These shortbread butter bars filled with a salted caramel center are among one of our chef’s most well-known dessert signature dishes. She rarely shares the recipe with anyone, but today she’s making the exception.
What makes these bars unique?
The caramel filling, with vanilla bean and a hint of cayenne, is a rather remarkable celebration of opposites. The ever-so-subtle heat of the cayenne finishes at just the right time on the tongue to make the flavor of the salted caramel linger and enhance the vanilla. This gooey filling is sandwiched between a rich buttery-soft shortbread that is slightly crisp, but still melts in the mouth.
Because of the high butter and caramel content, they have an excellent shelf-life and are good for up to a week at room temperature. We use our organic Panhandle Milling Kamut® All-Purpose flour
for optimal protein content in the flour and excellent crumb.
The bars can be cut into wedged and served as the main masterpiece dessert. We love them served warm and topped with a scoop of ice cream. The bars can also be cut into small squares and served in bite-sized tastes at a dessert buffet. We like to garnish them with gourmet black or grey sea salt and additional caramel sauce or fresh fruit like peach slices or cranberries.
For the Crust:
1/2 lb. butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
For the Filling:
1 bag (11 oz.) caramel candies bits (Kraft®)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1 Tbsp. coarse sea salt (French Grey preferred)
In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugars.
Using a mixer on medium speed, beat together until creamy.
Add the vanilla and beat until combined. Add flour and mix until smooth.
Spray an 8×8 inch baking pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust.
Place the remaining crust mixture in the refrigerator.
Preheat to 325°F. Bake crust until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown approximately 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for about 15 minutes.
While the bottom crust is baking, and the remaining dough is chilling, make the caramel filling. Place the caramel bits in a saucepan, add the cream, vanilla, and dash of cayenne. Cook and stir over low to medium heat until completely melted. (You can also use the microwave in short bursts to melt the caramel mixture.) Pour the caramel filling over the crust. Generously salt with sea salt.
Remove the remaining chilled dough from the refrigerator and crumble it evenly over the caramel. You may find the chilled dough doesn’t “crumble” that easily. If so, just place it on a cutting board and chop it into the size pieces you want for the topping.
Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbly, and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm and lightly golden about 25 – 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting.