A chocolatey, nutty, caramelly delight for those who want an eggless treat this season. A comedy of errors for those who like good stories.
Editors Note: We love the Pootler Chef- when she is telling tales of her culinary misadventures, or when she gets into a digression about how she is so much like her favourite Terry Pratchett character (Lord Vetinari, really?). But most of all we adore her for just how much she loves her food. When the Pootler Chef talks about taste-testing four batches of salted caramel sauce, you believe her, and want to join her in licking the spatula. We relish the fact that she is not perfect like a Nigella when it comes to her delectable desserts, but is more likely to stumble along, burn an appendage or two, and then whip up something that tastes like heaven.
And that is why we went right ahead and asked her for an alternative to the Kaju Barfi and Payasam that we normally cooked for a Navratri treat. We wanted something shuddh shakahari and 100% delicious, and we were NOT disappointed.
I first made this recipe when my favourite cousin and his wife were in town. I love them but for the fact that they don’t eat eggs. A choice which I heartily endorse except when it comes to baking for them. Not only do they love dessert, but my SIL was my go to person in my younger “I don’t know how to boil water” days. Barely out of college, pretending at my first job, I was perpetually hungry and mostly broke. I had keys to their place and a standing invite to every home-cooked meal, a licence which I shamelessly made the most of. When I started dating SG, they were the first family I introduced him to. They heartily approved, rather they insisted that I married him. You can see them beaming in our wedding pictures and we went onto live literally a few doors away from them. Many meals (I wisely kept the keys) and many years later, we moved cities, leaving a great relationship behind, albeit with some wonderful memories. So then tell me, if such people roll into town, is it not cause to bring out the baking pans and whip up some dessert?
Yes. But I should have done it the night before.
I was due into work on Saturday afternoon and the morning was the only window we had to meet and greet. So I get up nice and early, and…
Realize over the morning cuppa that I don’t have the cream to make the cinnamon roll biscuits I was planning to make. Panic. The tea turns cold
Scramble for another eggless recipe that does not involve fruits, cream, yeast, and too much time or patience – all being in short supply
Decide to substitute the shortbread recipe with this eggless one and believe if I have done it before, I possibly cannot go wrong. Error #1
Proceed to make the dulce de leche using the oven. The only thing I got right in the entire disaster. Oh wait, I made only 1 cup, 2/3 of what I should have. Error #2
Make the dough for the shortbread. Figure that if I have to scale down from 9 by 13 to 7 by 7, halving everything should do the trick. Error #3 was not paying enough attention when they taught volume and area math back in school. Thus, end up with an oddly thick shortbread base
Bake the pastry for 30 minutes. Error #4. Scaled down the recipe but did not reduce baking time. End up with a hard biscuit base, but blithely not realize and continue. Like a train wreck
Get on with the nuts. Replace peanuts with cashews. Actually get the complicated sugar process bang on. But Error #5-inadvertently get the pinky into hot sugar. CURSE.
Proceed to go from bad to worse.
Not having silpat, choose butter paper to lay out the candied cashews. Error #6. Paper adheres to the sugar and refuses to come off. SWEAR
Not wanting to poison favourite family with bits of paper, patiently remove bits of paper with careful application of water. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and I am already late. Call up and inform SIL. Sob a little
The husband is ready to leave, but does not have the heart to be angry looking at my piteous condition. I now have bits of candy, some cashew, and lots of flour decorating my person and adding character to my hair. (Little known fact: Hot sugar is stronger than superglue.) By now, I also have a wide eyed look and am periodically waving the burnt pinky at the clock in order to slow it down.
Gloop on the ducle de leche and scatter broken bits of cashew onto the short bread base
Start on the chocolate layer. Error #7. Use ¾ the chocolate dictated, as I am low on chocolate and very low on patience. Error #8-Ask the husband to break up the chocolate bar while I get the butter on. He eats a lot of the chocolate
Frantically pour the chocolate layer and grind up the remaining candied cashew for a sprinkle. Refrigerate. Call again and inform that we will be later than the late previously estimated. Run for a shower
Error #9-Husband leaves to start the car, while I cut the bars. Ahem. Hack the bars. Stand on them and thump them! Throw them against the wall! Okay, I do only the first. But cry quietly as they refuse to cut. Realize all the errors I have made while the husband starts to glower
Depart and keep crying. Collapse into SIL’s arms on arriving and plead that she bin the bars
To be honest, they didn’t taste that bad. And with a few modifications they’d make the perfect vegetarian treat for this season. Here’s the recipe. And don’t forget to let me know how it goes!
Measures below are for an 8” by 8” pan. Don’t immediately rush to buy one if you don’t have on – simply scale to fit your pan size. Do budget a couple of hours to make this, especially if you are not a prolific baker. Don’t get fazed by the number of layers, it’s simple, promise!
Makes 16 two inch squares
Ingredients for the dulce de leche layer
· 1 ½ can (600 gm) of condensed milk
Ingredients for the shortbread
· ½ cup unsalted butter (softened)
· ½ cup brown sugar
· ¾ tsp salt
· ¾ cup flour
Ingredients for the Filling layer
· ½ cup plain sugar
· 3 tbsp water
· 1 ½ cup cashews or peanut, preferably salted
Ingredients for the chocolate layer
· ¼ cup butter
· 200 gm chocolate. The recipe calls for bittersweet, I used chocolate that I would normally eat
Making the dulce de leche
Pour the condensed milk into a glass baking dish and cover with foil. Place in a larger tray and pour hot water around it and bake in a preheated 220 c oven for about an hour. Check occasionally and top the water. Cool and whisk to smoothness.
You can make this in advance, or get this going in the oven while you put the rest of the ingredients together, let the butter “rest” outside the fridge and start with the shortbread
Making the shortbread
Prepare the pan by lining it with butter paper. Use a large piece of paper in order to “lift” the shortbread out. Preheat oven to 180 degree c, if the oven is not already hot from the making the dulce de leche
In a stand mixer, or using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar and salt for a minute or two. Gradually add in the flour till just combined. Don’t overmix. Lightly press dough into the pan and poke holes into it with a fork. Bake for about 25 minutes and check for the color – it should be a golden. If it requires a couple of minutes more, return to the oven and bake.
Cool the pastry before adding the other layers
Making the filling
Take a heavy bottomed saucepan and add the sugar and water to it. Over medium heat, cook while stirring, till the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar dissolves, stop stirring and wait for it to start changing to a gold color. Mix in the nuts and keep stirring to coat the nuts with the melted sugar. Keep stirring till the mix takes on a deep amber color. Tip on to a silicone mat and cool. Break half the filling into large chunks and grind the remaining.
Spread the dulce de leche over the pastry layer. Evenly spread the big chunks of candied nuts.
Making the chocolate layer
Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Melt the butter in a pan, over gentle heat, and add te chocolate to it. Mix till melted and combined.
Pour over the layered shortbread and smoothen it with the back of a spoon/spatula. Sprinkle the ground up nuts.
Refrigerate till serving. Cut into bars once the topping is set.
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