Vegan Millionaire Shortbread Bars
Growing up, my parents tried to limit the amount of junk food that we ate. Emphasis on the word tried. We weren’t allow to get Cookie Crisp cereal, but we were allowed to get Oreos. My parents also drew the line at candy bars. No matter how much we whined.
However, in the summer, we got an allowance and I always blew mine on one thing: Twix bars. I don’t know what it is about Twix bars but they are my kryptonite. Even in my first semester of college, living in London, I would eat them (smeared in peanut butter btw). What do Twix bars have to do with Millionaire’s shortbread? They are basically the same thing. Cookie plus caramel plus chocolate all in one bite.
As much as I love the Twix bar, I do not love what is in it; so, I wanted to make the fancier, better-for-you version that could be kept I my fridge or freezer, ready whenever I had that craving for cookie, caramel and chocolate.
There are a few ingredients that are key to this recipe; here they are.
I have been on a tahini kick recently, but with good reason. It is a great alternative to nut butter, but also has a unique flavor. The slightly savory, smooth paste provide not only a balance to the sweetness in both the caramel and ganache, but also the necessary fat. For the caramel, tahini gives the sauce body. I do not like to use a lot of coconut milk partly because my tummy doesn’t really like it, but mostly because the resulting whatever will taste predominately of coconut. Tahini will let you know that it is there, but in the caramel, it helps the balance the richness and sweetness of both the maple syrup and coconut sugar.
Now about the ganache. I have made many ganaches with just almond or coconut milk. They are perfectly fine, but can be incredibly temperamental and prone to separating. Adding the tahini along with the coconut milk seems to help stabilize things, but also keeps the ganache soft, even when chilled. Personally I hate when I bite into a bar with a hard chocolate top, causing the soft caramel beneath to squidge out.
Gluten-free Vanilla Extract
In baking, as in cooking, the better ingredients you use, the better the result will be. For me, there is no skimping on vanilla extract. Never use imitation vanilla extract (it usually consists of vanilla flavor, sugar or corn syrup and some type of alcohol. There should only be two ingredients in a good vanilla extract: vanilla beans and alcohol. This is when it gets tricky to find a good vanilla extract that is also gluten-free.
I can be a bit of a nut and prefer to make my own ingredients whenever possible. Vanilla extract is so easy it is amazing. All you need are 3 whole vanilla beans and 2 cups of blue agave tequila or gluten-free vodka. Use a sharp knife to halve the beans, scrape the seeds into the alcohol (in a mason jar) and toss in the scraped pods. Shake and store out of direct sunlight for 1 week. After that, it is ready to use.
I have used both tequila and vodka and can’t really taste a difference between the two. Don’t skimp on the quality of alcohol. I have tried it with the cheap stuff and the resulting extract is very sharp. You want to use an alcohol you would not be against drinking.
Dark, Dark Chocolate
While I do love the milk chocolate coating of a Twix bar, these are a little bit fancier. They are called millionaire shortbreads after all. For the ganache topping, I wanted a super dark chocolate to help balance out the sweet caramel beneath it. Not only is the caramel beneath it sweet, but the coconut milk that is added to the chocolate is naturally sweet.
When I am baking with chocolate, I automatically use a dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids. However, for these bars I used a mixture of 80% and 95% dark chocolate. This sounds like it is not going to be sweet enough, but two things to keep in mind. First, there is a decent amount of sugar in not only the shortbread, but also the caramel. Adding another relatively sweet item on top of all that would be too much. So the deep, dark chocolate balances it out. Secondly, not all dark chocolates are the same. Some, especially over 70% cocoa content, can be very bitter. We don’t want that. I prefer to use Taza Chocolate or Hu Kitchen’s chocolate bars. Both are dark chocolate, but don’t have the bitter, burnt taste that other dark chocolates can have. Just trust me on this one.
Well I think that is enough chat. Let’s get into this recipe. It is a bit labor intensive, but oh so worth it. You can make the shortbread base a day ahead, giving it enough time to chill completely. The caramel and ganache are easier to layer when they are very soft, so, best to make them as you go along.
For the crust
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp melted refined coconut oil (you can also use melted ghee)
1 tsp gluten-free vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 cup arrowroot flour
1/4 + 2 tbsp coconut sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
For the caramel
6oz (about 1/2 a can) coconut cream
6oz (about 3/4 cup) tahini
4oz (1/2 cup) coconut sugar
2oz (1/4 cup) date syrup (you can use maple syrup too)
4 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
1/2 tsp salt
For the chocolate ganache
8oz (about 1 cup) chopped super dark chocolate
2 oz (about 1/4 cup) tahini
2/3 cup full fat coconut milk
For the shortbread:
Preheat the oven to 350F, grease and line an 8 inch square baking dish with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, arrowroot flour, coconut sugar and salt. Make sure to get out any lumps in the almond flour. In a small heatproof bowl, melt the coconut oil. Once it is melted, stir in the vanilla extract. Add the coconut-vanilla mixture to the almond flour mixture, using your hands to combine it all. You want it to stick together when you squeeze it in your hand. If it is crumbly, add 1/2 tsp more melted coconut oil. If it is too wet to hold its shape, add 1 tbsp of arrowroot flour.
Let the dough rest for 10 minutes at room temperature. Once its had its rest, press the shortbread dough into the bottom of the baking dish. Try to get it as even as possible.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, just until the edges start to turn golden brown. Let the shortbread base cool completely before topping.
For the caramel:
In a thick-bottom saucepan set atop a zeroed kitchen scale, measure out the coconut cream, tahini, coconut sugar and date syrup. Stir over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes until the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract. Stir it in and place back on the heat. Keep stirring it over the heat for another 3 minutes. You want the alcohol from the vanilla to cook off a bit. The caramel won’t get too much darker in color, but that’s ok.
Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and espresso powder. Pour the caramel over shortbread, easing it into the corners with the spatula. Let it set at room temperature for 5 minutes and then place in the freezer for 15 minutes.
For the ganache:
While the caramel-shortbread pair chills, make the ganache by melting the dark chocolate, tahini and coconut milk together over a double boiler (or the microwave). Once all the chocolate is melted and the mix is smooth, pour over the caramel-shortbread combo. Use the spatula to spread the ganache evenly across the caramel and into the corner. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
After that hour, remove from the freezer and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes (the shortbread base needs to warm up a bit), using a sharp knife slice the bars. A good trick is to rinse and wipe your knife with hot water after each slice. Tedious I know, but worth it.
Once the bars are sliced, stash in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.