Shanon and I were back in the virtual kitchen together again last month, and you can thank her for choosing these little bars of awesomeness. I’ve been all about sweet-salty dessert combos lately. There’s just something about that peculiar flavor balance that keeps people wanting just one more bite. If you haven’t tried it yet because you think salt on a dessert is weird, don’t worry I totally get it. I felt that way too. For a long time, I’d see desserts that looked gorgeous but for the generous sprinkle of salt on top. I gave them the side-eye. Last fall, I tried these cookies on a whim and everything changed. Now I’m a convert and I have learned to appreciate the role of salt in giving a dessert that extra something.
Chocolate and caramel are made for each other, and even skeptics know that salted caramel is the bomb so it stands to reason that a salted caramel chocolate shortbread bar would be awesome…and it is. I’ve seen recipes such as this likened to Twix bars before but we didn’t really think they tasted like Twix at all. Don’t get me wrong, I looove Twix, but these are maybe a more sophisticated version of the same flavor palette. The caramel layer is a bit soft and gooey, and we found we liked them best from the freezer. You will definitely want to freeze some because the recipe makes enough to feed a small army. But you wouldn’t really want to halve it, because that would just be silly, right? If you enjoy the sweet-salty dessert combo, be sure to stay tuned because I have several more planned in the next month or so and I can’t wait to share them with you!
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.