I wasn’t sure what to name this new recipe until I thought about the occasion for which I created it – an upcoming weekend of celebrations at my alma mater, Queen’s University in Kingston. Homecomings are always special, and this will be even more so because it’s the 30th anniversary of my graduation and friends are gathering from all across the country. I knew I had to bring my A game to the party…hence these little beauties, which actually remind me a lot of the decadent things I would nibble while trying to study or finish assignments. Buttery shortbread topped with gooey salted caramel, crunchy pretzels and pecans, smothered in a layer of chocolate ganache – doesn’t that sounds like a treat fit for a celebration?
- ½ cup (125 mL) white sugar
- ¾ cup (175 mL) softened butter
- ½ teaspoon (2.5 mL) salt
- 1 ½ cups (375 mL) all purpose flour
- 1 cup (250 mL) white sugar
- ¼ cup (60 mL) butter
- ½ cup (125 mL) whipping (35%) cream
- ½ teaspoon good quality salt
- 1 cup (250 mL) chopped pecans
- 1 cup (250 mL) crushed pretzels
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- ½ cup (125 mL) whipping cream
- 1 – 2 teaspoons (5 – 10 mL) Maldon salt or fleur de sel to sprinkle on top
- Begin with the shortbread layer; start by preheating oven to 350 F.
- Line an 8 inch (20 cm) square pan with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl (use a stand mixer if you have one, beat together sugar, butter and salt until it looks light in colour and is fluffy.
- Sprinkle flour on top of butter mixture and beat for another minute or two, until it is uniformly crumbly and just starting to come together as dough.
- Pour the shortbread mixture into the prepared pan and press it down evenly using your hand or a spatula.
- Refrigerate for 10 minutes then bake for 20 minutes until just beginning to turn golden.
- Remove pan from oven and let it cool for 20 minutes before proceeding with the caramel layer.
- Pour the sugar into a large, heavy bottomed pan, and heat over medium to medium low until the sugar begins to melt. Instead of stirring, swirl the pan every minute or so to ensure it heats evenly. Do not let yourself become distracted during this step as the sugar can burn quickly. Trust me on this.
- Once the sugar is all melted and has turned a deep amber colour, add the butter and cream, stirring vigorously. Note that the mixture will bubble and steam rather violently at first, so be careful.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the salt.
- Sprinkle the pecans and pretzels evenly over the cooled shortbread crust then pour the caramel mixture over top, making sure to distribute as evenly as possible.
- Put the pan in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so, just until the caramel has begun to set.
- Make the chocolate ganache by putting the chocolate chips in a heatproof dish (I like to use a glass measuring cup for this).
- In a separate vessel, heat the cream until it is steaming but not bubbling (you can do this in the microwave, or in a small pot on the stove).
- Slowly pour the warmed cream over the chocolate chips. Stir vigorously with a fork until the chocolate chips have melted completely and the mixture has become smooth. If you have trouble with a few pesky lumps, microwave the mixture on medium-high for about 10 – 15 seconds and stir some more.
- Pour the ganache over the caramel layer and smooth it out with a spatula.
- Sprinkle the ganache with the Maldon salt or fleur de sel.
- Refrigerate just until set them cut into smallish pieces – the squares are thick and rich!