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I suppose I should preface this by saying that this recipe reminded me that while I love caramel, I’m just not a fan of dulce de leche. I know, I know, the pictures look amazing (well, not my photography, but the actual end product). Delicious shortbread, gooey goodness, caramelized nuts, and chocolate all together, the perfect combination! Alas, I’m just not into it. I can’t help but to think dulce de leche is just missing something. Or maybe I’m just used to Snickers bars and their thick, almost too sweet, caramel. Sigh.
But instead of talking about what I didn’t like, let me tell you about what I did like. The shortbread is a perfect base, and a recipe I know I will use again. The peanuts were my first foray into caramelizing nuts, and while it was stressful (flashbacks of my disastrous peanut brittle/hot sugar blister incident came to mind), it was well worth it. I’ve worked with enough hot sugar now to know a) wear long sleeves, b) use a long spoon/silicone spatula, and c) not dip my finger in a tiny glob of yummy looking caramel that hasn’t yet cooled completely. Come on, like you’ve never done that. Or uh, thought about it.
Anyway, back to the squares. While they’re not my all time favorite, they’re good–thick, oozing of dulce de leche, and not sickeningly sweet. The true test of course, is how long these remain on the counter at my office tomorrow. I’m guessing they’ll be gone well before lunch.
For the Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
For the topping
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
For the filling
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 ½ cups salted peanuts
about 1 ½ cups store-bought dulce de leche
Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square pan and put it on a baking sheet.
To make the crust: Toss the flour, sugar, confectioners’ sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Toss in the pieces of cold butter and pulse about 12 times, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Pour the yolk over the ingredients and pulse until the dough forms clumps and curds – stop before the dough comes together in a ball.
Turn the dough into the buttered pan and gently press it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork and slide the sheet into the oven.
Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it takes on just a little color around the edges. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool to room temperature before filling.
To make the filling: Have a parchment – or, better yet, a silicone mat-lined baking sheet at the ready, as well as a long-handled wooden spoon (you’ll be cooking sugar that will climb to over 300 degrees F, so you’ll want to keep as far away from it as possible) and a medium (about 2-quart) heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
Put the sugar and water in the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Keeping the heat fairly high, continue to cook the sugar, without stirring, until it just starts to color. (If sugar splatters onto the sides of the saucepan, wash down the splatters with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.) Toss in the peanuts and immediately start stirring. Keep stirring, to coat the peanuts with the sugar. Within a few minutes, they will be covered with sugar and turn white – keep stirring until the sugar turns back into caramel. When the peanuts are coated with a nice deep amber caramel, remove the pan from the heat and turn the nuts out onto the baking sheet, using the wooden spoon to spread them out as best you can. Cool the nuts to room temperature.
When they are cool enough to handle, separate the nuts or break them into small pieces. Divide the nuts in half. Keep half of the nuts whole or in biggish pieces for the filling, and finely chop the other half for the topping.
Spread the dulce de leche over the shortbread base and sprinkle over the whole candied nuts or the big pieces.
To make the topping: Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water or in a microwave oven, using a low power setting. Remove the chocolate from the heat and gently stir in the butter, stirring until it is fully blended into the chocolate.
Pour the chocolate over the dulce de leche, smoothing it with a long metal icing spatula, then sprinkle over the finely chopped candied peanuts. Slide the pan into the refrigerator to set the topping, about 20 minutes; if you’d like to serve the squares cold, keep them refrigerated for at least 3 hours before cutting.
Cut into 16 bars, each roughly 2 ½ inches on a side.
- I used semi-sweet chocolate.
- I had a really hard time cutting these after refrigerating for only 20 minutes, so I stuck them in the freezer for a few which made them much easier to cut.