This week, we’re giving a modern classic a renovation, and it’s one of those sweet treats that nobody seems to be able to refuse – Millionaire’s Shortbread.
There’s something incredibly satisfying about the combination of smooth chocolate, crunchy biscuit and the squidgy caramel layer that oozes out all over your fingers. It’s not the most delicate of pastries, that’s for sure.
It originated in Australia in the 1970s – our cousins down under have had a long love-affair with baking and cakes, coming up with such delights as the world-famous Pavlova, the squishy cream-filled Kitchener Bun, the ANZAC biscuit, and the wonderful coconut-covered Lamington; my recipe for which is on the Examiner website.
The caramel square, as it was rather uninspiringly known back then, soon spread across the globe, from home cooks, to bakeries and to large manufacturers.
Its first promotion to the higher tax bracket, when it was elevated to being named the millionaire’s shortbread, is said to be in the 1980s in Scotland, and this name has stuck over here ever since.
It’s a great combination of sweet flavours, combining my personal favourite sweet cereal-y taste with a soft, rich caramel and the essential complimentary dark earthiness of good chocolate.
I like to use a good pinch of salt in each of the layers, as this helps to accentuate the sweetness of the three primary ingredients.
There are triple chocolate versions, marshmallow versions, and I once made one with a touch of rosemary, which was heavenly.
However, our recipe today adds another different flavour twist, the warmth and citrussy notes of Earl Grey tea.
The Earl Grey blend was named after an 1800s British prime minister, who was sent a package of black tea which had been infused with the dried peel of the bergamot orange, a very bitter but deeply flavourful cultivar.
Instantly it became incredibly popular, and is very much so today, as tea drinking enters a new renaissance.
The rich, vaguely smoky flavour of the tea is lifted by the heady perfume of the citrus and, when served as is, without the uncouth influence of milk or sugar, is a refreshing, calming cuppa. It’s perfect for hot sunny afternoons.
I’d seen a recipe for a South American milk-based caramel, Dulce De Leche, made with Earl Grey leaves, and this got me thinking of elaborating this into an Earl Grey shortbread, using my basic Breton shortbread recipe as a base.
It’s a terrific pastry on its own, with a little added crunch from the addition of ground rice, but can be further enlivened with spices, vanilla, cocoa, coffee or, as we’re doing today, tea.
I just whizzed the leaves in the blender to make a palatable powder, and set to work.
The subtle flavour of the citrussy tea seems to marry up well with the caramel, the crunchy golden biscuit and the thick layer of chocolate above.
A rather different kind of millionaire I’m sure you’d like to get to know better.
FOR THE BRETON SHORTBREAD:
300g butter, diced, at room temperature
100g unrefined golden caster sugar, plus a little extra
350g plain flour
50g ground rice
A pinch of Maldon salt
2tsp Earl Grey tea, very finely chopped or processed to a loose powder
FOR THE EARL GREY DULCE DE LECHE:
750ml full-cream milk
2tsp Earl Grey tea leaves, finely chopped
150g unrefined golden caster sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 vanilla pod, seeds removed and reserved
A large pinch bicarbonate of soda
A large pinch Maldon sea salt
FOR THE TOPPING:
100g milk chocolate, chopped
100g bitter chocolate, chopped
2 tbsps white chocolate, chopped
A suitable deep-sided tin for the shortbread (about 20 x 20cm)
For the shortbread, heat the oven to 150°C / Gas 2. Cream the butter and sugar together until very pale and fluffy. Mix in the flour, ground rice and tea powder, and add a good pinch of salt.
Smooth the dough into a suitable baking tray and prick neatly all over with a fork – this helps prevent it from baking unevenly.
Bake the shortbread for one hour or perhaps a little more, until it is pale gold in colour and cooked through.
Sprinkle the shortbread with a little extra sugar just before taking from the oven.
Now for the dulce de leche; bring the milk to a simmer in a large, heavy bottomed pan. Add the tea leaves, stir well and leave them to steep for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the flavour is very pronounced.
Strain the milk then return to a clean pan. Add the sugar, golden syrup, vanilla pod and seeds, the bicarbonate of soda and salt and bring the mixture to the boil, stirring frequently as it will try to boil over.
Reduce the heat slightly to a medium simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has the consistency of very thick toffee sauce with a deep coffee colour, which should take about 30 – 40 minutes.
The mixture will try to catch on the bottom of the pan a bit, so stir or whisk it as much as possible, moving the mixture about rapidly. When it’s nicely thick and gloopy, remove the pan from the heat, fish out the vanilla pod and allow to cool for a few minutes.
Then, pour the caramel over the cooled shortbread. Allow this to cool and harden. As it does so, melt the two dark chocolates together and pour gently and evenly over the set caramel, working it into the corners.
Allow the chocolate to set a little, then melt the white chocolate and flick or pipe over the just-setting dark chocolate, allowing it to sink in and set fully.
To serve, quickly cut thick wedges of shortbread with a heavy sharp knife.