Now this is a proper indulgence- beautiful crumbling shortbread, a rich fudgy filling with a mouth watering salted caramel chocolate topping. Let me first make a disclaimer- do not make a tray of these and eat them all yourself, dreadful things would happen. Take them into your work, share with friends and family and you will be loved. Mess about with the chocolate topping, try different flavours: milk, fruity, white, dark or a swirling combination of your favourites.
If you can't handle the richness then just make the shortbread base, leave to cool, turn it out and slather in whipped cream and strawberries.
Makes 18 - 24 squares, size dependent
350g plain white flour
100g caster sugar
225g very soft unsalted butter
4 drops natural vanilla extract or of lemon/orange juice
Caramel fudge layer
350 ml low-fat condensed milk
220g soft brown sugar
3 ½ level tablespoons golden syrup
½ - 1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
4 x 100g bars of Divine Milk chocolate with toffee and sea salt
4 x 100g bars of milk chocolate
1. Start with the shortbread layer and allow time for cooling it down and for making the caramel and chocolate layers.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4/ Lightly grease a good solid based baking tray (11in x 7 in x 1 inch). You want a bit of depth to accommodate the layers.
3. Sift the flour and caster sugar into a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into bits. Add to the bowl with the vanilla extract or juice.
4. Rub everything together between your fingertips until it amalgamates and looks like fine sand.. Now pull the shortbread into a smooth ball. The heat from using both hands helps. It may take a few minutes to achieve but don't give up.
5. Sprinkle a large wooden board with a thin layer of caster sugar and a little plain flour for rolling out. Have your tin close by.
6. Sit the ball of shortbread in the middle of the board. Roll it out into a rectangle roughly the size of your tin and about ½ inch thick.
7. Transfer the dough to the tin so it will cover the base. Run a thin metal spatula under the dough to prevent it sticking. Then roll the pin under it, lift it up and transfer it over. OR if it breaks up, re-roll it into a ball and then a rectangle. Divide it into more manageable sections which you can transfer to the tin easily then mold together. Use a knife to divide it into 5 wide sections. Transfer them into the tin using a fish slice or wide spatula of some sort. Now use your hands to press the pieces together, mending any cracks, breaks, so the base is covered and shortbread layer achieved. Try to get it even and fit it into the corners.
8. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the shortbread layer is a cooked and a vey pale tan colour (not golden). It will crisp up as it cools. Start to check for doneness after 15 minutes but allow extra time if you judge it's needed.
9. Remove. Sit the tin on a rack to cool. Don't make your caramel layer until the biscuit has cooled completely.
10. For the caramel layer: tip the condensed milk, butter, sugar and syrup into a large heavy based saucepan. The fudge will bubble up so you need depth and take care not to splash yourself. Toffee burns.
11. Sit the pan on a very low heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mix continuously and watch it constantly. Once the sugar melts (after a few minutes) it will come to the boil. Don't let the mix catch on the bottom of the pan and burn/developing dark brown flacks. You can avoid this by adjusting the heat downwards, stirring well and if there is the odd dark fleck use a spoon to remove it. After 5-6 minutes you should have achieved a thick, golden brown, fragrant fudgey mix. Remove from the heat and stir the vanilla extract in.
12. Pour or spoon and scoop the caramel fudge evenly over the crisp cold shortbread base taking it up to the edges until totally covered. Set aside to set and cool completely in a cool place (not in the fridge). Feel the base of the tin to judge it.
13. Make the chocolate topping. Break your chocolate of choice up into pieces and place in a mixing bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Check that the bowl is well away from the water so it can melt gently. Fierce heat, steam or direct contact between water and bowl will likely solidify the chocolate and you'd need to start again.
14. Leave the chocolate to melt by itself without stirring it. Just check the temperature under the pan is nice and low. Once the chocolate melts, stir it with a wooden spoon.
15. Pour the melted chocolate evenly over the cool set caramel layer, spreading with a spatula if that helps. Set aside in a cool place (not the fridge) to set.
16. Once the topping has set/cooled completely, use a sharp knife to cut into squares. Lift them out with a spatula. Store in a single layer in a large air-tight tin/container.
Follow Sam Stern on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sam_stern