i recently undertook the task of making dessert for 40 people as part of our tennis club annual dinner. i decided to do dessert boxes with lamingtons, brownies and millionaire’s shortbread. i’m an old hand at lamingtons and brownies but i’d never made the shortbread before.
i began as i usually do…with google. after opening over 20 different pages and watching a couple of you tube videos i still wasn’t happy. i like to bake from whole food type ingredients so i’m not partial to overly processed ingredients laden with preservatives and additives.
i knew what i wanted it to taste like and i knew i wanted the chocolate on top to crack as you bit into it. so i honed my search to salted caramel options (i go ape-shit for salted caramel) and i eliminated recipes that topped the caramel with a ganache instead of just melted chocolate. when ganache sets it doesn’t go hard so no crack as you bite.
the nice white and dark chocolate topping idea i got from beauty and the bake’s you tube video.
i eventually went with the recipe from the once upon a chef site.
so i know how to make shortbread. the most essential step is keeping the 1:1 flour to butter ratio. its one of the things that i look for in any recipe i am attempting. some recipes call for some cornflour (or cornstarch…here in SA we know it as maizena). some recipes also call for different types of sugars. i agree with using darker sugars for cookies but for me the star of the shortbread should be the butter. so from the recipe above i used normal castor sugar instead of brown sugar in the shortbread.
i do not own a food processor and even if i did i’d have no room for one in our small kitchen. so i bought one of these pastry blenders.
once i had achieved a dough that was not too sticky and had a nice pliability i pressed it into a pan and baked it for 20 minutes. when the time was up i wasn’t happy with the colouring on the shortbread so i baked it for another 10 minutes. now here’s the important part and i learnt this playing with shortcrust pastry. you want a nice golden brown finish. when you have a golden brown colour you have browned the butter and browned butter must be the most delicious thing. if you don’t know what i’m talking about put some butter in a pan and let it brown slowly. the aroma alone should have you salivating like a half starved mongrel. that browning is what you are trying to achieve when you bake so don’t pull out prematurely. a valuable lesson for so many aspects of life.
ideally you are looking for this sort of browning. you could even take it a bit further if you like. play.
once i pulled the shortbread out the oven i got started on the caramel. i went with the recipe since i hadn’t made proper caramel before (i had played with kinda sorta caramel). the only tweak was that i used about three teaspoons of sea salt instead of one. i pounded the salt to dust before adding it. not sure if this was necessary but i was concerned that it would not dissolve properly. anyhoooo…i digress. i used a thermometer to make sure i hit the required temperature and was happy with the colour and the aroma. use your nose and eyes as well as your tongue. and trust your instincts.
everything was going to plan. i poured the caramel over the shortbread and let it come to room temperature. i dipped and coconutted the lamingtons in the meantime.
i melted the white and dark chocolate in the microwave. i did this in 20 second intervals on medium power. as long as you keep mixing you won’t mess with the chocolate. i generally stop before it is completely melted and stir until there aren’t anymore lumps.
i made the pretty pattern and allowed to cool. i only needed the shortbread the next day so i had a beer and kicked back.
turns out my desire for cracking chocolate was my downfall. cutting the shortbread proved more than challenging. eventually i resorted to remelting the topping with a hairdryer (with crumbs being blown in every direction). the melting worked but on cooling the chocolate went grey 😦
fortunately the kind people on the receiving end were a forgiving and generous lot who harped on about the merits and not the shortfalls of the shortbread.
lessons learnt: hairdryers are handy. consider cutting the shortbread before the chocolate solidifies completely. it may get messy and you will have to keep wiping the knife. if you’re willing to have a softer topping go with a ganache which won’t break when you cut it.