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bdayshortbread04

When I lived in England, one of my favorite desserts was Millionaire’s Shortbread, a bakery treat made of sweet sedimentary layers of cookie, caramel, and chocolate. These cookie bars are, in a word, dreamy — the kind of dessert that requires you close your eyes for a moment after you take a bite.

They start with a tender shortbread base that is everything a cookie by that name should be: buttery, crumbly, and deceptively simple. Shortbread is one of the culinary miracles that first drew me to baking, and it still thrills me to see flour, sugar, butter, and a pinch of salt transformed into something so special. With the help of a food processor, this version comes together in less than five minutes, and that takes into account some dawdling while you measure.

While the cookie base bakes, you have the pleasure of meeting the British cousin of dulce de leche, a thick, milky caramel the color of pale butterscotch. It is just as simple to put together as the shortbread, and never have ten minutes’ stirring been so well-rewarded. Of course, a recipe called Millionaire’s Shortbread has to be over the top, and a layer of silky chocolate ganache takes it there in style. Despite its rich name and taste, Millionaire’s Shortbread has only six ingredients total. Of course, after the first bite, it’s also obvious that there’s butter in every layer. ;)

In deference to its British provenance, I am providing the recipe measurements in both volume and metric weight. I do actually pull out my little electric kitchen scale to make this one, if only because fiddling with buttons and using the word “tare” pleases me. It will turn out deliciously either way, so use whichever version you prefer. And one last note: in my house, this is now known as Birthday Shortbread because the son of a dear friend asked if he could have this recipe as his sixteenth birthday present. What better recommendation could you ask for, really? A dessert fit for millionaires and distinguishing teenagers alike.

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Birthday Shortbread
makes twenty-seven 1″x3″ bars

For cookie:
1 3/4 c. (225 grams) all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
1/4 c. (50 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 c. (170 grams or 1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces
pinch of salt

For caramel:
14 oz. can (400 grams) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c. (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 c. (100 grams) granulated sugar
pinch of salt

For chocolate:
6 oz. (170 grams) semisweet chocolate chips or finely chopped chocolate bar
1/4 c. (55 grams or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
pinch salt

Oven 350F. Start by making the shortbread base: in a food processor, combine flour and sugar and pulse a few times to mix. Add butter pieces and process until uniformly mixed into buttery sand. Pour crumbs in 9″x13″ pan or glass baking dish, spread evenly, and press down until crumbs stick together to form dough. (Quick tip: to be sure it’s tightly packed and you have a nice, flat base, cover the surface of the dough with a piece of plastic wrap and press down firmly with the bottom of a measuring cup.) Bake shortbread for 20-25 minutes, until pale golden brown at edges.

While shortbread cools, prepare caramel filling. In medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, butter, and salt over medium heat. Stir occasionally to blend ingredients until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly. Cook 10 minutes, until caramel has thickened into a pale golden custard, then pour over cooked shortbread base. Spread with silicone spatula so filling evenly covers cookie and allow to cool to room temperature, at least two hours.

When base and filling are cool, make chocolate topping. In microwave-safe bowl, cook chocolate, butter, and salt until melted and glossy, stirring every 30 seconds to prevent scorching. Spread evenly over cookie bars and allow to cool at least 30 minutes, longer as desired. Cut with a sharp paring knife into nine rows and three columns, for a total of twenty-seven 1″x3″ bars. (Quick tip: to keep your bars neater, dip blade of knife into piping hot water and dry it off between each cut.)

Store leftovers tightly wrapped at room temperature. This recipe is simplicity itself, and my 12-year-old can make it without assistance. This may or may not count as a good thing in your book, depending on your self-control level; regardless, it’s good to have up your sleeve when you want to bake something fantastic without venturing to the grocery store or thinking very hard. :)

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