When I was growing up, I associated certain tastes with times of the year. Chestnuts were the taste of celebrations at Christmas when my mum made a gorgeous frozen pudding similar to a Nesselrode pudding with sweetened chestnut puree and we occasionally had marron glacee at my granny’s house round the open fire. But caramel shortbread was the taste throughout the year. None of this ‘millionaire’s shortbread’ malarkey, caramel shortbread was the traybake of choice in our house.
Weirdly though, I’ve never made it myself. I tend to dip into my less well known Northern Irish repetoire of wee buns and bakes when I’m making anything like this back in London, but everyone has heard of this treat so I’ve neglected it for a while, but a recent conversation gave me a Christmassy craving for caramel and when Zoe and Tim from Brixton Blog gave me a tin of chestnut spread last week, I knew I had to combine the two tastes and this classic a new lease of life.
Chestnut Caramel Shortbread:
- 100g peeled fresh chestnuts
- 50g golden caster sugar
- 250g plain flour
- 75g caster sugar
- 175g butter, slightly softened
- 1 397g tin of condensed milk
- 1 250g tin of chestnut spread
- 100g butter
- 50g caster sugar
- 200g chocolate (milk or plain, your choice)
Start by roasting your chestnuts (open fire optional) if fresh. Peel the inner and outer layers before sobbing into a glass of mulled wine in frustration as you remember just how annoying they are to peel without getting shards of skin under your fingernails. When the chestnuts are naked, toast them in a dry pan with 50g of golden caster sugar until caramelised and gorgeous. Blitz until small pieces and set aside.
To make the shortbread, rub the butter into the flour and sugar until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs and then add in the chopped chestnuts. Press it all into a 13 inch by 9 inch swiss roll tin until just compact enough to look like shortbread and prick with a fork and bake at 180’C for 20 minutes. Leave to cool completely.
The caramel is just as simple to make. Put the condensed milk, butter and 50g of caster sugar in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for around 10-15 minutes until it thickens and darkens. Then stir in the chestnut spread and allow to melt gently into the caramel. It will darken it even more and loosen it slightly, making it a little bit runnier. Then pour over the cooled shortbread and spread out until everything is coated into the corners and leave to set for at least an hour or two.
Melt the chocolate (I used a mix of dark and milk here) in a bowl over water, stirring until glossy and gooey and then pour over the caramel. Make sure you’re generous with it and then leave to set for half and hour or so. Using a butter knife, cut the caramel shortbread into small squares and serve.
The caramel has a lovely sweet nutty flavour and the little pieces of the caramelised chestnuts are just crunchy enough to stand out in the shortbread, but still that soft melting texture that makes chestnuts so unique. It’s a soft squishy sweet treat with enough of a seasonal feel to be special, and a good change if you are tired of dried fruit and cinnamon and spices. It also keeps well in a tin for when people drop by if it lasts that long!