Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

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It’s officially Christmas cookie season. That means, for the next couple of weeks (probably through New Year’s) it will be all Christmas cookies all the time. This year, I’m going the slightly nontraditional route with my tins, including some new recipes and experiments, but if you’re looking for some classics, here’s last year’s selection:

Anyways, this week’s recipe was definitely an experiment. I had seen it on Pinterest and thought they looked amazing. Also, I needed to make something that would keep for a week since I’ll be making the rest of my cookies in a bit of a cookie making binge next weekend.

Side note: when I told my mom my plans of baking for the entirety of next weekend, she immediately recommended I invite friends over to help. I had to explain to her that I actually love listening to Christmas music and spending the day alone in my kitchen making cookies. If that makes me an introvert I’m totally OK with that.

So, it starts off pretty straight forward. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

 

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Then, combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until fluffy.

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Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. It will be in smallish pieces.

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Press the dough into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with parchment paper. You don’t want to skip the parchment paper on this one – it’s going to come in very handy when you go to cut the bars later.

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Bake at 325°F for about 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Put on wire rack to cool completely.

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At this point, I was cruising along, feeling totally fine about my decision with this recipe. My shortbread layer looked great, life was good.

Then, I came to the caramel layer. Now, I think I’ve discussed my fear of caramel before, but I couldn’t find the post to reference, so I’ll say it again: I am always afraid that I will burn the sugar. And burnt sugar is possibly the worst smell ever. It’s amazing that something so sweet and innocent can turn so vile and disgusting in about 5 seconds flat.

To add to this fear, this particular recipe called for a different combination of things to make the caramel than I was used to. I’ve made caramel using actual caramels and melting them with sweetened condensed milk. I’ve made it with just sugar and butter. But this called for a weird combination of the two: butter, sugar, karo syrup, and sweetened condensed milk.

However, the shortbread had gone beautifully, so I had no reason to doubt the recipe yet. I went ahead and trusted it. I combined the four ingredients in a medium saucepan, heating it over medium heat until the butter melted, stirring frequently.

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Then, I increased the heat to medium high, hoping to bring it to a boil while stirring constantly, after which I would reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to stir constantly until it turned amber in color. Alas, it was not to be. I began to notice little flecks of amber in my supposed caramel. I was pretty sure that wasn’t how it was supposed to work, but I pushed on.

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Turns out, my sugar found its way into the corners (round pans don’t have corners, but you know what I mean) of my saucepan and begin to do that terrible thing where it burns. Even my constant stirring didn’t prevent it. When I realized what was happening, I turned the heat down to simmer and just stirred until it turned less bright whitish-yellow than sweetened condensed milk, and called it a caramel, which I then poured over the shortbread layer.

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Now, it may be that I was just overconfident and got lazy, and your caramel layer may turn a beautiful amber. But I think if I were to make these again, I would use the caramel from my Peanut Butter Samoa Bars recipe instead of the one they had here. Fortunately, the end result, though maybe not as caramel-y as it was supposed to be, is still 100% delicious.

After letting the caramel cool for a bit, I put it in the freezer to chill overnight. You definitely don’t have to let it chill that long, I just didn’t feel like finishing it last night.

For the chocolate layer, I did decide to stray from the recipe’s suggestion of a double boiler and used the microwave method instead.

Combine the butter, chocolate, and karo syrup in a microwaveable bowl. Heat in 15 second intervals at 50% power, stirring after each interval, until smooth.

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Pour the chocolate layer over the caramel layer and sprinkle with sea salt. Chill until ready to cut and serve.

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These will keep in the freezer (and taste better out of the freezer), for as long as you want. I cut them into bars and wrapped them individually in plastic wrap, but that’s more because they’ll be going in tins later. End product: a slightly less caramel-flavored Twix bar.

Enjoy!

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Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

Shortbread Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Caramel Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons Karo syrup
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Karo syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • sea salt, for sprinkling

Shortbread Directions:

  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar using the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.
  4. Press the dough into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with parchment paper.
  5. Bake at 325°F for 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Caramel Directions:

  1. Combine butter, sugar, Karo syrup, and sweetened condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Stir frequently until butter is melted.
  3. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly (including in the corners).
  4. Reduce heat to simmer and continue to stir constantly until caramel turns amber in color.
  5. Pour over shortbread layer and chill.

Chocolate Directions:

  1. Combine butter, chocolate, and Karo syrup in a microwaveable bowl.
  2. Microwave in 15 second intervals at 50% power, stirring after each interval, until smooth.
  3. Pour over caramel layer and sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Chill until ready to cut into bars.
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Sea Salt Brownies

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In school on Friday, a student asked me what I do over the weekends.  I realized that when I was a student, I, too, had a hard time imagining my teachers existing outside of the classroom.  Did they just do biology experiments all weekend?  Did they sleep at their desk?  Did they have a life?

Well, this weekend anyways, I spent my Friday night with a group of other teachers that I’m friends with.  We baked, made hexaflexagons (these will blow your mind), and were all in bed at a reasonable hour.  So you can decide for yourself if we have lives, but I definitely enjoyed myself.

Per request of said teachers, I found a brownie recipe to make this particular weekend.  However, though I do enjoy a classic brownie, I usually like there to be something at least mildly more complex about them (like my Mexican Brownies).  This preference developed one summer in college when a friend (hi Marj!) introduced me to the wonder that was the Atticus Bakery Salt Brownie.  It was fudgy, sweet, salty, and huge.  Basically everything I wanted in a dessert at the time.  And about a block away from the apartment we were subletting that summer, which was also pretty clutch.

Anyways, with these brownies in mind, I set out to find something that might be close online, and stumbled upon this recipe from Food & Wine magazine.  I basically did exactly what it says to, except without as much patience as they seem to think bakers of brownies have.

First, I directed my lovely sous chef of the evening, Kristen (she teaches Chemistry), to chop up some dark chocolate for me.

 

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Then, in a medium saucepan over the lowest of low heats, I melted together the butter and chocolate, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.

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Once melted, remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the cocoa.  Then whisk in the sugar.  Then whisk in the eggs.  Then whisk in the vanilla.  Then whisk in the flour.  You should be seeing a pattern here – whisk in all ingredients one at a time.

Pro Tip: The more utensils you use to combine ingredients, the more utensils you get to “clean” (i.e. lick) at the end of the process.

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Finally, the end result will look something like this:

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Now this is where I may have made an error according to the original recipe, but I’m calling it a decidedly better decision.  The recipe says to line a 9×9 inch baking dish with aluminum foil.  I lined an 8×8 dish without totally realizing that’s what I did.

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Pour the batter into the dish and smooth the top (this lets you use another utensil).  Sprinkle liberally with sea salt.

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Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes.  Even though that’s for a 9×9 pan, I also did 35 minutes for my 8×8 pan, resulting in an exceptionally fudgy brownie.  When you put the toothpick in at the end, there should still be batter on it when you pull it out.  I’m not gonna lie, that was the most exciting part of the recipe for me.  It gave me permission to underbake my brownies, which, let’s face it, we all want to do anyways when we make brownies but feel restricted by the “toothpick should come out clean” convention.

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Next, let your brownies cool for an hour in the pan at room temperature and another hour in the fridge.  I was not that patient, and compromised with myself at around 45 minutes, but I do actually think waiting the whole hour would be worth it for the ease of cutting.

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When they are ready to cut, you may notice the middle has sunk in a little.  That’s just an indication of how wonderfully dense and fudgy it will be.

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Cut the brownies into 16 pieces.  As you can see, my cutting was quite difficult because I didn’t wait the full time (note the excessive chunks of brownie on the knife), but this doesn’t affect their enjoyability, I promise.  Store them in the fridge to keep them nice and dense.

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Though not quite the same texture as the one from Atticus, and definitely not as large, this recipe did become my new favorite brownie recipe.  If you’re unsure how you feel about adding salt, they would be perfectly delicious without it.  However, I highly recommend trying it with the salt, because once you go salted dark chocolate, you never go back.

Enjoy!

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Sea Salt Brownies

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • sea salt for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate over very low heat, stirring constantly until smooth.  Remove from heat.
  2. Whisk in, one at a time, the cocoa powder, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and flour.
  3. Line an 8×8 baking dish with aluminum foil and pour batter into dish.
  4. Sprinkle liberally with sea salt.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes.  A toothpick inserted in the middle should still have batter on it.
  6. Allow to cool for 1 hour at room temperature in the pan.  Allow to cool an additional hour in the fridge.
  7. Remove brownies from pan and cut into 16 pieces.