Millionaire’s Shortbread squares are a decadent treat of thick caramel on a shortbread cookie base, topped with a thin layer of dark chocolate. Rich as a millionaire – and, oh, so delicious!
If you can make shortbread cookies, that old Scottish standby, you can make Millionaire’s Shortbread – also known as Caramel Slice, Caramel Squares, Chocolate Caramel Shortbread, and variations on that theme.
What is Millionaire’s Shortbread?
It’s simply a shortbread base, a generous layer of caramel filling, then a topping of melted chocolate spread over all. Chill and cut into squares, and you’ve got a hit on your plate. That’s why I was surprised that it was so hard to find a recipe to make Millionaire’s Shortbreads from scratch, without cans of sweetened condensed milk or golden syrup.
Almost every cookbook and foodie website can offer you a recipe for Millionaire’s Shortbread, it seems, but the original recipe seems to have shown up quite suddenly in the 1970s, somewhere Down Under.
Shortbread itself is, of course, a simple traditional Scottish biscuit (cookies) that has earned a permanent place on our dessert plates at holiday time. The exact origin of the chocolate caramel version is lost in the mists of culinary time and traded recipe cards, but the most often cited publication seems to have been the recipe’s 1981 appearance as Chocolate Caramel Shortbread in the Australian Women’s Weekly magazine. A later version of the recipe included dry-roasted peanuts in the caramel layer – not, I think, a necessary addition nor necessarily an improvement on the original nut-free recipe.
With all the recipe sites that include the luscious Millionaire’s Shortbread in their listings, it was surprisingly difficult to find a recipe I really liked. The challenge: To make Millionaire’s Shortbread “from scratch” using just basic ingredients.
Most recipes seemed to call for a can of something… and as I try to avoid canned goods and pre-prepared commercial products when I’m baking, it took a bit of digging to put together what I think is the very best “from scratch” recipe.
The Best Recipe for Millionaire’s Shortbread
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup white sugar (preferably fine or caster sugar)
- 4 oz. butter
Combine the flour and sugar, then cut in the butter (or pulse with a food processor) to make coarse crumbs. Alternatively, for a lighter texture, you can cream the butter and sugar together, then sift the flour and gradually stir it in. (My neighbour, a “war bride” from Scotland, always used the first method so that’s what I tend to do, but the choice is yours.)
Instead of rolling out and cutting into cookies, to make the base for Millionaire’s Shortbread we press this basic shortbread mixture into a greased baking pan – approximately 11 x 7 inch rectangle or 9-inch square. (Instead of greasing the pan, you may prefer to line it with parchment paper. This way you can lift out the whole works later, which makes it easy to cut the squares all neat and tidy for serving to guests.)
Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes, just until it is golden. Leave this to cool in the pan, until you’re ready to assemble the rest of the squares.
For the caramel filling, the main part of these rich squares, you have a number of choices. Here’s one very common recipe for the caramel filling part of Millionaire’s Shortbread:
- 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
- 1/2 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
- 3 Tablespoons of golden syrup
- 4 oz. butter
Place all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and set over low heat, stirring continuously to prevent sticking. When the butter has melted and the sugar is dissolved, turn up the heat – keep stirring all the time! – and bring the mixture to boiling point, then reduce the heat to just keep at a simmer.
(The trick here is to know how long to let it stay at boiling, as much depends on how quickly the mixture heats up – but a chef friend once told me to watch the bubbles for a clue. When the bubbles start to get smaller, that’s when you turn the heat back to low.)
Keep stirring as it simmers over low heat until the mixture is thickened and golden-brown caramel color. Pour the caramel over the shortbread base and spread to the edges and corners with a spatula or spoon.
Caramel Alternatives / Dulce de Leche
So I went looking for alternatives.
Some cooks have simply melted a bag of caramel candies to spread on the shortbread base, but I think most of us would find that too sweet and too bland. If you can find a commercial caramel or dulce de leche product that is thick enough to hold its shape when the squares are cut, that would do… but again, we’re trying to get back to baking “from scratch” here.
The solution I settled on first was to make a homemade caramel concoction, based on this recipe – delicious! But it does call for corn syrup, not an ingredient I like to use if I can avoid it.
So, it was on to this recipe – with a rich dark caramel made the traditional way, by heating sugar in a small bit of water until it turns beautifully amber, then adding cream and butter. That’s very very hard to beat, I have to say.
However, for my money, by far the best way to create the perfect Millionaire’s Shortbread is with a thick sweet homemade Dulce de Leche as the filling.
Just 3 ingredients – milk, sugar, and a pinch of baking soda – you can do that!
There is a wonderful step by step tutorial (with photographs) on making Dulce de Leche from scratch at Shanavi’s foodie blog, Kitchen Secrets and Snippets – and here’s a very helpful video demonstration by Ann of How to Cook That, for those of you who prefer to learn by watching:
The longer you let it simmer, the thicker the sweet liquid will become. If you have access to goat’s milk, that makes a Dulce de Leche with a slightly more complex flavor than either simple caramel or even the cow’s milk version, but either way is good. A lovely thick homemade dulce de leche makes a wonderful complement to the buttery shortbread base.
What’s the difference between caramel and dulce de leche? Caramel is made by carmelizing sugar in water, adding in cream and butter afterwards. Dulce de leche is what you get when you carmelize a mix of sugar and milk.
Whether you choose to go caramel or dulce de leche for the middle layer, however, your Millionaire’s Squares would be incomplete without the final touch of rich deliciousness – the chocolate on top!
Chocolate Glaze Topping
To balance the sweetness of the filling, I like to top it all with a very dark Swiss chocolate that’s just slightly on the bitter side compared to North American products, but any dark chocolate will do.
- 8 oz. dark chocolate
- 2 oz. butter
Melt together, stirring gently until thoroughly combined. I like to do this in a glass bowl in the microwave, going at medium-high for about 10 seconds at a time and stirring between each zap, but you can also melt it in the top of a double boiler over hot water.
Spread the chocolate glaze with a spatula or the back of a spoon over the caramel layer. If you like, use the tines of a fork to make a crosshatch pattern or wavy lines in the chocolate – that’s a purely optional touch. I have a friend who sprinkles her Millionaire’s Squares with finely chopped walnuts while the chocolate glaze is still warm, but again that is totally optional.
Chill until set, then cut into small bars or squares.