Do you like family heirlooms? Are you the "keeper" (aka packrat) in the family, or are you the "thrower-outer"? Here at The Café, I tend to be the one who's forever throwing things away. In fact, I go on binges. At times, I look around and think; "Oh my goodness, this is the biggest mess I've ever seen in my entire life!". Then I go to town, cleaning, organizing and tidying up here, there and everywhere. And the trash bags get bigger and bigger - sometimes I get in a bit of trouble for what I throw away, but that's another story for another day.
Don't get me wrong, even in my "de-clutter" manias, I recognize there are many things worth cherishing and saving; family photos, cards from loved ones, timeless treasures from the past, good books and fabulous recipes; especially those with sweet memories attached.
This shortbread recipe has been in our family for many years. I remember the day my husband came home from work, raving about the cookies that, "this Scottish woman" a co-worker of his, had brought that day. I begged him to get the recipe and was thrilled when she kindly obliged. When I looked it over, I couldn't believe how simple it was, sugar, butter, flour and vanilla. That's it? Yup, she just mixed them together, patted the dough in 2 round pans, scattered a bit more sugar over the tops and baked them till golden. The melt-in-your-mouth first bite sold us - for life! Thirty years later I'm still making this lovely shortbread and have adapted the recipe in a zillion different ways. I've patted it, rolled it and used it as a crust for tarts and pies.
This time, I changed it up at bit and rolled it in balls, flattened the balls and then made a small indentation in the center of each disk of dough. While the cookies baked till golden, I whipped up a deep, rich, salted caramel sauce and spooned it into the perfect little craters. A scatter of flaky sea salt was the creme de la creme!
If you think buttery, crisp, sweet shortbread combined with dense, decadent caramel isn't a match made in heaven, then you haven't tasted these amazing cookies. They are already ranking quite high on my all-time favorites list.
I created these fun Old-Fashioned Shortbread w/ Salted Caramel for a food blogger's conference Scott and I will be attending up in Virginia this November. It's called Mixed and is put together by two amazing women, Paula of bell'alimento and Susan of Doughmesstic. Mixed is a small intimate conference and the cast of characters who will speaking and teaching is amazing. If you're interested in taking your blog to the next level, Mixed is a must! You can check it out here.
One of the fun events at Mixed is a cookie contest sponsored by the fine folks at Dixie Crystals. I've been out of town quite a bit over the last month, so I didn't actually learn about the contest till a few days ago. I couldn't pass up a fun contest though, and put on my cookie-thinking-cap. After much brainstorming, tweaking and testing, I came up with this recipe. I have already deemed this an "heirloom recipe" here at The Café. I have a feeling it will be love at first bite for you too!
ADDENDUM - We won!!! First Prize - a $500.00 gift card from Dixie Crystals!! How cool is that!
- 8 ounces 2 sticks unsalted butter
- ½ cup Dixie Crystals Pure Cane Sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean split in half and beans scraped out you can also use 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup Dixie Crystals All Natural Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 tablespoons Dixie Crystals Pure Cane Sugar
- ⅓ cup corn syrup
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoons vanilla
- flaky sea salt such as Maldon
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar till soft and fluffy, this will take 2-3 minutes. Add salt and vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract) and mix for a few seconds to combine.
Add flour and mix for 1-2 minutes, (stopping a few times to scrape the sides of the bowl) until large crumbs form. Pour mixture out on to a work surface and knead several times, if needed, until a smooth ball forms.
Scoop up small balls of dough, about 2 tablespoons each. Roll each ball between the palms of your hands till you form smooth, round balls. If dough is difficult to roll into balls, refrigerate for about 10 minutes, then proceed. Place dough balls on prepared cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart and pressing on each one just a bit with the palm of your hand.
Flatten each disc of dough with a flat-bottomed glass to a disk about ½ inch thick.
Make an indention, about ½ inch in diameter in the center of each dough disk. Use your thumb or any round-ended utensil to make the indentions, such as the end of a wooden spoon or ice cream scoop. If cookie crack along the edge when making indentions, just push the dough back together.
Place sheet pans with prepared cookies in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes before baking. This will keep them from spreading out too much.
Bake for 15-18 minutes or until beginning to turn golden at bottom edges. When cookies come out of the oven, reinforce the indentations a bit, if needed.
Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly.
When caramel is beginning to thicken, fill the center of each cookie with a generous rounded teaspoon of the caramel mixture.
Sprinkle lightly with flaky sea salt. Allow to cool and "set" for at least an hour before serving.
For the caramel:
Combine the butter, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup and heavy cream. Bring to a boil stirring till dissolved.
Reduce heat to a steady simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until mixture reaches 220˚F* on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Stir well until smooth and bubbles disappear. Allow caramel to sit until beginning to thicken but is still spoonable, about 20-30 minutes.
* ~ This will only take about 5-10 minutes but I highly recommend using a candy thermometer. If you don't cook the mixture long enough, it will be too runny but, on the other hand, if it's cooked too long it will get rock hard.