Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Crazy layered shortbread...

Being that we've come to another Tuesday already, you can be sure I got the baking done for the Weekly Wednesday Treat Day! Jeff asked for a nuttier dish and once I checked out what kinds we had in the freezer, I decided on this Chocolate Caramel Hazelnut Shortbread to make.

It may sound fancy and does involve a candy thermometer, but don't let that scare you away - you'll want to make this! On the bottom of this treat is a thick base of a basic shortbread cookie - all this entails is mixing flour, softened butter and enough flour to bind the dough together. Pressed into a square baking pan, you'll want to bake the shortbread until it has cooked through, but is just barely golden for the best texture.

While the crust was cooling, we got down and dirty with the caramel filling. Don't worry if you have had trouble making caramel before as this recipe simplifies the process - all you need to do is bring sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, butter and a couple tablespoons of golden syrup to a boil and let it bubble until it reaches the "soft ball stage" (around 237 degrees). Golden syrup is not always the easiest to find I realize, so if this isn't an ingredient you keep in the pantry (try and get yourself some though... it is outrageous over pancakes or toast!), dark corn syrup would also be fine. This viscous mixture is poured all over the crust, then topped with a couple cups worth of toasted hazelnuts.

Since we're using whole hazelnuts and it is a rarity to find them already skinned, we needed to remove that slightly bitter coating before adding them. This is done simply by toasting the nuts as you normally would, tossing the hot nuts into a sturdy towel and letting them sit, covered, for about 5 minutes. You can then vigorously rub them together inside the towel and most of the skins should come off. You most likely won't get all of it off though, so don't drive yourself crazy - a little skin left behind will not hurt the dish.

Almost done! The next layer is generous pool of melted bittersweet chocolate that is poured all over that nut-covered filling. For a little flare and contrast, melted white chocolate is then drizzled all over the top as a finishing touch. Cut into tidy portions, the caramel layer is just firm enough so it doesn't ooze out all over the place, but is still soft enough with a melt-in-your-mouth quality. Using the base of that tender and buttery shortbread crust was a fantastic way to offset the sweetness on top - I loved how sliding my teeth through the smooth layers and hitting that crunch of the rich hazelnuts revealed such an explosive combination for my taste buds. I'm sure you could use other nuts, but using those one-of-a-kind hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate would make any Nutella fan weak in the knees!

Phew! I guess we should get going onto our meal tonight! Since I had to buy more broccoli than I needed for last night's dinner, I made sure to pick out a recipe that would use up the rest and this Pasta Salad with Broccoli and Peanuts did just that!

You won't be wasting much of the broccoli in trimmings for this dish - instead of tossing the stalks from the heads of the vegetable, they are peeled to remove the tougher green skin, leaving you with the more tender insides. The key to ensuring the stalks will be tender enough is to slice it fairly thin into discs. After heating a skillet with a touch of oil, crushed red pepper flakes, water and the sliced broccoli stems, along with the bite-sized floret pieces, are tossed in and covered to cook until they begin to become tender. The cover is removed to allow the water to evaporate, leaving the oil behind to finish off the broccoli.

To coat this salad, olive oil and mild rice vinegar are whisked together with salty soy sauce and creamy peanut butter. We tossed twisted pasta that we had cooked and cooled down, the crisp-tender broccoli, scallions and a scoop of chopped peanuts into the dressing and gave it a good mix to thoroughly coat. The peanut butter made for an alluring kick, but I felt it could have used another small scoop or so as the vinegar seemed to stand out a little more than I would have preferred. I also thought maybe a little fresh ginger might have been a nice bit to add into the oil to warm up before the broccoli was added. Nevertheless, Jeff and I both agreed it was still good and I'm sure we'll try it again with a couple tweaks as a cool salad to enjoy on one of those upcoming warm summer nights (which could not come soon enough!).



  1. jeff is so lucky!! i want in on wed. treat day!

  2. When we were kids, my aunt used to make a treat similar, it was called millionaire's shortbread - I don't know how you manage it but you have increased the value of this sweet delight 10 fold - Swiss bank account here I come!! - It looks truly yummy ;0)

  3. That shortbread looks amazing! Jeff has come lucky coworkers!

  4. I'm so glad I don't work with Jeff as I know I wouldn't be able to stick to my diet! :) I'm dying to make the chocolate ripple cake! I love that your treats are always so neatly cut!!!

  5. OK -- that looks positively fabulous. Love treat day!!

  6. I can't keep golden syrup in the cupboard because I have a very bad habit of finishing the leftovers once the jar is opened for a recipe. :)

  7. What a treat! The caramel and chocolate layers on that bar look perfect Joe!
    I am not a fan of shortbread but put chocolate and hazelnuts (what a combination!) in it and I am one in line to take a bite!

  8. Lydia - hee hee!

    Sam - I don't think that typically has nuts in it though, does it?

    Tracy - I just hope they enjoyed them!

    Lucy - You must give that cake a try!

    Lo - Thanks!

    Lisa - Oh man... I so know what you mean. Thankfully, it is expensive enough that I keep my fingers out of it!

    Ana - Hard to resist these, that is for sure!

  9. I look forward to making these this weekend!

    I deal with stubborn skins by adding 10% extra nuts. The clean nuts are for the cake, the stubborn nuts are for snacking!