Caramel Shortbread: OM NOM NOM NOM NOM

I’ve been making this caramel shortbread for a little while now and this post marks my third attempt and possibly the best yet. It’s roughly based on a recipe from a delightful cookbook my mum gave me a few years ago Perfect Baking published by Parragon Publishing Ltd.

I have a bit of a sweet tooth, that is to say….I’m an ant. If you give me a big bag of sugar and a spoon I’ll be pretty happy to eat it all…..and probably be diabetic as a result. Needless to say when I flicked through the cookbook and found this recipe it jumped out at me…..punched me in the face with its sugary fists and then kicked me in the balls with its crumbly caramel boots. MUST……MAKE……CARAMEL……SUGARY…….GOODNESS…….OM…..NOM……NOM……*drools*

Aaaanyway onwards to this latest venture in baking at home which didn’t quite go according to plan but still worked out pretty well in the end. As I said this is my third attempt. The first one I made the caramel so chewy that the tip of our knife snapped off inside it when I was cutting it. That was due to using the wrong sugar. Still tasted damn good though! Second attempt was a few weeks ago and with the (pretty much) correct sugar at hand it was much better, at least anyone in work who tried some said so and nobody died so it must have been ok.

So let’s get on with it shall we? To the kitchen! *charges into the kitchen heroically holding aloft a wooden spoon like a sword*

INGREDIENTS (from the book)

The Buttery Biscuit Base

  • 115g / 4 oz butter IMG_5064
  • 175g / 6 oz plain flourIMG_5063
  • 55g / 2 oz golden caster sugar (I used Demerara sugar as couldn’t find golden sugar here)IMG_5149

Filling and Topping

  • 175g / 6 oz butter
  • 115g / 4 oz golden caster sugar (Again Demerara works just fine)
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup (This is where I deviated somewhat as they don’t seem to do golden syrup here in CZ so I substituted honey in instead, as suggested by Sinead…..good call hun!)IMG_5070
  • 400g / 14 oz canned condensed milk (NOT EVAPORATED MILK! Although it still works as we shall see)IMG_5069
  • 200g / 7 oz plain chocolateIMG_5077

Equipment wise you’ll need a mixing bowl, a baking tray, a wooden spoon, and whatever materials you’d use to melt chocolate. For this I heated up some water in a saucepan and then placed the broken up pieces of cooking chocolate in a bowl inside a sieve resting on the water, this keeps the direct heat of the saucepan of the chocolate and makes for a smoother melt.

So on with the show!

First order of business is to pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius or 350 Fahrenheit for my American readers or Gas Mark 4 for my ummm…Gas Mark oven operating readers. You then need to grease and line your baking tray. I usually skip this step by placing baking paper into the baking tray to hold the cake, thus saving the potentially messy greasing process.

Fetch your mixing bowl and or whatever dish shaped object you can find to put your ingredients together in. Place your butter, flour and sugar in here and blend together with your hands or do it in a food processor if you’re lucky enough to have one of those / not a fan of getting stuck into things.

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Here’s the Buttery Biscuit Base ingredients ready for mixing in the bowl. Sinead’s finger for scale.
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And here’s how she looks after mixing…..you just want to bite into don’t you?

Once you’ve got your lovely mixture all bound together press it into your baking tray and flatten it out and then bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until…wait for it……stereotypical most overused colour in baking coming right up……………GOLDEN BROWN. If I had a penny for every instance of GOLDEN BROWN in cooking books and recipes, well I’d have at least a handful of pennies.

Roysh while that’s crisping up nicely you can press on with the fun bit, making the caramel. Fetch a saucepan, doesn’t need to be a huge one, let’s go with medium. Place your butter, sugar, golden syrup ( or honey) and condensed milk (not evaporated) all into the saucepan together and bring up that temperature. Give it a good and constant stir until the sugar has melted, being careful not to put the heat up too high or the sugar will start to congeal and your mixture will get these chunky brown crystals floating in it….which aren’t ideal but can easily be stirred away once you drop that temperate down a bit more.

Ideally it should take 6-8 minutes and it does if you use condensed milk, but with evaporated milk as in this recipe it takes considerably longer as there’s a lot more water to be evaporated. It still does the same job it just takes a little while longer and you’ll need to add more sugar too. So long story short, use condensed milk 🙂

The mixture will start to get really thick and darker in colour and just be generally awesome looking and delicious.

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Making the caramel, as you can see I had the temperature far to high to try and thicken up the evaporated milk.

 

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Stirring is tiring so be sure to take a well earned break with a nice cool glass of Kozel half way through.

 

IMG_5074
The finished caramel mix poured into the baking tray atop the already cooked base from earlier.

Once you’ve poured your caramel into the mixing bowl whack it into the fridge to solidify. Now as if that wasn’t fun enough you now get to melt chocolate! You see this isn’t even a chore, it’s just fun and delicious.

IMG_5075
My setup for melting chocolate after a bit of trial and error. There’s no right or wrong way, just make use of the materials you have around you.

 

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It’s easier to melt if you break it up into little pieces.

 

IMG_5077
I use this Tesco brand of plain cooking chocolate which is really nice and has a great flavour. It says plain but it’s actually quite dark.

 

IMG_5078
Behold! What a glorious sight.

 

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Mmmmmmmm chocolate. Ready to be poured over the caramel.

 

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Oh so satisfying. Must resist urge to place mouth under falling waterfall of chocolate.

 

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Some more gratuitous melted chocolate pouring over caramel for your viewing pleasure. This would be the part of Nigella’s show where she’d be speaking in that sultry voice and making the cameraman get all hot and bothered.

 

IMG_5083
Eh voila! Ebola cake! Not really it’s just how the chocolate poured out from the spoon in a creepy Ebola-like shape on top of the initial chocolate layer. Don’t worry it smooths out in the fridge.

 

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Unfortunately there’ll often be a small amount of chocolate left in your bowl so you’ll have to take one for the team and……clean it…..with a straw!

 

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Once you’ve poured your chocolate on top you’re all done, place your bowl in the fridge, sit back, have another cold beer and wait for the glory to be unveiled.

 

IMG_5086
Ta……daaaaaa. One Caramel Shortbread Cake. I think I melted the chocolate at slightly too high a temperature which led to a loss of lustre. No biggy but if you’re a stickler for details be sure to melt that chocolate gently to retain the sheen.

So pretty simple huh? No complicated techniques or stressful time juggling to ensure everything is just right. A very relaxing and easy cake to make and most importantly, it’s your baby, you’re not restricted to what Mr. Kipling puts in front of you. Base too thin? Use more ingredients. Not enough Caramel? Use more ingredients. Chocolate a little lacking? You guessed it…use more. I’m not going to be appearing on the Great British Bake-Off any time soon or challenging for any baking competitions for that matter, and that’s just fine. I enjoy the process, I enjoy having to wing it a bit here and there and make do with what you have. I made errors but everything worked out OK in the end. You don’t have to follow cookbook recipes to the letter, you can make it your own and play around a bit. Obviously within reason, I mean you’re not going to substitute the caramel part of this with sprouts are you? Oh you are? Ok, well each to their own, what matters is having fun, not getting stressed out and above all…..enjoying what you’ve created.

I might try and make this a more regular feature on the blog and of course make it more Czech focussed with both sweet and savoury dishes. Stayed tuned. Oh and here’s how the cake looks sliced…..

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BONUS ROUND: I made this cake for a little early Christmas dinner we had with our Scottish friend. We went all out and had roast goose with various side dishes that we picked up from our parents. It was genuinely one of the nicest meals I’ve ever had in my life and when combined with copious amounts of cheese afterwards and said caramel shortcake and great company it was the best early Christmas ever!

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