I am not usually one for hyperbole (although I did call myself a genius in another blog post so make of that what you will), but this shortbread really is rather great. Firstly, there are three different shortbread options for the base so whether you are vegan, gluten-free, grain-free, or simply unable to procure your usual flour, there’s a shortbread that will work for you. Secondly, the caramel is not a traditional caramel but a quick version that is just as delicious, and if you have the right ingredients it will work every time. Thirdly, and most importantly, it is unbelievably tasty.
I have made every version of this shortbread and all have been happily devoured by my family in equally quick time. My little cousins, who are normally deeply suspicious of any food that is not exactly what they are expecting it to be in case someone is trying to trick them into eating something healthy, scoffed my grain-free version down without batting an eye-lid. And kept asking for more. To the point where they had to be hidden.
The biggest challenge with this recipe is being patient. Each layer needs to cool before the next is poured on top so you’ll need at least an afternoon, but the individual layers themselves are pretty quick to whip up. This is a perfect recipe for a weekend; it requires time rather than effort and you can get on with whatever else you have planned in between (in my case
going for a jog, cleaning the house, making the best use to my down time to be creative or learn a new skill, binge-watching buffy the vampire slayer and desperately googling suppliers of vegan block (see below)).
First up is the shortbread. Traditionally this is made by rubbing butter into flour then stirring in sugar. The difficulty with veganizing it is that vegan spreads have a much higher water content than butter, so if you replaced it like for like you’d have a less delicate and crumbly shortbread. Well I have not just one, but TWO solutions. Solution number one is the easiest, which is simply replace the butter with Vegan Block. This is a vegan butter alternative made by Naturli that you can buy from Sainsbury’s or some health food shops (I think it’s also coming to Waitrose). It is my absolute favourite recent vegan discovery – it tastes like butter and behaves like butter, it’s firm when refrigerated but soft and spreadable when left out. It tastes so good on toast. I’m not even being paid to say this. It’s great. Solution number two is to replace the butter partly with any vegan spread, and partly with flavourless coconut oil. This way you still get a buttery flavour, and the coconut oil increases the ratio of fat to water.
The other key thing with shortbread is to ensure that whatever fat you use is fridge-cold. You can rub it into the flour by hand, but only use your fingertips to prevent the fat from warming too much. The easiest method is to use a food processor; pulse the fat and the flour a few times until it resembles breadcrumbs then add the sugar and pulse a couple more times. Tip into a baking tin and press the mixture firmly until it form a compact even layer, prick lightly with a fork to allow some of the steam to release when cooking, and pop in the oven.
While the shortbread is cooking, you can make a start on the caramel. My preferred combination of ingredients is flavourless coconut oil, maple syrup, and almond butter. The result is not distinctly almond-y, rather it is deliciously sweet and creamy, with a lovely nutty undertone, which is enhanced by a big pinch of sea salt. However it would still be delicious with other syrups, such as agave, brown rice or golden, or with other nut butters – I have made them with peanut butter before and they are divine, kind of like a classy biscuit version of a snickers bar. You could also use raw virgin coconut oil but I find the coconut flavour a little overpowering.
The method for the caramel is pretty straight forward. In a small saucepan, melt the coconut oil with the syrup over a medium heat and let it bubble for a couple of minutes; you’ll start to smell the maple syrup toasting slightly. Whisk in the nut butter and bring back to a gentle boil. Cook for a couple more minutes then remove from the heat and stir in a pinch of flaky sea salt (or half the amount of regular salt). Once it’s cooled a little you can taste it and add a little more salt if you like.
Once the caramel and the shortbread have both cooled to near room temperature, pour the caramel over the shortbread and bang the tin a few times on your work surface so the caramel forms an even layer. If your caramel is too thick to pour, don’t worry! Just spread it over the shortbread as evenly as you can. When it’s warm the caramel can vary in its viscosity, which is possibly to do with the amount of oil in whatever nut butter you are using, but it sets just as well in the fridge either way.
You’ll need to refrigerate the shortbread and caramel for a couple of hours until the caramel is completely set. Sometimes I leave it overnight and do the chocolate layer in the morning. The final layer is the most straight forward – melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water along with a tablespoon each of coconut oil and syrup of choice. Leave it alone until everything is melted (or near enough) then stir until glossy and smooth, and pour over the cold caramel.
This will need to go back in the fridge for at least an hour and maybe a little more until the chocolate has hardened. I find that the easiest way to get in out of the baking tin is to run a tea towel or cloth under hot water then wrap around the edge of the tin for 5–10 seconds. You’ll see the very edge of the chocolate start to melt, and it should then come out of the tin fairly easily, whether you are turning it upside down onto a chopping board or carefully sliding the shortbread out of a loose-bottomed tin.
You can chop them into any size you like – they are incredibly indulgent so I tend to cut them into smaller pieces (so you don’t feel so guilty about having two. Or three. And maybe a fourth after a small break). You can easily get 24 generous portions. If you are bothered about aesthetics I would suggest scoring along the chocolate top with a knife, dividing it into four equal rows, before slicing into the shortbread – this helps prevent the chocolate top from cracking. You can then divide each row into as many pieces as you wish.
A final tip: as the baker I strongly recommend that you get the first and biggest slice, before your family / friends / housemates / pets descend like gannets (if they are anything like my family). And I hope they get as much pleasure out of these as my family and I have. If you do make them please let me know how you get on – you can comment below or tag me on Instagram @clarecooksvegan. I’d love to see your creations!
Ultimate Vegan Millionaire's Shortbread
Decadent and delicious millionaire's shortbread with a crumbly biscuit base, salted almond caramel and dark chocolate topping
Vegan, Gluten-free option, Grain-free option
For the base:
- 225g plain flour / 225g gluten-free flour / 100g ground almonds and 125g coconut flour
- 175g Naturli vegan block / 100g vegan spread and 75g flavourless coconut oil* (fridge-cold)
- 75g caster sugar
For the caramel:
- 100g Flavourless coconut oil
- 150ml syrup (maple / agave / golden / brown rice]
- 150g almond butter (or other nut butter)
- 1 tsp flaky sea salt or ½ tsp fine salt
For the topping:
- 150g dark chocolate (70% or lower)
- 1 tbsp flavourless coconut oil
- 1 tbsp syrup of choice (I find golden works best)
- Grease and base line a 20 x 20 cm baking tin (or deep baking tin or dish of equivalent area) and heat the oven to 150C fan.
- In a food processor add 225g plain flour (or gluten-free or grain-free alternative). Cut 175g of vegan block, or 100g of vegan spread and 75g of coconut oil, into small chunks and scatter on to the flour, then pulse until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add 75g of sugar and pulse until fully incorporated. If you don’t have a food processor, rub the fat into the flour as you would with shortcrust pastry, then stir in the sugar.
- Tip the crumbly mixture into your greased tin, and spread with your hand until it coats the bottom of the tin evenly, then press the mixture firmly into the base of the tin until it forms an even and compact layer. Prick all over with a fork then bake for 35 minutes until starting to brown (the grain free version tends to brown quicker but I would still recommend keeping it in the oven for the full 35 minutes).
- While the shortbread is baking make the caramel. Measure 100g of coconut oil and 150ml of syrup into a small saucepan and place over a medium heat. Once the mixture has come to a boil, let it bubble for 2–3 minutes until the syrup is starting to smell a little toasted, then whisk in 150g of nut butter. Bring back to the boil and cook for another 2 minutes then take off the heat. Stir in 1 tsp of flaky sea salt or ½ tsp of fine salt. Once the caramel has cooled a little, taste and add a little more salt if you wish.
- Take the shortbread out of the oven after 35 minutes and lave to cool in the tin. Once the shortbread and the caramel are both approaching room temperature, pour the caramel over the shortbread – you can spread the caramel or bang the tin on your work surface a few times to ensure it’s evenly spread. Refrigerate until the caramel is set – about 2 hours.
- Bring a small saucepan to a gentle simmer and balance a heat proof bowl on top, ensuring the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Add 150g dark chocolate, 1 tbsp coconut oil and 1 tbsp syrup to the bowl and leave until almost completely melted, then stir until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Allow to cool a little, then pour over the cold caramel and tilt the tin until the chocolate covers the caramel entirely. Put back in the fridge for another hour or until the chocolate has completely hardened.
- To remove the shortbread from the tin, run the hot tap and soak a tea towel or cloth, and wrap around the outside of the tin for 5–10 seconds until you see the very edge of the chocolate starting to melt. You should then be able to turn the shortbread out onto a chopping board, or slide the shortbread out of a loose-bottomed tin. Score three lines across the top of the chocolate with a knife, so you have four equal columns, before cutting into the shortbread (this helps prevent the chocolate top from cracking). Cut each row into 6 or 7 pieces.
- You can store the shortbread in the fridge where it will last for 3–4 days, of in a cool, dark cupboard where it will last for 2–3. The caramel will be much softer out of the fridge, but delicious either way!
*Essentially any coconut oil that isn’t labelled ‘raw virgin’ e.g KTC brands or Biona coconut oil cuisine.