There are some days, as a PhD, where actual work towards said PhD is impossible. This is because the day is spent writing funding applications, editing applications, organising travel arrangements (and doing everything possible to not have to leave the house at 1.30am) and just taking care of various admin-related things that have a tendency to build up in large piles of paper. Today was one of those days. I spent the morning in the office, clearing funding applications and printing various tickets that will take me to East Lansing (home of Michigan State University, in case you were wondering) in June. I’m super excited to go, it’s a large meeting of food studies people and there is always awesome, cool new research to be discussed, but I won’t lie, I’ve nearly lost my head organising this trip. East Lansing is an obscure place. And this afternoon I came home to do more transcribing and the fire alarm went off. Twice. Honestly.
So when everything had finally calmed down to a reasonable pace and I was finally clear of admin, I decided the afternoon called for a cookie. A 4pm cookie. (Yes, I am aware that the logical way to spend the afternoon would’ve been on actual PhD work. But whatever.) So I had a look through some books and finally settled on these – chocolate caramel shortbreads, from Bake by Tina Bester. Tina runs an awesome cafe in Obs in Cape Town, where I’ve had lunch before but where you should really go for cake. Anyway, the shortbreads have all of
four, five ingredients and only take about 10 minutes to put together. And they have to rest in the fridge so I figured I’d do some transcribing whilst they were resting (see? I am a responsible, hard working PhD, and not merely a work avoider/baker). I’m nearly halfway through a second transcription. I’m almost done with my second transcription (7 more minutes) and I actually finished transcribing a focus group yesterday! (Can you tell I’m feeling very proud of myself? It’s pure torture but fascinating all at the same time – particularly when the children start to sing songs like Bananas in Pyjamas because they’re drawing pictures of bananas.)
Anyway, the shortbreads rested, I made caramel, I transcribed and baked off shortbreads and then dipped them in melted chocolate and sandwiched them together. (I also had several sneaky teaspoons of the caramel whilst I was waiting for the shortbreads to bake. It’s amazing.) I then took them to dinner, to feed to the other tutors. They were well received. My only real note is that I would slice the shortbreads thinner next time. The book says 4mm but mine ended up wider than that and so they’re a little intense. More like dessert than a 4pm cookie. But that’s okay. I’ll just have to give them away or run more or something.
Chocolate Caramel Shortbreads
Loosely adapted from Baked by Tina Bester
275g butter, unsalted, soft
160g golden caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
300g plain flour
1 tin condensed milk
3 tablespoons golden syrup
150g-200g melted chocolate
Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.
Add in the flours. I found it easiest to fold in using my hands because at one stage you feel like you’ve just got flour and it’s never going to amount to anything.
Hands help speed up the process.
I divided the dough in half and rolled it into two separate logs. Wrap these tightly in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 160C. Slice the logs into thin rounds and bake on lined baking sheets for about 15 minutes, until the cookies pass the thumb test and are slightly golden around the edges. Cool.
In the meantime, place the condensed milk, butter and golden syrup in a pan and cook until the caramel thickens and turns a light golden colour. Stir constantly! This takes anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, depending on how hot you’ve got the pan. I cooked it quite low because I was panicky about burning the caramel. (An experience I have had many a time.) And don’t panic about the ‘cook until it thickens’ instructions. I was constantly like ‘is this thick enough?’ (even when it clearly hadn’t done anything yet) but finally it got thicker and quite gloopy and I could draw a line through it (only briefly but the line was there for a second) and the caramel will thicken further as it cools. Pour the caramel into a heat proof bowl and cool completely.
Once the cookies are cool, melt the chocolate (I used about 180g in total – dipping is easier with more chocolate and if you have any left just spread it onto some baking paper and then break it up and put it away for a rainy day). I always melt chocolate in the microwave but you could do it over a bain marie.
Dip the cookies into the chocolate and place on a sheet of baking paper to cool. Once set, sandwich together with the caramel. Store in an airtight container for 3 days. I sandwiched half the cookies and am keeping the other half un-sandwiched, to make up when I have a craving. I think there’s less chance of a soggy cookie this way. The caramel (by itself) should keep in the cupboard for a week. (You know, so you can eat it with a teaspoon or with ice cream or something.)