Guys. Let me tell you how epic these bars are. I made them once for a Yuletide open circle in 2011, and my High Priestess still requests them fairly regularly. In fact, I got an e-mail from her this week asking if I would post the recipe to our group’s website. Trust me, these really are cookies that will be remembered. My mom calls them “wonderful bites of heaven,” and she’s not a woman to lavish praise. I’ve tried to describe them as being “like a grown up Twix bar, with lots more interest and subtlety”, and that seems to go over well. But even so, they do have to be tried to be believed.
Now why have I only made them for the coven that one time? Well, there’s three major reasons. The first is that I only have Pyrex 9×13 pans at the moment, and those have sloping sides and rounded edge curves. These bars really do much better with pans that have straight sides and 90-degree corners, and I’m a perfectionist enough to want to hold off on making the bars again until I get the pans I want. The second reason is that I personally don’t have much patience for recipes where I have to do different components over a longer stretch of time and keep things all chilled. I like a baking task where I can get everything done within an hour. The third reason? Willpower doesn’t exist when it comes to these cookies, and I’ll be damned if I get stuck with leftovers.
That being said, it might be worth considering halving the recipe and making it in an 8×8 or 9×9 pan, especially for smaller gatherings. I already am an advocate of halving the caramel itself as I think the original amount overwhelms the shortbread and chocolate. If I were to halve the entire recipe, I’d use half of the caramel on cookies and maybe save the other half to use as an apple dip…for which it works extremely well.
Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars
For the shortbread layer:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
For the caramel layer:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp. light corn syrup
2 (14 oz.) cans sweetened condensed milk
For the chocolate layer:
8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. light corn syrup
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Fleur de sel or sea salt, for sprinkling
To make the shortbread layer, preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper. In a small bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir with a fork to blend, and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until well blended, about 1-2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed blend in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan and press in an even layer over the bottom of the pan. Bake 15-18 minutes or until golden. (If the crust puffs up a bit while baking, just gently press it down while it is cooling.) Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely.
To make the caramel layer, combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup and condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue simmering and stirring until the mixture turns an amber color and thickens slightly. Pour the mixture over the shortbread layer, smooth the top, and allow to cool completely and set. (I chilled at this stage to ensure that the caramel layer would not melt when the warm chocolate was added.)
To make the chocolate glaze, combine the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour evenly over the caramel layer and use an offset spatula to smooth the top. Allow to cool for a minute or two and then sprinkle with fleur de sel. Chill, covered, until ready to slice and serve.
If cut into 1.5-inch squares, the recipe yields 4.25 dozen cookies.