Does anyone out there have a grocery store that always has what you need? Do such things exist? Did they ever? Currently it seems as though there are three people constantly looking for the ingredients we use here at Full Fork ahead. That’s me, my sis blogging partner and our mom. Our mom has access to a great military commissary, and hers tends to carry a lot of ethnic foods, so I thought finding the dulce de leche would be easy peasy. Wrong. I think combined with mom’s efforts, a total of three grocery stores were ravaged just to find what amounts to canned caramel. Thanks, Gourmet magazine, for tempting me with yumminess into another crazed search for ingredients!
That aside, what an unassuming little treat this was. I mean, it’s sneaky. It looks so innocent, but it ‘s actually very rich. That being the case, it makes sense to cut this bar cookie into small servings. Even I, The Person Who’s Barely Ever Met a Sweet That Was Too Rich, found these to be pretty darn rich. But they’re also good. So, so good. A perfect way to finish off a savory meal, these little bars are crunchy on the bottom and soft, almost chewy on top. A perfect combination with a saltiness from the shortbread bottom and the earthy texture and taste of the chocolate and caramel.
I love to sift dry ingredients. Does that make me odd? Anyway, this recipe is made easy by the fact that you don’t need any kind of mixer to assemble the shortbread crust. Just stir together the wet ingredients with a fork, sift in the dry and stir it all together again with the fork.
In a 9 – 9 1/2 inch square baking pan, lined with a buttered piece of overlarge parchment paper (to enable you to lift out the dessert later), press the shortbread mixture into the pan until evenly distributed. I found that using my hands here worked better than a spatula.
Pierce the crust all over with your fork to prevent air bubbles…
…bake it and you’ve got a bar cookie crust!
Meanwhile, chop up some good quality bittersweet chocolate. Just look at this stuff. You know this is going to be good!
There it is. The elusive canned dulce de leche caramel. We actually used a Nestle brand that I found shelved with the store’s other canned milk varieties, like evaporated milk. Why it wasn’t in the ethnic section, I’m not sure. The can was marked all over with Spanish. Maybe that makes too much sense… Combine it here with some heavy cream. Yep, caramel and heavy cream. You knew this was coming.
You’re going to have to start stirring, and your going to have to stir a lot. For one thing, we want the mixture to look better than this, and constantly stirring is what’s going to get this part of the recipe to come together and not separate.
At this point we’d stirred for about ten or so minutes, and it was time to add in an egg yoke mixture, take it back to the stove for more stirring and cooking (your poor wrists, but your tongue will thank you), and then finally as you see here, to add the chopped chocolate.
If you kept up that stirring, this is your reward. Smooth it on the cooled shortbread crust. You can start to get excited now because the hard part’s over!
Here’s our secret trick – instead of refrigerating the dessert to help the chocolate layer set up, we stuck it in the freezer (in front of the brussel sprouts and on top of the yucky Toaster Strudel – seriously, brussel sprouts taste better than Toaster Strudel) for an hour to two hours. The reason we opted for this was because the reviews I’d read reported that many cooks found the chocolate layer to be too soft (like a pudding) upon cutting it into bars. While it was a tad soft after freezing it, and not rock solid, the chocolate was pretty much just the right texture and firmness to cut and hold up for a tasting without pooling into goo.
You’ll dip a large, long knife in hot water to make each cut into the dessert. I filled a tall travel coffee mug to dip our knife into each time, using a napkin to wipe the knife off after each cut so each cut would be clean.
What you get are sweet, petite treats that taste like an upgraded candy bar you’d see at a specialty shop. And you made them all by yourself. These would make an excellent small dessert for guests or a fabulous treat for your special someone. We hope you give these a try and if you do, let us know how yours turned out!
Chocolate Dulche de Leche Bars
from Gourmet, July 2008
For shortbread crust
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
For chocolate dulce de leche
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup dulce de leche
- 4 large egg yolks
- 5 oz 60%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (preferably in a food processor)
Make shortbread crust:
Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Butter a shallow 9- to 91/2-inch square baking pan (1 to 1 1/2 inches deep). Line bottom and 2 sides with parchment paper, leaving an overhang. Butter parchment.
Blend together butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a bowl with a fork. Sift in flour and blend with fork until a soft dough forms.
Spread dough evenly in baking pan using an offset spatula or back of a spoon, then prick all over with fork.
Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes, then cool completely in pan on a rack, about 30 minutes.
Make chocolate dulce de leche:
Bring cream and dulce de leche to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, stirring with a wooden spoon until dulce de leche has dissolved.
Whisk together yolks in a bowl, then slowly whisk in hot cream mixture. Be sure this step IS slow and gradual so that the eggs don’t cook and become scrambled. Return to pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until pan is visible in tracks of spoon and mixture registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until melted.
Pour chocolate mixture over cooled shortbread and chill in freezer, uncovered, until cold and set, about 1-2 hours. Test the chocolate layer by pressing gently to see how set it is.
Run a small knife around edges to loosen, then transfer to a cutting board using parchment. Cut with a hot clean knife (dip in hot water and wipe clean between cuts) into 24 bars. Chill until ready to serve.
These set up even better after refrigerating them overnight in an airtight container. They lasted us a good week, although the shortbread crust does get less crisp the longer it’s in the fridge.