On the same day that I finally took a long overdue trip to the dentist and thought that it might be a nice idea to go on a little diet for a few days, I put together a totally addictive batch of Millionaire's Shortbread. Is this what psychologists mean by "self-sabotage"? Please advise.
I suppose I could also be getting myself into a bit of hot water by posting about a traditional Scottish recipe in time for St. Patrick's Day. But since a little Googling shows that one can find a version of Millionaire's Shortbread in Ireland, too, and because I am now so out of touch with the world that I tend to think of everything "over there" as one big country, let's just go with it, okay? Annnddd....there goes half my readership. Excellent.
Speaking of national holidays like St. Patrick's Day that are so awesome that other countries get in on the action, why don't we all celebrate one for Scotland, too? Because I think we should, based solely on Millionaire's Shortbread. I mean, c'mon, people. Buttery, crumbly shortbread. Thick, chewy caramel. A slick of chocolate capping the whole thing off. Shouldn't this dessert have its own FLAG?
Now, I've never been to Scotland. I hear it's a beautiful place. I came very close to going to Scotland once for my sister-in-law's wedding, but ended up birthing a baby six weeks before and was way too consumed with lactating and keeping my fragile newborn in a bubble to make the trip. My husband, however, bravely left his kin to attend the wedding. And he acted all sad about having to leave us, and at the time I think I believed him. But looking back now, I'm not so sure.
Because boyfriend got to get the heck outta Dodge, and in this case, the Mayor of Dodge was a hormonal, post-partum train wreck with a colicky, sleep-fighting infant. He left Dodge for a lush, green countryside full of golf, beer, the green light to wear a man skirt with no underpants, and incredible access to Millionaire's Shortbread. Is 18 months after the fact too late to nag your husband about something?
You can speed up the cooling process of the layers by popping the pan into the freezer for about five minutes or so between steps. For the chocolate layer, I like to use a half-and-half mix of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate chips because I think the balance is so right on, but all semi-sweet works too. I made my caramel in the microwave, but if you prefer, you can cook the condensed milk on the stovetop, in a double boiler over low heat, for 1 1/2 hours.
Makes about 20 pieces
For the crust:
1/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
For the caramel layer:
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or a generous 1/8 teaspoon of regular salt) 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the chocolate layer:
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (see note) 3/4 teaspoon vegetable oil
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8-inch square baking pan with an 8-inch wide "sleeve" of aluminum foil, long enough to create a couple inches of overhang on two sides. Butter or lightly spray the entire pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed just until creamy and blended, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low, and stir in 1 cup of the flour until well-blended, then stir in the egg yolk until the dough is smooth, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary to make sure everything is well-incorporated.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Dust your hands with flour and pat the dough into a disc. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup flour over the dough and knead it gently just until the flour is worked in--the dough should be soft and smooth and not too sticky. Pat the dough into a square almost as big as the pan, then transfer the dough to the pan and pat it neatly and evenly across the bottom of the pan. Prick the crust all over with a fork. Bake it for about 22-25 minutes, or until a light golden brown. Let it cool completely on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, make the caramel: Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a medium microwave-safe bowl. Cook on medium power (about 50%) for 4 minutes, stirring well halfway through. Continue to cook on medium-low power (about 30-40%) for another 12-20 minutes, until the milk has turned into a thick, smooth, golden caramel, stopping to stir about every 2-3 minutes. There won't be a lot of change in the caramel until the last few minutes, and the total time will depend on your microwave--keep on stirring and adding time until you've clearly cooked the milk to a irresistibly golden caramel. Stir in the salt and vanilla.
When the shortbread has cooled, pour the caramel over it and nudge it into an even layer with a small spatula. Let it the caramel firm up for about an hour in the refrigerator, or less than 10 minutes in the freezer.
Melt the chocolate chips and vegetable oil together in a small microwave-safe bowl on 50% power, stopping to stir every 40 seconds or so, until the chocolate is melted, glossy and perfectly smooth. Drizzle the chocolate in an even layer over the caramel, and use a spatula to smooth it. Chill until the chocolate is set, refrigerated for about 30 minutes or about five minutes in the freezer. Remove the bars from the pan using the handles of the foil sleeve to lift the slab, and then transfer it to a cutting board. Cut into aout 20 bars, using a large chef's knife and wiping the blade clean after each cut. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.