refrigerator to firm up the chocolate (this will also make cutting the bars a bit neater).
  5. Once everything has cooled completely, cut into squares (1 1/2 inch squares are a good size since these bars are so sweet and rich).  If you refrigerated your bars, let them sit out at room temperature to soften a little before cutting (if you cut the bars when they’re cold, the layers may separate and crumble).

Cranberry Streusel Shortbread Bars

Overlooked, underappreciated, and not very appetizing looking, cranberries seem to linger on produce shelves, biding their time until the winter holiday season passes and they can be mercifully banished back to the land of long forgotten fruits.  Yet, when you cook cranberries with some sugar, spread the tart cranberry mixture over rich, buttery shortbread, and top everything off with a crunchy streusel, you will think about these Cranberry Streusel Shortbread Bars all year long.  Not only are these bars easy to make using basic ingredients, they also look bake shop worthy.  So, no excuses; get to baking!

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Cranberry Streusel Shortbread Bars

Makes approximately thirty-five 1 3/4-inch-square bars
(from Fine Cooking)

Ingredients

Crust and Streusel

10 1/2 ounces (1 cup plus 5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to just warm
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon table salt
2 large egg yolks
14 1/4 ounces (3 cups plus 3 tablespoons) unbleached all-purpose flour

Cranberry Topping

12 ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over, rinsed, and drained (I prefer fresh)
1 cup granulated sugar

Directions

Crust

  1. Line a straight-sided 13×9-inch metal baking pan with foil, letting the ends create an overhanging edge for easy removal from the pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the butter, 3/4 cup of sugar, and salt.
  3. Whisk in the egg yolks.
  4. Stir in the flour to make a stiff dough.
  5. Transfer about 2 cups of the dough to the prepared pan, and press the mixture evenly into the bottom. Prick the dough all over with a fork (this keeps the crust from bubbling up too much when it bakes).
  6. Refrigerate the pan for 30 minutes (or freeze for 5 to 7 minutes), until the dough is firm.
  7. Position a rack near the center of the oven and another near the top. Heat the oven to 325°F.
  8. Bake the dough until the crust begins to set but does not brown at all on the edges (the center will not be firm yet), about 20 minutes. While the crust bakes, prepare the streusel and the topping.

Streusel

  1. With your fingers, combine the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar with the reserved dough until crumbly. The mixture should hold together when pressed, but readily break into smaller pieces.  Set aside.

Cranberry Topping

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the cranberries, sugar, and 1/4 cup water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium high, and continue to boil until the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup, 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, and let the mixture cool 5 to 10 minutes—the syrup will continue to thicken as the mixture cools.

Assembling the Bars

  1. Spread the cranberry mixture evenly over the hot crust.
  2. Scatter the streusel over the cranberries (don’t crumble the streusel too much or the texture will be too sandy).
  3. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F and bake the bars near the top of the oven until the streusel is golden and set, about 25 minutes. (Baking these bars at the top of the oven helps the streusel brown faster without overbrowning the crust.)
  4. Place the pan on a metal rack to cool until the crust is completely firm, at least 1 hour. (For faster cooling, put the bars in the fridge once the pan is no longer piping hot.)
  5. When the bottom of the pan is cool, carefully lift the bars from the pan using the foil sides and transfer them to a cutting board.
  6. Separate the foil from the bars by sliding a spatula between them. Cut the bars into 1-3/4-inch squares.

Note:  Store the bars in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week (but the shortbread will soften quite a bit after the first three days).

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bars (aka Homemade Twix)

I had extra special visitors in town earlier this year, so of course we had to bake something ridiculously sweet and addictively delicious.  My dear visitors share my love of Twix candy bars, so we made a homemade version with buttery, tender shortbread, a chewy, thick layer of caramel, and a smooth, dark chocolate ganache.  Even though there are three separate components to this recipe, each is quick and easy to make (the caramel is is made from Kraft caramel squares).

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Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bars

Makes One 9″ x 13″ pan
(from King Arthur Flour)
My notes are in [ ] below.

Ingredients

Shortbread Layer

1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) All-Purpose Flour

Caramel Layer

2 cups (20 ounces) caramel, cut into small chunks [I used Kraft caramel squares]
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Chocolate Layer

3 cups (18 ounces) chopped milk chocolate or dark chocolate, melted [I used chopped Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate bars]
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening (optional)

Directions

Shortbread Crust

  1. Preheat your oven to 300°F. Spray a 9″ x 13″ pan lightly with cooking spray, or line with parchment, and set aside. [I prefer lining with parchment paper.]
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the flour. At first the mixture may seem dry, but will come together as you continue to beat at medium speed.
    Take the dough (it will be somewhat stiff) and press it evenly into the pan. Lightly flouring your fingertips will help with any sticking.
  3. Prick the crust all over with a fork. The holes will allow steam to escape and the crust will bake evenly with fewer bubbles.
  4. Bake the crust until it’s lightly golden brown on top and the edges are deeper golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately run a knife around the edges to loosen the crust. Set it aside to cool completely.

Caramel

  1. Melt the caramel and cream over low heat in a small saucepan [or with short pulses of heat (20-30 second increments) in the microwave].
  2. Pour the caramel over the cooled crust and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill and firm up.

Chocolate Layer

  1. Melt the milk or dark chocolate [I prefer dark chocolate] slowly in a double boiler or over very low heat.
  2. If it seems very thick, add a tablespoon of shortening to thin it. [I used shortening and find that it makes the chocolate easier to work with.]
  3. Pour evenly over the chilled caramel layer and spread to cover all of the caramel.
  4. Return to the fridge until the chocolate is well set.
  5. Cut into 2″ x 2″ squares to serve. [Don’t cut the bars directly out of the fridge as it will be difficult to cut because it’s so cold and the layers may separate.  Wait until the chocolate softens a little and then cut into bars.]

Note:  It’s best to store these bars in the refrigerator.  These bars can also be cut and dipped in milk chocolate to resemble Twix bars. After the caramel layer has chilled firm, cut down the length of the pan, splitting the bars into two long, narrow bars. Then cut each long strip into “fingers”. Dip the chilled bars into melted chocolate and place on parchment paper to set for several hours.

Chocolate Wakeups

Big kudos to my baking buddy, G, who has a gift for choosing good cookie recipes to bake.  During our recent baking session, out of the hundreds of cookie recipes in my 528 page cookie cookbook (King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion), G chose Chocolate Wakeups.  These crunchy edged, tender center shortbread chocolate cookies are highlighted by cinnamon with a touch of heat from black pepper and cayenne pepper, and the sprinkling of turbinado sugar on top gives them an extra crunch.  And if that’s not tempting enough, these are easy and fast to make.

Chocolate Wakeups- KAF Cookie1

Chocolate Wakeups

(from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion)
Makes 5 dozen cookies
My notes are in [  ] below.  I also rewrote some parts of the recipe to be more in line with the order that I like to mix together my ingredients.  

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup (2 1/2 ounces) natural cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
Pearl sugar or turbinado sugar (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
  3. In a medium size bowl, stir together the cocoa and flour until well combined.  Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, vanilla, peppers, cinnamon, and salt.
  5. Beat in the egg to the wet ingredients.
  6. Add the flour-cocoa mixture to the wet ingredients and mix.  The dough will be very stiff.
  7. Drop the dough by the teaspoonful onto the prepared baking sheets [I used a small cookie scoop.] .  Lightly flatten the cookies to 1/4 inch thick with the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in sugar. [If you slightly grease/butter the bottom of the glass, the sugar will stick to a bit better.]
  8. If desired, press some pearl or coarse sugar onto the top of each cookie. [I sprinkled turbinado sugar on top, and I liked how it gave the cookies and extra crunch.]
  9. Bake the cookies for 10 to 11 minutes.  They won’t look any more brown than the raw dough, and they won’t feel done, but that’s the correct time and temperature.  Remove the cookies from the oven, transfer them to a rack, and let them cool.

Dulce de Leche Shortbread Bars

Look at this chocolate.  It’s as smooth as glass.   And if you were sitting on your surfboard in the middle of this calm chocolate ocean, you won’t even be bummed that there wasn’t a wave in sight because you could dip your finger down past the dark chocolate into the sticky, cinnamon-infused dulce de leche sitting below, eventually stopping at the crispy, crumbly cinnamon-coconut shortbread crust.  You can’t get more stoked than that.
Salted Dulce de Leche Shortbread Bars- Penzeys2
All the delicious layers.
Salted Dulce de Leche Shortbread Bars- Penzeys3

Dulce de Leche Shortbread Bars

(Adapted from Penzey’s)
Makes approximately 24 bars
My notes are in [  ].

Ingredients

Shortbread Base

1 cup pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Dulce de Leche

1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons Lyle’s golden syrup (available by the sweeteners) [I didn’t have Lyle’s so I used Steen’s Blended Syrup Southern Made]
1 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Chocolate Topping

16 oz. dark chocolate [I used Trader Joe’s 72% 1lb dark chocolate bar.]
1 teaspoon butter
1-2 teaspoons coarse sea salt

Directions

Shortbread Crust

  1. Preheat the oven to 360°F.
  2. Line a 9×14 inch pan with parchment paper.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour mixture, brown sugar, coconut, butter, and cinnamon. Mix well on low.
  5. Press the dough into the baking pan so that it’s about 1/4-inch thick.
  6. Bake at 360° for 10 minutes.
  7. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool a bit.

Dulce de Leche

  1. Combine the milk, golden syrup, and butter in a small heavy saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, making sure to stir constantly.  At one point, the mixture may start to get lumpy (like ricotta cheese), but just keep stirring and it will smooth out.  Cook until big bubbles form and the mix is thickened and a light caramel color, about 8-10 minutes.
  2. Take the dulce de leche off of the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  3. Whisk in the cinnamon.
  4. Pour the dulce de leche over the shortbread base and gently spread it.
  5. Return the pan to the oven for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and let cool.

Chocolate Topping

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter using a double boiler or in a glass bowl placed over a pot of boiling water. Stir until melted.
  2. Pour and spread the chocolate over the cooled caramel.
  3. Sprinkle with the sea salt. [I forgot to sprinkle the sea salt on my bars, but next time I’ll make sure to do so.]
  4. Refrigerate until the chocolate has set, about 2 hours.
  5. Let the cold bars site at room temperature for about five minutes, and then cut into bars [if you cut the bars right out of the fridge when they’re too cold, the chocolate may crack or separate from the dulce de leche].  Cut and serve or refrigerate the cut pieces in an airtight container.

Caramel Pecan Bars

Looking for a passive-aggressive way to tell someone they’re nuts?  Give them these Caramel Pecan Bars and tell them, “I thought of you while baking these.”  These bars are the nuttiest bars I’ve come across with 6 cups (!!!) of pecans in the recipe. I only had 3 cups of pecans, so I halved the recipe.  The result was chewy, nutty, caramely, pecans riding atop a buttery, shortbread crust.  This may be one of the sweetest ways to throw some shade.

Caramel Pecan Bars- All the good cookies1

Caramel Pecan Bars

(from Cookies for Kids’ Cancer – All the Good Cookies by Gretchen Holt-Witt)
Makes 6 dozen squares

Ingredients

Crust

1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling

2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups light brown sugar
6 cups pecans
1/3 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Line a 9×13 inch baking pan with foil.

Crust

  1. Beat the butter and sugar in a mixer bowl until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes.
  2. In a separate, large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture, and beat until everything is incorporated.
  4. Press the dough into the bottom of the foil-lined pan.  Set the pan aside while you make the filling.

Filling

  1. Put the butter, honey, and sugars in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in the pecans, cream, and vanilla
  3. Pour the filling over the crust, and transfer the pan to the oven.
  4. Bake until set and deep brown, 35 to 45 minutes.
  5. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  When cool, remove from the pan and cut in 72 pieces.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Fudge Brownie Shortbread Bars

I love it when good food reminds other people of me.  This recipe for fudge brownie shortbread bars was passed along to me from a friend who said that she thought of me when she came across the recipe.  A thick, fudgy brownie sits on top of a buttery, crumbly shortbread bar, and the whole thing is topped off by a smooth, rich chocolate ganache.  The recipe takes a bit of time to make because of the three step process, but the outcome is worth the extra effort.

Shortbread Brownies- 12 tomatoes 2

Fudge Brownie Shortbread Bars

(Adapted from 12 Tomatoes)
Makes approximately 20 bars

Ingredients

Shortbread
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Brownies
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
8 tablespoons unsalted butter cut up into 8 pieces
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup cake flour (or 1 cup all-purpose as well)

Topping
1/2 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Directions

Shortbread

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F, and line a 9×9-inch baking dish with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on both sides.
  2. In the bowl of food processor, combine flour, sugar and salt and pulse together.
  3. Gradually add cold, cubed butter and vanilla extract and pulse until dough begins to come together.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form a dough ball with your hands.
  5. Transfer dough to greased baking dish and press firmly into the bottom, corners and edges of dish in an even layer.
  6. Place dish in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is a light golden color.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool.  Leave the oven at 350º F.

Brownies

  1. Prepare the brownie batter while the shortbread is baking.
  2. Line an 8″x8″ metal baking pan with aluminum foil.
  3. Combine chocolate and butter in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring frequently until smooth.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool about 5 minutes.
  5. Combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Mix until evenly incorporated.
  6. Add the chocolate mixture to the eggs mixture and stir until combined
  7. Add the flour and walnuts and fold in until the flour is just incorporated (no white streaks, but be careful to not over-mix)
  8. Pour batter over cooled shortbread crust.  Pour the batter into the baking pan and push it to the edges in an even layer. Use a rubber spatula to smooth out the top. and place in oven.
  9. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until edges begin to pull away from baking dish and center is set. (It’s ok if center has cracked.)

Topping and Finishing

  1. Place chocolate chips and heavy cream in microwave safe bowl. and stir until mixture is completely smooth and melted.
  2. Remove brownies from oven and let cool 15 minutes.
  3. Drizzle chocolate over brownies and let cool completely.
  4. Remove bars from baking dish by extracting parchment paper and cut into squares

Scottish Shortbread

Recently one of the long-time owners of the ballroom dance studio that I train at passed away after a lengthy illness.  Since he was Scottish, I decided to make some Scottish Shortbread as a small tribute to him.  This recipe is easy to make but has a long baking time (over an hour).  The shortbread has an airy and crumbly texture, yet it’s solid enough to support various toppings.  This recipe is great for customizing to your taste.  I made a second batch where I added 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the flour mixture.  I also experimented with toppings and whipped up a quick orange glaze by adding a couple of tablespoons of fresh squeezed orange juice to some confectioners (powdered) sugar until the glaze reached a pourable consistency.  And finally, I capped off the Scottish Shortbread making day by making an orange-lemon curd.

Basic Scottish Shortbread Scottish Shortbread - FC 10 Basic Scottish Shortbread recipe customized with the addition of an orange glaze.  Scottish Shortbread - FC 13 Scottish Shortbread topped with orange-lemon curd.Scottish Shortbread w lemon-lime curd- FC 4

Scottish Shortbread

(Adapted from Fine Cooking)
Makes 16 squares

Ingredients

Shortbread
6 oz. (1-1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
3-1/2 oz. (3/4 cup) cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
8 oz. (16 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 16 pieces
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Topping Options
Basic – 2 Tbs. superfine sugar to be sprinkled on top after baking OR
Orange glaze- a few tablespoons of fresh squeezed orange juice and a cup of confectioners sugar OR
Orange-Lemon Curd

Directions

Shortbread

  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 300°F.
  2. Line an 8×8-inch pan with heavy aluminum foil, letting the foil extend over two sides of the pan.
  3. Sift the flour, cornstarch, salt, and cinnamon (if using) into a large bowl.
  4. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar to the flour mixture, and, with an electric mixer on low speed, mix to just blend the ingredients.
  5. Add the butter pieces and vanilla and mix until large (1/4- to 1/2-inch) crumbs form, about 2 minutes.
  6. Gently press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Don’t pack the dough into the pan.
  7. Bake until the top of the shortbread just begins to turn golden, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
  8. Remove from the oven.

Topping and Finishing

For Basic Sugar Topping

  1. After removing the shortbread from the oven, immediately sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the top.
  2. Cut the shortbread into 16 squares (while it is still in the pan), being sure to cut through to the bottom. Don’t wait until the shortbread is totally cool before cutting as the shortbread will crumble if you try to cut it when it’s too cool.  Cool completely before lifting the foil and shortbread from the pan.

For Orange Glaze

  1. Cut the shortbread into 16 squares (while it is still in the pan), being sure to cut through to the bottom. Don’t wait until the shortbread is totally cool before cutting as the shortbread will crumble if you try to cut it when it’s too cool.
  2. While the shortbread is cooling, stir a few tablespoons of fresh squeezed orange juice into one cup of confectioners sugar until the mixture reaches a pourable consistency.  Wait until the bars have totally cooled before drizzling the glaze on top.