I first discovered millionaires shortbread – essentially, buttery biscuit smothered in caramel and topped with milk chocolate – in my exam year at university. I would buy packets of it in bulk from our local supermarket and – for nearly a year – it served as my primary source of fuel, offering me essential sustenance for those seemingly endless days at the library – and for the nights spent huddled over revision notes back in my college room. Using exam stress as an excuse, I overindulged. And gained nearly two stone. When eventually I resurfaced from the haze which is exam season and returned to the land of the living – horrified by the sheer caloric content of each tiny morsel, and by this point slightly nauseated by the excessive consumption of processed sugar – I swore never to touch millionaires shortbread again. And I didn’t. Until yesterday.
The craving set upon me slowly – like a little seedling first setting root in the early stages of its growth. On Friday, I was watching a replay of Heston Blumethal’s latest cooking show, and was particularly intrigued by his demonstration of how to enhance the flavour of very dark chocolate with a pinch of salt. It seems – ironically – that salt actually makes cocoa taste sweeter. Then – somehow – everything snowballed. There was no turning back. My hands were tied. Inevitably my thoughts turned to salted caramel. And how well the two – salted chocolate and salted caramel – might work together. Before I knew it – and before I could stop it – there was a salted caramel and chocolate tart baking in my oven.
Unlike the shop-bought shortbread of my early twenties this is a sophisticated desert. The subtle flakes of salt, the rich dark chocolate topping – and its very presentation as a tart, as opposed to in chunky squares – all conspire to give it a grown-up appearance. Yet the combination of flavours speak directly to the child which lives on in all of us. The mild saltiness of both the caramel and the chocolate curb that sometimes cloying sweetness of these two ingredients, while simultaneously enhancing their true flavours. Inspired. And the use of demarera sugar in the pastry provides a crunchy texture with undertones of browned butter, that acts as the perfect backdrop to the rich caramel. An improvement – in my opinion, at least – on the more conventionally used, and very rich, shortbread base.
When you see what goes into this tart, you will groan. Butter. Sugar. Condensed milk. Chocolate. And more butter. This is certainly not something to eat every day – it’s a once in a blue moon kind of tart. But all the tastier because of it. Rich, dense, sweet but not too sweet. Delicious. Because just once in a while, it feels good – really good – to be naughty.
To make a salted caramel and chocolate tart…
Serves 10-12 people, as a small sliver of this should be enough to satisfy even the most overpowering of sugar cravings.
For the biscuit base:
- 125g plain flour
- 125g demarera sugar
- 120g butter, chopped
- a generous pinch of table salt
For the caramel filling:
- 50g butter, chopped
- 100g golden syrup
- 395g condensed milk
- 1/2 tsp table salt
For the chocolate topping:
- 220g dark chocolate
- 30g butter, chopped
- 1 tsp Maldon salt flakes
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees, and line a 22cm springform tin with baking paper. Place the flour, sugar, butter and salt for the base in a food processor (or freestanding mixer with a flat paddle) to combine until it reaches a dough-y consistency. If you are not blessed with either of these kitchen appliances, you can do this bit by hand, by first combining the dry ingredients and then rubbing in the butter. Press the mixture evenly into the pan, smooth the surface and bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden. Next make the caramel by placing the golden syrup and butter in a saucepan over a medium heat until the butter has melted. Gradually bring to the boil and cook for 1 minute – at this point it will start to froth. Lower the heat right down, add the condensed milk to the saucepan, and stir for a few minutes until the caramel starts to thicken slightly. Pour the caramel over the biscuit-y base and bake for a further 8-10 minutes or until bubbling and lightly golden. Now set aside until the caramel is cooled. Finally, to make the chocolate topping, place the chocolate and butter – yes, more butter – in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and heat until almost melted. Remove from the heat – be careful not to wait too long before doing this, as too much heat can cause your chocolate to spoil or split – and stir until you have a smooth velvety chocolate mixture. Spoon the topping over the cooled caramel, smooth the surface with the back of the spoon – tracing flamboyant swirls, should you be feeling artistic – and sprinkle over the top with Maldon salt flakes. Now lick the chocolate coated spoon clean. Refrigerate the tart for at least four hours. When ready to serve – and once the tart has set nicely – remove the springform tin and peel off the greaseproof paper. This should should present no problems, if you do it the moment you take the tart out from the fridge – while it is still cold and solid. Serve after dinner when you feel like indulging.