I’m not sure who it was that first thought to combine chocolate and caramel, but whoever they are I’d like to send them a thank you note and a bottle of champagne. Millionaire Shortbread Bars take the combination of chocolate and caramel and add a buttery layer of shortbread to make one of my very favorite baked treats. They’re rich, they’re delicious, and they’ll probably be the first plate of treats to disappear from your dessert buffet.
Shortbread is certainly the unsung hero of this recipe. The chocolate and caramel layers are so rich that they need the buttery cookie layer to help balance out all the flavors in each bite. I love shortbread on its own too. It’s a fabulous treat, it keeps really well, and it works for special occasions year round, from the 4th of July to Christmas Eve. Shortbread is also incredibly easy to make and really difficult to mess up. I love to bake with forgiving recipes and shortbread is absolutely one of the hardest to mess up.
The chocolate layer is the final topping to these bars and as such, we need to talk about it a little bit. I like to use a semi-sweet baking chocolate for the top layer. I think the bit of bitterness pairs incredibly well with the caramel layer, balancing out the caramel’s sugary sweetness. My tastes are not universal, however! If you prefer an even more bitter bite at the top of your Millionaire Shortbread bars, you could certainly go with a very dark or bittersweet chocolate. Similarly, if you like a less bitter bite, you could use milk chocolate for the top layer.
The crucial thing to remember with your chocolate choices is that you need to use baking chocolate (or candy-making chocolate). Chocolate chips can be used, though they will not work nearly as well, they have stabilizers that can make the chocolate grainy and leave chalky deposits as they harden. Regular chocolate bars like you’d eat as candy will work very poorly, probably resulting in uneven texture and chocolate that won’t firm up enough to allow you to portion the bars.
A few years ago, I discovered a shortcut for this recipe that makes it much faster to whip up. Some sweetened condensed milk makers sell an already prepared caramel in cans very similar to sweetened condensed milk that can be found in the same section of the supermarket. These products are marketed as dulce de leche and are widely available in Latin American markets. They make the perfect substitute for the entire caramel portion of this recipe, so rather than two cans of sweetened mixed with 3 tablespoons of butter and vanilla extract, you simply use two cans of this dulce de leche product. I do not recommend substituting any other caramel product BUT this particular type. Generally, I empty the cans of dulce de leche into a microwave safe bowl and microwave them on 50% power for 30 seconds 2-3 times, stirring in between, just to loosen up the caramel so it spreads better. Then I spread it on the shortbread and I’ve saved myself all the time making caramel on the stove. And it saves time on the cooling step for this layer since you simply warm the caramel. It generally sets within about half an hour in my kitchen.
Parchment or foil are the last important step to ensuring your bars come out perfect. You line the pan with them, leaving enough excess material on the sides to allow you to lift the bars out of the baking pan once they’re finished and all the layers have cooled and set. Trying to cut the bars in the pan will result in crumbled and broken bars. I recommend pulling the bars out of the baking pan and slicing them on a cutting board with a good sharp chef’s knife — trust me, the results will be beautiful!