Have you ever noticed how the plague of every baker on reality cooking shows is caramel? I honestly don't get it. I've tried numerous times to really screw up caramel, and it's difficult as long as you follow the basic rules:
[Wait, does the above make me sound like an insufferable prick?]
1 - Dissolve your sugar over low heat
2 - Stir to your heart's content, but ONLY until all the sugar is dissolved. Once it's clear, leave it alone.
3 - Stay away from non-stick pans (This one is debated scientifically as far as I can tell, but the only issues I've ever had I attribute to non-stick.)
But you can't have the joy that is Millionaire Shortbread without a smooth, soft caramel. When I struggle in caramel world, it's the final consistency. It took a while but I think I've got it. And [Bonus Alert] you don't need a whole bunch of odd ingredients to make it.
Let's get started.
Makes: 9 inch round of cookies
Time: 4 hours (most of it cooling time for the caramel)
For the Caramel
1 1/2 cups SUGAR
1/8 tsp CREAM OF TARTAR
1/3 cup WATER
6 Tbsp chilled BUTTER
1/3 cup HALF & HALF
1/3 tsp kosher SALT [More if you want a real salted caramel]
For the Shortbread
1 stick (117g) BUTTER
1/2 cup (57g) POWDERED SUGAR
1 tsp VANILLA EXTRACT
zest from one LEMON or LIME
1 cup (120g) AP FLOUR
For the Chocolate
8oz or 225g semi sweet CHOCOLATE
1 - Place the SUGAR, CREAM OF TARTAR, and WATER for the caramel in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Over low heat stir until the sugar completely dissolves. Once the liquid is clear, increase the heat to medium and cease all stirring. In a few minutes, the mixture will begin to change color. Begin to swirl (not stir) to even out the color of the mixture.
2 - Once the mixture reaches an amber color and the first hint of smoke is coming off the mixture, pull the pan from the heat. Add the BUTTER one tbsp at a time while stirring (there will be some splatter, be careful). Once the butter is incorporated, stream in the HALF & HALF and sprinkle in the SALT while continuing to stir until fully incorporated. Set your new caramel aside to cool.
3 - Have a cup of coffee, mow the lawn, or go take a shower - then start the shortbread.
4 - Preheat the oven to 300F. In the bowl of your mixer, add the shortbread BUTTER, POWDERED SUGAR, SALT, and ZEST. [I used lemon in this recipe, but lime is excellent too.] Beat on medium low until the mixture is even and creamy. Add the flour and beat on low until combined. Scrape down the sides or combine the final bit of flour with a spatula.
5 - Press the cookie mixture into a 9 inch cake pan. I like to prep the pan with spray and parchment in the bottom. Prick with a fork all over in a decorative pattern or randomly. Y'know - you do you. Bake for 30-35 minutes until light brown.
6 - Remove and allow to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
7 - Once the cookie is cool, begin checking your caramel for a cool, thicker, but still liquid consistency. Poor over the cooled cookie. Cover with plastic, and refrigerate for 2 hours or until caramel is firm.
8 - Remove the cookies from the pan. Cut into whatever you might consider a portion. Melt 2/3 of the CHOCOLATE in the microwave stirring frequently until just liquid. Add the remaining chocolate and stir until it's all melted. [I can usually get a decent temper this way] Pour, drizzle, or dip the cookies into the chocolate. Allow to cool for 30 minutes.
9 - EAT!