Chocolate Caramel Millionaire's Shortbread
Millionaire’s shortbread is a treasure trove of luxury. Indeed, its name derives from the wealth of rich components that comprise each slice. It is nothing short of a confectionary dream - buttery, crumbly shortbread and soft, salty caramel atop with bittersweet dark chocolate. Done well, it perfectly harmonises richness, creaminess, sharpness and for me, spice. When you bite into a square of millionaire’s shortbread your teeth should sink and glide effortlessly through each layer, leaving behind deep tunnels, a mapped memory of your pilgrimage to taste nirvana. A piece is the ultimate companion to a drizzly afternoon slump or midday sugar lull, providing an injection of decadence to reboot the dreary.
Unfortunately, so many of the millionaire’s shortbread options available to us commercially are not worthy of the ‘millionaire’ title - I would consider perhaps ‘bingo winner’s shortbread’ or ‘tax rebate shortbread’ more suitable alternatives. These inferior varieties are often so ramped up on sugar that they become adhesive when eaten, requiring substantial water intake to unbind the two halves of the jaw. The shortbread base is often grainy, the chocolate topping diluted with syrups and stabilisers, and the caramel simply a golden hue of tar. It summary, not good.
I know that glancing down the list of ingredients below, the task of making millionaire’s shortbread at home may seem a daunting one. I won’t lie, it is a rather more complicated recipe, however the main success factor involved is patience. Certainly, the bulk of the time taken to make the shortbread is in allowing the separate layers to cool or set, which for me is a blessing, allowing time to chip away at other daily tasks, like reading books, drinking coffee or playing with my cat (I could also include washing up etc but that’s far less fun!).
The shortbread base is a simple dough, abundant in butter and lightened with fresh, zingy orange zest. I also add mahleb and cardamon to create subtle warmth and offset the confident tang of coarse, flaky sea salt. I chill the dough for a short while before baking to ensure it retains its shape, and in fact the base can be prepared a number of days in advance and simply refrigerated until ready to use.
I abide by the general life rule that if more chocolate is a possibility then it should be a reality. As such, the caramel layer to my shortbread is actually a chocolate caramel, and potentially this should be the only form of caramel ever made. I used golden caster sugar to create deep, treacly undertones and delicate rose water for a sweet, floral hit. The crucial element of the caramel (and life happiness) is the quality of the chocolate. I always use a dark chocolate, so 70% cocoa solids upwards, to attain the most desirable result. It is important however to taste the chocolate you are using beforehand; chocolate has an almost indefinite myriad of possible flavour notes, from heady espresso, deep vine fruits right through to delicate peach or biting raspberry. Ultimately your choice should be informed by your preference, though I always tend to use chocolate with punchy jam sweetness, think sticky fig or dried fruit, or perhaps chocolate with a toasty, roasted macadamia finish. Equally important as the chocolate itself is the waiting time before adding the chocolate to the caramel. Chocolate can be fiendish to work with; it’s structure is fragile, and incredibly heat sensitive, so adding it to burning hot caramel will undoubtedly cause splitting. After ten minutes of cooling however, the caramel will be the perfect temperature, a warm bath of sorts, to receive your chocolate, allowing it to melt as you gently stir to form a silky, cohesive caramel.
The final layer is the chocolate ganache. Often, millionaire’s shortbread features a top of layer of just chocolate, simply melted and allowed to re-solidify. Whilst this is undoubtedly tasty, I find the flavour and mouthfeel overly dominating, and indeed the characteristic snap of the chocolate can here be detrimental to portioning. I instead prefer the velvety, comforting texture of ganache, which envelops the caramel and shortbread yet does not overshadow them. Again I use golden caster sugar here to add depth, and thick double cream to mellow the chocolate. For crunch, I like to sprinkle the ganache with invitingly bitter cacao nibs, the final flourish in achieving chocolate galore.
On a side note, I decided to make this millionaire’s shortbread during a heatwave. Ambitious, and at times fraught, it was definitely worthwhile. Certainly, as I cut through the shortbread in my 29c kitchen, I was cautious of a cataclysmic caramel melt down. Thankfully, this did not ensue, though the heatwave caramel was delightfully soft as a fondant centre, and the ganache truffle smooth. So I can assure you, that even in less than ideal circumstances, this recipe is a success. Be your inner millionaire, and indulge in a millionaire’s shortbread worthy of your mighty self.
For the Shortbread Base
225g butter (soft)
95g golden caster sugar
95g dark brown muscovado sugar
1 orange zest
5 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla paste
300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1tsp ground mahleb
1/4 tsp ground cardamon
Dark Chocolate-Rose Caramel
300g golden caster sugar
300ml double cream
3tbsp golden syrup/honey
1tsp rose water
1tsp sea salt (heaped)
100g dark chocolate (chopped)
112g double cream
300g dark chocolate (chopped)
15g golden caster sugar
2 tbsp cacao nibs
Line a 12” by 9” tray bake tin with baking parchment and set aside
For the Shortbread Base
- Beat the sugars and orange zest together with a hand whisk until fragrant - this step helps to release the natural oils held in the orange skin which increases flavour
- Tip the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer along with the butter and beat until light
- Mix the egg yolks with the vanilla and slowly add to the butter-sugar mix, beating well after eat addition until combined (add patiently to avoid the mixture curdling)
- Finally add the dry ingredients and mix to form a dough
- Tip the dough into the prepared baking tin and press to cover the base, right into the corners. Use a palette knife or back of a spoon to smooth out
- Chill the base for at least 30 minutes, in which time preheat the oven to 160c.
- Bake the chilled shortbread for 18-20 minutes until pale golden and dry to the touch. Set aside to cool completely
For the Chocolate-Rose Caramel
Have all ingredients weighed and ready to go before beginning
- Add the sugar and 4tbsp of water to a heavy based saucepan. Set over a medium heat and allow the sugar to melt without stirring. Slowly increase the heat and cook until the sugar is a deep chestnut colour.
- Remove from the heat and add the cream, vanilla and rose along with the golden syrup/honey. Add this carefully as the mixture will spit, mixing with a balloon whisk continually to incorporate.
- Return the mixture back to the heat to thicken up, ensuring any bits of caramel stuck to the edges of the pan are scraped back into the centre. The mixture needs to come to ‘soft ball’ stage to ensure the correct set is achieved. Either using a sugar thermometer, wait until the caramel reached 110c, or test by dropping a little tea spoon tip full of the mixture into icy water, where it should form a soft ball on contact.
- When soft ball stage has been reached, remove the caramel from the heat and add the butter and salt, whisking to combine.
- Set aside for ten minutes, then add the chopped dark chocolate and stir to melt. The mixture may split if added too early, so do set a timer and be patient.
- Pour the chocolate-rose caramel over the cooled shortbread base and set aside to set. This takes approximately 1.5-2 hours at room temperature, or slightly less in the fridge.
For the Chocolate Ganache
- Place the cream and sugar in a small saucepan, bring to the boil.
- When boiling, pour over the chopped dark chocolate and stir to combine
- Pour over the caramel and top with cacao nibs
- Allow to set before portioning - approximately 1 hour at room temperature
- Portion with a hot knife into 16 generous pieces of 20 smaller pieces.