Crisp, buttery cookie base, topped with gooey, rich, creamy caramel, covered with deep, dark chocolate, what could be more irresistible in a cookie? I’ve been wanting to try out this recipe for ages, so this year’s Bloggers Without Borders Cookie Swap NYC on Sunday, a gathering of bloggers, writers, and bakers all with sweet treats in hand, seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that. I’d first heard of this confection through an English colleague who declared at work one particularly extra-stressful day that she had a craving for them. Sadly, I never got to make them while we were still in the same office, but maybe I can swing a trip to the UK soon for us to get together to share a plate of them over mugs of steamy, milky tea and a good gossip.
This year we were again hosted by the wonderful folks at Hill Country Barbecue (cookies + barbecue & fixin’s = perfect Sunday lunch). We took over the downstairs of their restaurant, located just off of Madison Square Park, and piled up the cookies on the tables they’d sent up just for us. More than only an excuse to indulge our respective sweet teeth, this gathering also highlighted the work that BWOB has been doing with Why Hunger?, which is dedicated to providing food resources through grassroots and community organizations, and a portion of the entry fee went to supporting their work.
Chocolate anything seemed to be one theme this year with several folks making various chocolate-chocolate creations. Colleen of Souffle Bombay brought these gorgeous Chocolate Chambord cookies. By the way, her phenomenal Caramel & Chocolate Tart with a Shortbread Crust from the Pie Party in October is now up on her website, too. Jersey Girl Cooks Lisa brought Cherry Toffee Cookies with drizzled dark chocolate and sea salt. Then there were the gooey creations like the Pecan Bars from BK Baker and Sharon’s Wedding Squares by Abby Dodge that just made your eyes open wide as they passed by you on the way to the table. Gail from One Tough Cookie, my cookie-decorating idol, brought beautiful venue-appropriate, cowboy-themed creations.
With the holiday rush in full swing, it was really nice to have a chance to take an afternoon out of all the shopping and planning madness to catch up with these talented and amazing folks. Kelly of Kelly Bakes came up to the city from Philadelphia. Betty Ann of Mango Queen and her husband Elpi drove in from New Jersey, where they’d been really hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. I also got to catch up with Tara of Chip Chip Hooray, whom I’d only caught in passing at the Pie Party. Given how upside down our lives had all gotten with weather-related incidents the past couple of months, I think that seeing each other in person, safe and sound, might also have been a bit therapeutic, I mean, aside from bonding over our mutual love of baking and sweets.
Prep Time: A few hours (each layer has to cool and set before the next one is added)
Serving Size: Makes one 8″ x 8″ pan, so I’ll let you be the judge of how many servings
Shortbread Layer: (this follows the classic 3-2-1 ratio of flour-fat-sugar)
1 c. All-purpose Flour
1/2 c. Salted Butter (1 stick), softened
1/4 c. White Sugar (regular, not superfine/caster)
Caramel Layer: (see this helpful tutorial by David Lebovitz)
1 c. White Sugar
1/4 c. (4 Tbsp.) Unsalted Butter
1/3 c. Heavy Cream
1/8-1/4 tsp. Sea Salt (I used Maldon)
Two 3 oz. bars Semi-sweet Chocolate (72% cacao)
1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix together butter and sugar until creamy. Then, add the flour and combine it thoroughly. In an 8″ x 8″ pan (I used a Pyrex one and left it ungreased), pat in the crumbly shortbread dough. Unlike pie dough, this one is very forgiving, so you can patch it together to create the dough layer in the pan.
Bake dough for 25-30 minutes, turning around halfway during the cooking time so that it bakes evenly. The outer edge should be a medium golden brown when it is taken out of the oven. Set aside to cool down while making the caramel layer. You can also bake this part in advance and add the other layers later.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, put one cup of white sugar and turn the heat on low. Wait. Be patient. Let the heat, sugar, and chemistry work their magic. (here’s a tutorial to watch before attempting to do this)
Don’t walk away from the stove. Wait some more. Be patient a little bit longer. After maybe ten minutes, if that, you will end up with a dark amber liquid with all the sugar melted completely. Turn off the stove and move the pan to another burner. The range between perfectly melted and a burnt, dark, mess that has to be thrown out is about 10 seconds, if that, as Tara and I discussed on Sunday.
Then, quickly stir in the butter. The mixture will foam up once the butter is added. Once the butter has been fully incorporated, mix in the heavy cream. The caramel will thicken up the longer it is left to sit. I placed the caramel in the refrigerator overnight. To loosen it up again so that I could pour it over the shortbread, I gently stirred it while re-heating it over a low flame until it was more viscous.
Pour the caramel over the cooled shortbread. (seeing this photo, Kelly said, “I want my mouth right there under that stream of caramel.”) Spread it with a rubber spatula or use the tilting the pan side-to-side method to make sure the caramel covers the shortbread completely and is in an even layer. Sprinkle with a light dusting of sea salt. The caramel doesn’t have to be completely coated in salt, but the pop of a little bit of salt brings out the other flavors in the layers. Let the caramel layer set for 10-15 minutes before adding the chocolate layer.
Break the chocolate into chunks, if using bars of chocolate. In a double boiler (or in a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, which is my usual method), melt the chocolate until it is completely liquid. Remove the bowl from the water, and stir in the butter until it is completely incorporated and the chocolate is glossy.
Pour the chocolate over the cooled caramel layer. Use a spatula or the same tilting the pan side-to-side method to make sure that the mixture coats the top of the caramel evenly so that the cookies will have three distinctive layers. Let it set for at least an hour in the refrigerator.
Before cutting the cookies into pieces, let them come to room temperature for 5 minutes or so. The shortbread and caramel layers are rather firm, so it will be difficult to cut through them if the cookies are really chilled.
Once the cookies are cut and plated, you can return them to the refrigerator to chill and to maintain their three-tiered shape. Kept out at room temperature for an extended period of time, the caramel layer will warm up, and the cookies will start to sag, as you can see in the photo of them from the Cookie Swap.
Hide a few pieces for yourself, as once these are put out for everyone to enjoy, they won’t last long.
Kitchen Witch Tip:
The butter I used throughout this recipe was Kerrygold. I’ve long been a fan of using this brand for my baking projects as I think it gives the most consistent results and has the right fat-water ratio to make them come out exactly right (unless I mess up another part of the recipe that is). I also have to give them a special nod as they were a sponsor for the Pie Party this year and provided us with free butter to take away at the end of the evening in addition to a coupon for free butter or cheese – any baker’s dream!