These past two weeks have been very tough for me. My friends and I made a (very stupid, in retrospect) bet about who could go on the longest without their favorite food. Mine, of course, was chocolate. Why did I agree to this ridiculous bet? I still wonder… daily. In any case, I have had no form of chocolate in over two weeks! That includes hot chocolate, chocolate milk, chocolate bars, chocolate desserts and even cocoa powder. It hurts. All that to say that last night I desperately needed to bake something that did not contain chocolate and could satisfy my sweet tooth.
I thus present to you – caramel walnut shortbread squares. These little bars of heavenly gooeyness were an instant hit at work. They received an “honorable mention” from a few colleagues and definitely goes on my list of top desserts I have made from this cookbook (or ever, for that matter). The bite of the shortbread base actually makes the whole bar perfect. It supports the scrumptious gooey caramel and walnut topping. At first I thought that the walnut to surface area ratio was going to be too high. It is, I mean, there are a lot of walnuts on these bars, but they are best that way. If you want a sweet, gooey and satisfying dessert, definitely try these bars.
Ingredients for base:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup cool unsalted butter, cut in pieces
Ingredients for filling:
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 tablespoons water
- ¼ cup whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 egg
- ½ cup packed light brown sugar*
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups walnut halves**
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper so that the paper comes up the sides.
- Stir the flour, sugar and salt together.
- Cut in the butter until the mixture is a rough, crumbly texture. It should not come together as a dough. Press this mixture into the prepared pan and bake for about 15 minutes, just until the edges begin to brown. Cool while preparing the filling.
- Place the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepot and bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered and without stirring, occasionally brushing the sides of the pot with water until the sugar caramelizes to a rich amber color, about 4 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the cream and butter until it is blended and looks like caramel. Watch out for the steam! Note: if the sugar sticks to the whisk or pot, return the pot to low heat and stir evenly until evenly melted. Allow the caramel to cool for 10 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, then whisk in the brown sugar and vanilla extract.
- Gently whisk in the caramel, then stir in the walnut pieces. Pour this mixture into the prepared pan over the base and spread the walnut pieces evenly. Bake for 20 minutes, until the edges are bubbling. Cool the squares to room temperature before slicing.
Notes from Valerie:
- * I had no more light brown sugar, so used dark brown sugar instead. Tasted great!
- ** I used walnut pieces instead of walnut halves, since I had those on hand and evidently the taste would not be altered.