I've always had a sweet tooth, and only really embraced the exciting range of spices -- from the subtly piquant to the fiery -- when I started working in hospitality. My favourite snack was a Twix bar, which had all the flavours and textures I craved for: the buttery crumble of shortbread, the elastic caramel middle, encased in a chocolate shell. My mother would try to reduce our sugar intake when we were smaller, especially my portions, knowing how much I loved to snack on something sweet. It didn't help that cousins and family friends who visited from the United States would bring gigantic boxes filled with chocolate and other imported goods. It didn't matter how well my mother hid them from reach...I always knew how to purloin the shiny golden pack of Twix bars from her secret stash when she wasn't looking.
This recipe is like a Twix hack, except that it has more ingredients that give it a more mature vibe than the aforementioned chocolate bar. American recipes traditionally call it a millionaire bar...I suppose because after chomping off mouthfuls of these, it feels like you've put on a million pounds. :-D I've reduced the sugar measurement by half, and replaced it with brown or coco sugar -- the latter also gives a lovely burnt toffee taste and smell when cooking.
You can opt to remove the pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds altogether, or use either, or even substitute them with rolled oats....it's really up to you. The base for the shortbread is the same anyway, and the key to hold it together is not to melt the butter entirely, but instead, soften it in room temperature in order to slice off mini cubes off the block, and gradually mix them with the flour.
The middle layer also got a grown-up upgrade, with the introduction of peanut butter to the caramel mix. Caramel is so easy to make, and adding peanut butter with it gives it a slightly crunchy and nutty texture.
For the topping, any chocolate will do. My personal preference is dark chocolate, but if you prefer milk chocolate or half and half, why not. The key to this, and to all my other recipes for that matter, is versatility, and simplicity. If the grocery store ran out of chocolate chips of buttons, get two chocolate bars, break them into thick chunks, and follow the steps on C.
So here you have it, a home-made triple threat to Twix, and something fun to make and serve for the weekends. Because heck, why don't we all just pretend to be millionaires, even for a few bites. :-)
Baking time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 16 minutes
Total prep time: about 3 hours, including 2 hours of chilling
Yields: 24 rectangular pieces or about 30 squares
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar or coco sugar
1/3 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds, toasted
1.5 teaspoons sea salt
200 grams unsalted butter, cut in half, then small square pieces
1 large egg
1 cup or 250 ml heavy cream or all-purpose cream
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 bars of dark or semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or, if you are using chocolate chips, fill up to 3/4 cup)
A pinch of pink Himalayan salt or coarse sea salt flakes, for garnish
A. First layer: Shortbread
Line rectangular or square baking pan with parchment paper. Whisk flour, toasted seeds and 1/2 teaspoon salt together in a medium bowl. Add half cup of brown sugar or coco sugar and 150 grams or half of the butter (cut into small pieces), and toss to coat with the dry ingredients. Use your fingers to break the lumps apart, until they blend in. Add egg into flour mixture; dough should hold together by then.
Scrape dough into pan and flatten evenly. Prick dough with fork to ensure it stays flat.
Bake shortbread for 30 minutes at 175 degrees Celsius.
B. Second layer: Peanut butter-caramel sauce
4. While shortbread is cooling, make the peanut butter-caramel sauce by heating remaining 50 grams of butter pieces in a saucepan over medium heat until butter melts, about 1-2 minutes.
5. Add remaining half of sugar, rest of salt. Keep stirring until sauce thickens, another 5-7 minutes.
6. Pour in 3/4 cup of cream and peanut butter and stir to incorporate with the rest of ingredients for about 3-4 minutes. Turn off heat. Whisk until everything is incorporated. Spread sauce on to shortbread evenly. Chill in refrigerator for an hour.
C. Third layer: Chocolate topping
7. Melt chocolate chips in saucepan on low heat for about 3 minutes. Mix with remaining 1/4 cream and dash of vanilla. Constantly stir the pot so the chocolate doesn’t harden.
8. Take out baking pan from the refrigerator and pour chocolate on top of peanut butter-caramel layer; spread evenly. Sprinkle pink Himalayan salt or sea salt flakes on top. Chill for another hour in the freezer. Cut into squares or rectangles.