When it comes to dessert chocolate and caramel are two of my favorite flavors. Truth be told, chocolate almost always edges out caramel, but not these past few weeks. Early last month as host of my book club, I included some caramel almond squares as a sweet treat for my fellow readers. The group ate them with abandon, even asking to take extras home for their spouses and partners. Then a few days later, on a rainy night, my husband and I invited out- of-town friends for a last-minute, take-out Mexican supper at our house. I baked the caramel squares again, and once more watched as they and their two sons helped themselves to seconds and even thirds.
Several nights in a row, I found myself headed to our kitchen for a midnight snack that included one of these shortbread bars topped with a mixture of toasted almonds nestled in a creamy caramel sauce. The recipe, which I’ve been making for at least two decades, has evolved over the years. For this latest version, I’ve added some fresh minced ginger to provide a subtle accent of heat. And, I have offered the squares with a bowl of softly whipped cream scented with dark rum and confectioners’ sugar.
One recipe yield 16 squares, which can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days. That is if they last that long!
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Caramel Almond Squares
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and diced, plus extra for greasing baking pan
2 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups slivered almonds, toasted (See note)
3 /4 tsp peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
Whipped Cream Garnish, optional
1 /2 cup heavy or whipping cream
2 tsp dark rum (such as Myers)
2 tsp confectioners’ sugar
1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan generously. Cut a strip of parchment paper so it covers the bottom of the pan and extends 4 to 5 inches over two opposite side of the pan.
2. For the crust, combine flour and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. (By hand, cut butter into dry ingredients using a pastry blender or 2 table knives.) Remove mixture from processor and knead gently until it holds together and forms a solid mass. Press dough into an even layer in the prepared pan.
3. Bake until crust is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
4. For filling, whisk together cream cheese and cream in a small bowl until blended and mostly smooth; set aside.
5. Combine sugar and 6 tablespoons water in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil, without stirring, until syrup turns a rich golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and with a wooden spoon, stir in cream cheese and cream. Be careful and avert your face, since mixture will bubble vigorously. Whisk in butter, then mix in almonds and ginger. Pour filling over crust. Spread evenly with a metal spatula or table knife. Let stand at room temperature until cool, at least 1 hour. Then refrigerate 2 hours or more to firm before cutting into squares.
6. If preparing the whipped cream garnish, with an electric mixer on medium high speed, whip cream until soft peaks form. Then add sugar and rum, and beat until almost stiff. Transfer to a serving bowl and refrigerate.
7. Run a sharp knife around inside edges of the pan to loosen the caramel mixture. Then lift out using the two extended sheets of parchment as an aid. Cut into 16 squares. If using, serve squares topped with dollops of whipped cream. ( Store squares in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days ahead.) Makes 16 squares
Note: Spread almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and place on center shelf of a preheated 350 degrees F oven. Bake until lightly browned, 6 to 7 minutes. Watch carefully so they do not burn. Remove and cool. If you can’t find slivered almonds, sliced almonds work too. They will toast more quickly in about 5 minutes so watch carefully.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2018