If you love a combination of contrasts, then this gooey, decadent, sweet treat enriched with a deep flavor from the salt incorporated in it is going to be just your cup of tea. That is, you can drink a large cup of tea along with your salted caramel bar(s), but coffee and cold milk will go perfectly well with it as well. Since salted caramel butter bars have a butter-packed shortbread crust as the base for a delicious salted caramel filling, we will start the story from the very beginning. Although we couldn’t find an exact source for the very first salted caramel butter bars recipe, we have here a theory of the possible way they might have come to be. Enjoy!
Shortbread & Salted Caramel Butter Bars
First of all, it is important to distinguish between shortbread and shortcake. Although they are not worlds apart, there are still some differences between the two. While shortbread is made with butter, its cake cousin can also be made with vegetable fat, and unlike the latter, shortbread doesn’t call for chemical leavening agents such as baking powder. This, in turn, makes them different in texture, and as we all know texture is everything, so that’s settled. 🙂
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Although we cannot pin down the very first recipe for salted caramel butter bars, we can do that for the first shortbread recipe. It was printed in Scotland in 1736, from a Scotswoman named Mrs. McLintock. And further down the lane, in the 16th-century there were recipes that bettered the original 12th-century recipe for sweet rusk biscuit by swapping yeast with butter.
Now, what happens when you get creative and decide to bring a recipe up a notch? The Caramel Shortbread comes to be! Known as caramel shortcake, caramel squares, or our favorite, millionaires’ shortbread, and millionaires’ slice, this variation of shortbread was first mentioned in Australian journals and cookbooks from the 1970s, and it was basically a shortbread biscuit in a rectangular shape topped with a gooey caramel filling and a milk chocolate topping.
Salted Caramel Butter Bars
We can only be thankful to whoever it was that thought of adding salt into this sweet equation. The salt paired with the caramel makes for the best, most marvelous dessert ever!
Before you scroll down to the recipe, here’s an interesting fact:
Today we look at shortbread and caramel bars as something very common and relatively inexpensive, however, there was a time when they were eaten only on special occasions and holidays like Christmas and Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve). A tradition that has remained to this very day in Shetland is breaking a decorated shortbread cake over the head of a new bride. Guess the perfect balance of salty and sweet has always been recognized as a great hit!
And here’s an interesting question:
Have you ever wondered why caramel is called caramel? Well, there are two possible stories behind the name of this sticky pleasure. The first one dates back to Late Latin (from calamellus itself a diminutive of calamus) which translates into “sugar cane”. And the other, traces its roots in Medieval Latin, the word “cannamella”, “canna” again standing for “cane” and “mella” for “honey”. So, which word do you believe is more likely to be the root? When you taste caramel, do you think of a sugar cane or a honey cane? We here at MyGreatRecipes believe that it is the first one, but we honestly don’t think it is a big deal, as long as we have our caramel candy ready for the recipe that follows 🙂
Salted Caramel Butter Bars Recipe
All the talk would be in vain if we didn’t provide you with a tasty recipe, right? A few paragraphs later, here you have it, the simplest salted caramel butter bars recipe. While shortbread is traditionally made from white sugar, butter, and flour in this ratio 1: 2: 3 the most typical salted caramel butter bars recipe will call for a cup of white sugar (and one and a half cups of powdered sugar), 2 cups of softened butter, 4 cups of flour and 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract for the dough. The ingredients for the filling include а bag of caramel candies (a 14-ounce bag), ⅓ cup of heavy whipping cream, half a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of coarse sea salt.
- Make the Shortbread-like bottom
Line a 9×13” baking dish with parchment paper (or spray it with cooking spray) and preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a large bowl, combine the butter and both the regular and the powdered sugar. Using a mixer on medium speed beat everything together until creamy. Proceed to add the vanilla and beat until combined. Slowly sift the flour into the butter mixture while beating on low speed until a smooth soft dough forms.
Now it is time to divide the dough into three even parts. Although they don’t have to be symmetrical. At the end of the day, the last part will get crumbled so who cares :).
Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust, and put the other two-thirds in the fridge. Bake for around 20 minutes or until the crust is formed and firm and the edges are pale golden brown. Once the bottom is baked, transfer it to a wire rack and let it cool for about 15 minutes.
- Make the filling
First of all, unwrap the caramels (refrain yourselves from eating them :)) and place them in a microwave safe bowl together with the vanilla and the whipped cream. Microwave on high for around a minute and then take the bowl out and stir until smooth. If the caramels are not completely melted, feel free to bring them back in and microwave on high for 30-seconds, or until completely melted. Alternatively, you can melt the caramel the old-school way – in a saucepan on the stove top.
Once the caramel filling is ready, pour it over the crust and sprinkle the salt (go for flaked sea salt) over the caramel layer. Get the remaining dough from the fridge and evenly crumble it over the caramel.
Now it is time for the final baking part. Bake for around half an hour (or less). The salted caramel butter biscuit is ready once the filling is bubbly and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm. Let the whole pan cool and then cut into squares to get the “bars” ready.
Salted Caramel Butter Bars Fillings
Yes, these are called “salted” and “caramel” for a reason, and while we cannot say that the original recipe isn’t lick your fingers delicious, there are some ways to make it even better! In our defense, it was by bettering a shortbread recipe that these bars even came to be, so this is in a way our chance to give the world a recipe that might someday be as famous as its predecessors. Here they are, the fillings that you must try!
You can always make things more fun and way more delicious by adding Nutella. Seriously, there is nothing Nutella can’t improve! Make the recipe as instructed above, only before spreading the caramel filling, firstly spread half a cup of Nutella. Make sure you don’t spread all over to the very edge of the crust because it might get easily burnt. You can also make the bars with Nutella only, but then you should double the amount to one whole cup of it. Don’t forget to finish everything off with flaked sea salt. Again cool and cut, serve and watch them disappear.
Yup, you can also use chocolate to make things more interesting. Again the recipe is the same with the sole difference that you should sprinkle a cup of chocolate chips on top of the partially baked crust. Proceed to pour the caramel sauce over the chocolate chips, and only then can you add sea salt flakes.
These crunchy companions of many desserts make their way in salted caramel butter bars as well, and boy, do they make things awesome! Both in terms of taste and texture. And the best thing is: they will pair perfectly well with recipes from the regular one, to these Nutella and chocolate chip variations. Add slivered almonds in the filling or as a topping and be ready for a mouthful of crunchy happiness!
Caramel on top of caramel? Yes, you can always double the pleasure. Melt a cupful worth of caramel candies and use them to drizzle on top of the bars. You can do the same with chocolate sauce, or if you love a hint of whiskey, butterscotch sauce. The last one is made with butter, dark brown sugar, and a splash of whiskey and is the perfect finish to a perfect dessert!
Salted caramel butter bars are definitely worth giving a shot. And while you are at it, prepare one of the tasty fillings we suggest. We assure you, your friends and family will love the outcome and you will have us to thank!