I've had my eye on this recipe for a while. It's another one from my Baked cookbook, and since I've had nothing but luck with their bar cookie recipes, I thought it would be a simple enough endeavor. This cookie combines three irresistible (to me, anyway) layers: crumbly, buttery shortbread, topped with a thick, creamy milk caramel, then finished off with deep, dark chocolate.
In addition to sounding positively scrumptious, this recipe held the distinction of having me make my very own dulce de leche from cans of sweetened condensed milk, which I have wanted to try but never had. It sounded very easy, so I wasn't too worried about the whole process.
I started out by making the shortbread cookie layer. It is done by mixing together the dough ingredients, partially by mixer and partially by hand, and transferring it all into a 9x13-inch pan. It's pressed down evenly, and then pricked all over with a fork. Once it is fully baked, you allow it to cool before adding the remaining layers.
The next layer is where I started to run into some trouble. Well, maybe not trouble (yet), but I did run into some uncertainty as to whether or not I was doing things correctly. For the dulce de leche layer, you simply empty two cans of sweetened condensed milk into a heatproof bowl, set it over a pot of simmering water, and allow it to thicken and turn a darker, more caramelly color. The cookbook said this would take anywhere from 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
At around the 2 hour mark, we were still simmering away. By then, the mixture had turned a slightly darker shade and was marginally thicker. However, it was nowhere near ready to come off the heat. I'm pretty sure I know what the problem was. I had used one can of regular milk, and one can of fat-free milk. I realize that you should probably only use this method for full-fat milk, but I really thought it could be done. I should have anticipated that it would have a harder time thickening up, but I wanted to experiment, anyway.
By nearly 3 hours, I decided to quit while I was ahead. At this point, the milk had definitely transformed into a much more gooey, almost spreadable mixture, but was still thin compared to standard caramel. In addition, the color was not nearly as dark as I would have liked. I looked up pictures on the Internet of dulce de leche as a reference, and saw caramels of all colors and consistencies. Thus, I finally decided it would be okay, and I used it on the shortbread.
I allowed this layer to firm up in the fridge for two hours, then put together the dark chocolate topping and spread that over the dulce de leche. Once everything was all layered nicely, it went back into the fridge to set up and become hard enough to cut into squares. I decided to let it sit overnight and cut them in the morning.
When I cut my first row of squares, I could immediately see the negative effects of cooking the caramel as a full-fat/no-fat hybrid. As the squares were sliced away individually, you could instantly see the caramel begin to ooze out the sides. Worse, they just kept oozing and oozing. It was even difficult to snap that first picture of this post before the caramel ran completely down the bars. I am currently storing them in the freezer; the fridge just didn't seem to keep them stiff enough. I'm disappointed in the way they turned out, at least in appearance.
In taste, though? They are very decadent, very rich, and totally delicious. It's a shame that they are way too messy to serve at Andy's office; I'm sure these bars would be a crowd-pleaser. Nevertheless, they will be safely stowed away in our freezer here at home, where they will lurk in the shadows until a chocolate craving takes hold....
adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
makes 24-36 bars
For the shortbread:
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting
1 large egg yolk, slightly beaten
For the caramel filling:
28 oz. (2 14-oz. cans) sweetened condensed milk (and I learned that only full-fat will do!)
For the chocolate glaze:
6 oz. dark chocolate (60% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 tsp. light corn syrup
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
1. Make the shortbread: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter until blended.
2. Add 2 cups of the flour and beat until well combined. Add the egg yolk and beat for a few seconds, or until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough and your hands with a little flour. Use your hands to gently work the dough into a 6-by-6-inch square. You will have to turn the dough and sprinkle the top with flour as you go. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup flour on the surface of the dough. Fold the dough over and knead until incorporated, then flatten the dough into a rectangle. Transfer the rectangle to the prepared pan and press it into the pan.
3. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 22 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
4. Make the caramel filling: Put the sweetened condensed milk in a medium heatproof bowl and set it over a saucepan of boiling water over low heat. Cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until thick and caramel colored. Remove the bowl from the pan and beat until smooth.
5. Pour the caramel filling over the cooled shortbread and place the pan in the refrigerator until cool, about two hours.
6. Make the chocolate glaze: In a large, nonreactive metal bowl, combine the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for 30 seconds to cool slightly.
7. Pour the mixture over the chilled caramel layer and use an offset spatula to spread it into an even layer. Put in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the glaze hardens.
8. Remove the pan from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving, so as not to crack the chocolate glaze. Cut into squares and serve. The bars can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.