Thursday 14 March 2013

Caramelised Milk Chocolate & Espresso Shortbread

For the past ten days or so - ever since I got back to Oxford - I've been in the midst of one of those patches where every recipe I try seems to go wrong. It drives me up the wall (and, occasionally, drives tears down my face).

Earlier this evening I was reading The Year in Food when I came across Kimberly's description of weeks like these: "Where one week will feel smooth and productive, another will feel like I am trying to herd cats – the recipes are stubborn and lopsided and resist coaxing to the place where I’d like them to go." It inspired me to finally stop procrastinating and herd some words onto the screen.

To be honest, life seems to be full of herding unruly and unpredictable cats at the moment. One opportunity turns up, then disappears, then mutates, then another appears, changes, tangles, clashes and so on. Every opportunity I'm getting at the moment - both food and teaching related - is a challenge and seems designed to push me to my limits and out of my comfort zone.

I know that's a good thing and nothing makes you learn faster - but it doesn't make it any less dizzying or scary. Especially when everything is going wrong, the days are vanishing and the deadlines are looming.

Thankfully caramelised milk chocolate never seems to fail and this shortbread behaved itself impeccably three times in a row, like a little purring cat. Most of my recipes for this chunk of time seem to be finally coming into control too, perhaps taking note from these two.

Yet this obedient shortbread wasn't the first version of this post. My first idea was to make some viennese biscuits - you know, the ones that you pipe into nice shapes then dip into chocolate.

I couldn't find a trustworthy recipe to try out and surprise, surprise, the one I picked didn't go well. They literally resisted being coaxed into the right shape. I stood there squeezing and squeezing on the piping bag full of mixture, trying to make the dough come out. The piping bag became streaked with pale stretch marks but the mixture wouldn't budge.

In the end, I snipped the tip off and formed the biscuits by hand. Once baked, they were bland and boring. My guess is that getting it to a pipeable consistency that won't spread in the oven while maintaining taste is pretty difficult, so I shelved it for a later date. Do you have a good recipe for them? I'd love to know.

So, aware that I really needed something to just work, I went back to my Whole Vanilla Bean Shortbread and adapted from there. When I was tasting all the milk chocolate last week I kept thinking that coffee would go really well with it, so I flavoured it with espresso powder. I haven't tried it with real espresso but I imagine it would work too.

I also tried two more chocolates: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Belgian Fairtrade Milk Chocolate (£1.39) and Tesco Finest 40% Cook's British Milk Chocolate (£1.28). Both worked well and were cheaper than all of the ones I tried last time. The Tesco one has a totally inexplicable but pleasant honey aftertaste.

I tried drizzling the biscuits with chocolate, spreading it on the bottom and sandwiching. The sandwiches won both on taste and because you can't see the chocolate cloud once it's cooled.

Finally, while I really like making the caramelised milk chocolate and I do think it's worth it, for this recipe I think you could just melt the chocolate and stir the pinch of salt through if you don't have time. It won't be quite the same but I think they'd still be delicious.

The light coffee and chocolate flavours remind me of opera cake - it's such a good combination. These are the sort of buttery biscuits that come in a fancy tin (though, made at home, they're a bit fresher).

Caramelised Milk Chocolate & Espresso Shortbread

For the chocolate:
100g milk chocolate*
pinch of fleur de sel or fine sea salt

For the shortbread:
100g unsalted butter, cold to the touch but not rock solid
50g caster sugar
1 tsp espresso powder
1/2 tsp boiling water
2 pinches fine sea salt
135g plain flour

For the caramelised milk chocolate, heat the oven to 120C/250F. Break the chocolate up and place in a small oven dish. Place in the oven and bake for 5 minutes, then take out and stir until smooth. Repeat every 10 minutes until it has been baking for 65. Stir in a pinch of salt then scrape into a bowl to cool.

Put the butter, sugar, combined espresso powder/water and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Blend until you have a smooth paste. Add the flour then blend until the dough forms clumps (you may need to scrape down once or twice). Tip out onto a sheet of baking parchment then form into a square. Roll out, turning the dough by a 1/4 between turns and trying to keep a square shape, until it is 3-4mm thick. Place on a tray and put in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170C/340F to bake the biscuits. Lightly grease a baking tray. Trim the sides and cut into squares - I use the width of my ruler, which is 3.5cm, and cut along it for a straight edge. You should have about 26 squares with a few odd shaped offcuts (I had 7 partial squares last time). Place onto the tray and into the oven and bake for 9-11 minutes, turning the tray halfway through. Leave to cool for a few minutes on the tray then remove to a rack.

When the biscuits have cooled, pair them up according to size then sandwich them with the chocolate (you may well need to re-melt it to spread it - place the bowl over a pan of simmering water). They keep for a few days in a sealed tin.

(Makes about 13 sandwiches or 26 singles + a few odd shaped ones)

* I used about 60g of the milk chocolate to fill the biscuits but I haven't tested caramelising less than 100g. If you're not caramelising it, perhaps try melting 70g (for a little leeway).

Some more recipes that include coffee:
2009: Coffee and Walnut Cake
2011: Tiramisu
2013: Toscakaka (Caramel Almond Cake)


  1. poiresauchocolat15 March 2013 at 10:15

    Glad you both like them!

  2. I have a viennese biscuit recipe we made in culinary school - I hate the things, they remind me too much of stale cafe biscuits, but they piped and kept their shape fine and if you like I can email it to you :-)

  3. poiresauchocolat15 March 2013 at 12:31

    You sell them so well ;) I think that's the problem - I'm not sure you can get them to taste nice while doing what they're supposed to. I just like the idea of them (and I have to admit, the packets of them in M&S always look so tempting...).

  4. Paula @ Vintage Kitchen15 March 2013 at 13:12

    Life in general is about a herd of cats sometimes. I think it has to do with repeating the same recipe many times. It´s incredibly frustrating and boring. And then there are things like shortbread that never fail. I love it! And this idea is fantastic Emma! What can go wrong if you use caramelized chocolate, right?

  5. These look much more delicious than viennese biscuits to me! I really need to try caramelized milk chocolate - although I'm hooked on the white stuff at the moment.

  6. ami@naivecookcooks15 March 2013 at 15:34

    I can so relate to what you are saying Emma! I have my share of those days as well! Great looking recipe though!

  7. Well hello darlings, nice to eat you :) Yummy!

  8. poiresauchocolat15 March 2013 at 16:37

    Oh I don't mind testing recipes again and again - all the recipes I post now are at least triple tested. But it's frustrating when they won't go well!

    I'm so pleased you like the biscuits - they're very moreish (I'm regretting giving the whole last batch away now, though I have other testing goodies to munch on).

  9. poiresauchocolat15 March 2013 at 16:38

    Well they're certainly much more delicious than the viennese biscuits I made...

    The white is a more dramatic change but I really like the milk - hope you try it.

  10. poiresauchocolat15 March 2013 at 16:39

    It seems lots of people have just had a rough patch - something in the air, perhaps ;)

  11. poiresauchocolat15 March 2013 at 16:39

    Hehe! Glad you like them.

  12. Pearl @ PrettyMayhem16 March 2013 at 02:30

    These cookies look so delicious! I love the combination of coffee and chocolate and always add a little bit of ground coffee to my chocolate cakes...yum!

  13. I love the simplicity of these and imagine they are the perfect partner to an espresso or hot chocolate. Is the 'cloud' you refer to what can be seen in the final photo?

  14. Brilliant! Ha ha!

  15. Swiss Miss in the Kitchen17 March 2013 at 15:59

    Oh my... those biscuits look heavenly!!! Caramel AND coffee?!? It doesn't get much better :) thanks!!

  16. Oh I've had a few of those cat-herding weeks recently. It's nice to know that you can't go wrong with a shortbread and some caramelised chocolate to restore some equilbrium.

  17. These look super yummy. I grew up using 'The dairy book of home Cookery' as the go to for all baking inquiries. They've a lovely Viennese swirl that pipes nicely, and melts in the mouth. It's made using icing sugar and reminds me of being about five when fresh biscuits were the biggest treat in the world
    being about five

  18. poiresauchocolat17 March 2013 at 20:05

    Great idea - I love the way coffee enhances chocolate cakes, even if it's not enough to taste.

  19. poiresauchocolat17 March 2013 at 20:09

    The cloud is when the chocolate blooms because it hasn't been tempered - the caramelised chocolate seems to do it even more than most (I'm guessing it's to do with the way the process changes crystal formation) - it's goes dull and has a sort of white cloudy look. But if you sandwich them you can't see it - the edges don't seem to do it, whereas if you spread the bottom of a biscuit and leave it to dry it does. It doesn't change the taste, just doesn't look as appetising.

    P.S. They're also good with tea.

  20. poiresauchocolat17 March 2013 at 20:09

    It's a lovely combination, even in the caramel flavour isn't strong. Glad you like them.

  21. poiresauchocolat17 March 2013 at 20:11

    I can imagine - getting ready to move is so tough. Shortbread and chocolate are good tonics.

  22. poiresauchocolat17 March 2013 at 20:13

    That sounds interesting. I might go and have a look at a copy in the bod - do you happen to know which edition the recipe is in?

    P.S. Is this Louise Goyder from Jesus who taught me to row? If it is, hello! How are you?

  23. Blogging has an ebb and flow - times of plenty and times of drought. But biscuits will always help you through :)

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  46. Nice photographs. The recipe looks pretty nice and great. Thanks for the recipe

  47. poiresauchocolat27 March 2013 at 16:13

    True - it does go up and down. I just hate wasting ingredients on failures. But you're right, the biscuits made it better :)

  48. poiresauchocolat27 March 2013 at 16:13

    Thank you, I hope you do get to try them.

  49. poiresauchocolat27 March 2013 at 16:13

    So annoying, isn't it! I hope the tide is turning for you and everything is going well now. Glad you like the shortbreads.

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  51. Laura-Anne Sutcliffe18 November 2013 at 21:01

    I am loving your blog such inspiration - thank you! Would ŷou consider giving guidelines of how long each bake keeps / can be stord for? I do lots of baking for gifts but also have a young family so if I make biscuits etc I like to freeze some to save time and also stop them eating them all at once!

  52. Laura-Anne Sutcliffe18 November 2013 at 21:02

    Please excuse my dreadful typing!

  53. Hi - so pleased you like the blog! I usually give storage guidelines in the last line or two of the recipe - this one is "They keep for a few days in a sealed tin." You could probably also freeze the biscuit dough once they're shaped and then bake them from frozen, though I've never tried it. Hope that helps.

  54. Hi - so pleased you like the blog! I usually give storage guidelines in the last line or two of the recipe - this one is "They keep for a few days in a sealed tin." You could probably also freeze the biscuit dough once they're shaped and then bake them from frozen, though I've never tried it. Hope that helps.

  55. Espresso Capsules7 January 2014 at 16:05

    Those biscuits look stunning! I would love to try them out! Thanks for the post

  56. For the chocolate, you said to repeat the baking process every ten minutes. But when do you start counting the ten minutes? Do you start counting as soon as you remove it from the oven or do you start counting once you have finished stirring it to make it smooth?

    Also, you said to turn the tray half through the baking. What do you mean by that? Turn the whole tray by 180° or flip over the biscuits?

    Thanks :)

  57. I would start timing the ten minutes from when I put it back in the oven (it's not an exact science, though, so I wouldn't worry too much). As for the turning, I mean turn the tray 180 - just so they brown evenly. Hope that helps!


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