Spring break is over, the crazy warm temperatures in CT have gone away, and it’s back to the daily grind around here. But thankfully I’m feeling refreshed and energized thanks to an amazing trip to Florida with my family. My attitude about blogging specifically benefited since I attended the Food Blog Forum in Orlando (held right inside Epcot!) put together by Jaden and Scott of Steamy Kitchen, Diane and Todd of White on Rice Couple, and Julie of The Little Kitchen. This was my first food blogging conference ever and I was blown away by the inspiring presentations, amazing food and giveaways, and the overall engaging community feel. I met so many great people, including one of my blogging idols Bakerella, and came back inspired to continue improving and telling my food stories with thoughtful words and well-styled photographs.
Caramels photo courtesy of Wanda of My Sweet Zepol
I must admit I was a bit skeptical of food blogging conferences in general before signing up, and I’m not sure I would have jumped on board if I hadn’t already booked flights and planned a trip to Orlando for the same weekend (crazy coincidence!). The whole event was hosted by Walt Disney World, and since my family and I were planning on spending a few days at the parks anyway, I had no reason to wimp out this time. And WOW I’m so glad I went! Just look at the desserts in the pictures above – WDW went above and beyond providing us breakfast, lunch, and dessert, not to mention 2 nights at the Polynesian Resort and a handful of park hoppers. OXO also provided canisters of Good Karmal caramels at the center of each table, and I definitely ate my fair share – by the end of the day I had enough karma to help me win that big 7 quart mixer from Kitchen Aid! I’ve been wanting to make caramels for awhile now, and so when I got back to CT I decided to make these salted caramel shortbread bites to help feed my FBFOrlando-induced caramel craving.
Salted caramel is definitely a trendy flavor that people go crazy over these days, and all for good reason! The combination of salty and sweet is wonderful here, especially with the sprinkling of sea salt and the shortbread layer to help cut out some of the sweetness of the caramel. I love shortbread in any form, but especially underneath a layer of thick, creamy caramel. I decided to cut my caramel bars into little bite-sized pieces since the caramel is pretty rich, and I think they’re the perfect portion to appease your sweet tooth without actually rotting your teeth in one bite!
Don’t be intimidated by making caramel at home – just invest in a cheap candy thermometer, follow the recipe instructions, and you’ll be licking the spoon in no time :) I probably could have let my caramel get a little deeper in color by letting it boil a bit longer, but I was anxious to put these together and they still tasted great. Just like I was nervous to attend my first blogging conference, candy-making can be nerve-wracking too, but these are too good to pass over – give them a try and you won’t be sorry!
Recipe adapted from What's Gaby Cooking
for the shortbread layer:
10 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg yolk
1-2/3 cups flour
for the caramel:
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tsp sea salt, plus more for sprinkling on top
4 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp heavy cream
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Line an 8×8″ pan with parchment paper, leaving some hanging over the sides to make removal easier.
In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and salt with a pastry cutter or fork. Add the egg yolk and continue mixing.
Add the flour and use your hands to combine the dough until coarse crumbs form. Transfer the dough into the prepared pan and press it down into one even layer.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 25 minutes, until slightly golden brown. Set aside to cool.
For the caramel, combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, salt, sugar, and heavy cream. Bring to a boil and stir for about 5-10 minutes until caramel reaches the “soft ball stage” at around 230 degrees.
Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla and pour caramel over the shortbread.
Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, then sprinkle with sea salt and cut into squares. Store caramels in the fridge until you’re ready to eat them.