These salted caramel squares are a big hit every time I make them: little children, older folks, sick friends, friends who left to travel through Europe for three months and I am definitely not jealous, no not all, and everyone in between. I don’t usually crave sweet stuff, but I am powerless to resist this gooey deliciousness. The rich caramel melts in your mouth, and the salt and the shortbread provide some savory crunch. I have heard gruff grown men wax poetic over these babies.
They’re pretty easy to make, although a little time consuming. They require a candy thermometer, parchment paper (don’t skip it), and a fair amount of patience. There may be times where you think the shortbread will never press into the pan properly and the caramel will never reach 238 degrees. But it will, and it will be fantastic.
They keep well in the fridge, but I recommend bringing them to room temperature before you serve them.
This recipe is from Zoe Nathan via Food and Wine, with several changes in cooking times and techniques based on my experience making these multiple times. Many of the alterations came from commenter “thepastrybag,” who is wise in the ways of caramel. I’m just here to be your caramel cheerleader. You can do it!
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: candy thermometer, parchment, pie weights (optional)
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg white, beaten
- 2 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped, or 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste, or 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the short sides.
- In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer at low speed, cream the butter. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar (At this point, the confectioner’s sugar is bound to rise in a cloud, so use a bowl with high sides if you can.)
- Add the whole eggs and beat until incorporated, then beat in the flour and salt.
- Press the pastry into the prepared pan in an even layer, 1/4 inch thick. This is easiest if you drop quarter size nuggets of pastry all over the bottom of your pan, then press down and mush them together. I also like to use a flour-dusted glass to roll it out flat (or as flat as possible). Freeze until firm, 10 minutes. If you need to flatten it further, try again now.
- Line the pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Alternatively, prick the shortbread all over with a fork. Line the pastry with foil, and press tightly down on top of the pastry. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until just set. Carefully remove the pie weights and parchment or the foil. Brush the shell with the egg white and bake for 10-15 minutes longer, until golden and cooked through. Let cool. (If you make a mistake and brush with egg yolk instead of white, that’s okay too.)
- In a saucepan, bring the cream, vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer. Cover; keep warm.
- In a large, heavy saucepan, stir the sugar into 1/2 cup of water. Simmer over moderate heat, without stirring, until a deep amber caramel forms. This will take some time, so be patient and don’t rush it.
- Remove the caramel from the heat and carefully add the cream. When the bubbling subsides, stir in the butter. Insert a candy thermometer and cook over moderately high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the caramel reaches 234-240° (soft ball stage). This can take up to 20 minutes, so again, be patient.
- Discard the vanilla bean, if using, and stir in 2 tsp of the kosher salt. Pour the caramel over the shell. Refrigerate until firm, 2 hours (up to overnight).
- Bring to room temperature. Sprinkle remaining half teaspoon of salt over the top. Remove the bar from the pan using the parchment overhang; cut into squares. Make lots of new friends.