Today is the 176th anniversary of Mark Twain’s birth. I decided to do some research (shocking, I know!) and discovered that Mr. Twain spent some time in Panama. Yes, apparently the San Francisco Alta California newspaper, designated him a traveling correspondent for a trip from San Francisco to New York City via the Panama isthmus. All the while, Twain was writing letters meant for publishing back and forth, chronicling his experiences with his burlesque humor. Here’s a quote from those letters:
“We took the train at Panama, clattered for two or three hours through a tangled wilderness of tropical vegetation, and discharged ourselves in Aspinwall. It is only forty-five miles. Going and coming, that little road has carried about 100,000 passengers for the California steamers during the past twelve months — and charged every soul of them twenty-five dollars fare. About 70,000 of them paid twenty-five dollars apiece in gold; the thirty thousand paid twenty-five apiece, also, but whether it was in gold or greenbacks, I cannot say”.
You can read the rest of the letter here at the Panama Railroad.
Now, close your eyes and just imagine this: Three layers, one of buttery shortbread, another one of smooth Dulce de Leche (milk candy), and last but not least a shiny layer of melted chocolate… Simply Irresistible!
Yield: 16 – 2 inch (5 cm) squares
SHORTBREAD:¾ cup (1 1/2 stick) (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 ½ cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour 1/8 teaspoon salt
CARAMEL FILLING:1 – 14 ounce (396 grams) can Dulce de Leche or sweetened condensed milk
CHOCOLATE TOPPING:6 ounces (170 grams) semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into pieces 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 350 ºF (177ºC) and place rack in center of oven. Grease with butter (or use a cooking spray) a 9 x 9 inch (23 x 23 cm) pan.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour and salt and beat until the dough just comes together. Press onto the bottom of your greased pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until pale golden in color. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool while you make the filling.
FOR CARAMEL FILLING:
If using Dulce de Leche then simply warm the caramel in the microwave or in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. If using sweetened condensed milk, put the can into a bowl with water and let it simmer over low heat for 60 to 90 minutes, until the milk has thickened and has turned a caramel color. Remove from heat, open the can and beat until smooth. Pour the caramel over the baked shortbread and leave to set.
Note: You can also do this step in a microwave oven. Place the sweetened condensed milk in a large microwaveable bowl and cook on medium power for about 4 minutes, stirring halfway through baking time. Reduce the powder to medium-low and continue to cook for another 8 to 12 minutes, or until the milk has thicken and has turned a light caramel color. Remove from microwave and beat until smooth.
Melt the chocolate and butter either in the microwave oven or in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Pour the melted chocolate evenly over the caramel and leave to set. Cut the shortbread into pieces using a sharp knife. Do this before you refrigerate the shortbread bars as cold chocolate does not cut well
Store the shortbread in the refrigerator to keep the chocolate nice and firm.