I am entering these Caramel Walnut Shortbread Cookies in the Dixie Crystals Sweet & Southern Dessert Recipe Contest for the Blog Life University Conference July 20-23 in Atlanta! I did receive a complimentary ticket to the conference, so as such, this is a sponsored post. Let’s get right to it, shall we?
What makes these Caramel Walnut Shortbread Cookies so special? It’s the sugar I used to make them. Yes, I did use Dixie Crystals sugar since they are sponsoring the contest and the conference (thanks, Dixie Crystals), but it’s what I did to the sugar before using it that makes it really unique.
I read an interesting and exciting post by my friend Stella Parks on SeriousEats just a couple of days ago in which she explained how to caramelize sugar without melting it down first. All it takes is a few hours in a low oven, stirring every once in awhile, until your pure white granulated sugar takes on a golden-amber hue and the rich smell of caramel. I mean, just look at it. So gorgeous!
Go slowly and make sure your oven is accurate so it doesn’t get so hot that the sugar really does melt, and you too will be rewarded with what I have now dubbed “granulated gold” to use in all your baking. Please read Stella’s in-depth article for the science behind the technique: How to Make Rich, Flavorful Caramel Without Melting Sugar
Caramel Walnut Shortbread Cookies
Once you have made the granulated gold caramel sugar, these cookies are very easy to put together. Make a lot of the caramel sugar, by the way. You can use it just like regular granulated sugar, and you’ll want to use it in everything. I made 3 pounds’ worth this time, and I can see myself making it on a fairly regular basis. And if, like me, you end up with some pieces that get a bit too caramelized and start to melt, don’t throw them out. Collect those pieces once they’ve cooled and drop them into your coffee or tea as a sweetener or, as Stella suggested to me, melt them into heavy cream and then do what you will with it. Chill and whip it, make caramel ice cream out of it, add it to your coffee, make cream ice cubes from it, make no-churn ice cream out of it, etc.
For the Granulated Gold (thanks again to Stella Parks and her article on SeriousEats about this process)
- 2 or 3 pounds of Dixie Crystals sugar, (you will need 3 oz for the cookies or a scant 1/2 cup plus more for sprinkling on the tops of the cookies but you may as well make a bunch)
For the Caramel Walnut Shortbread Cookies
- 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 3 oz (scant 1/2 cup) Dixie Crystals granulated gold, whizzed in the blender to make powdered caramel sugar
- 1 Tablespoon bourbon, (you can sub vanilla if you'd like)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, (it sounds like a lot but the nuts and butter in this really need it)
- 4 oz (about 1 cup) toasted and finely ground walnuts (if using a cup measure, measure them after toasting and grinding)
- 10 oz (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour
- More Dixie Crystals granulated gold for sprinkling
To Make the Granulated Gold
- Set a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 275F.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet, half-sheet, or sturdy jelly roll pan with Silpat or another non-stick liner.
- Spread the Dixie Crystals sugar out evenly in the pan.
- Once the oven is hot, place the pan of sugar on the rack and shut the door. Roast the sugar for about 4-5 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so. The sugar will first attain a very light straw color and then darken a bit. As it caramelizes, it will begin to get somewhat clumpy. Watch it carefully--if you have any hot spots in your oven, some of your sugar may melt, and you don't want that. Once the sugar is a lovely light amber but is still all granular (if clumpy), remove from the oven and let cool completely.
- It will cool in pumice-like rocks that will be very easy to break up in the food processor. Do this in batches and store in an air-tight container and use as you would any granulated sugar.
For the Caramel Walnut Shortbread Cookies
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream the butter until smooth.
- Add the powdered Dixie Crystals "granulated gold," the bourbon or vanilla and the salt and cream until fairly light. It will not increase in volume much, but it should be very smooth. Scrape the bowl as necessary.
- Mix in the nuts until well combined, followed by the flour. Mix until just combined. Scrape the bowl as necessary, Press the dough down in the mixing bowl and press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the dough. Refrigerate for about an hour to allow the flour time to fully hydrate and to concentrate the flavors.
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325F
- Lightly flour a work surface. Turn the dough out and lightly flour the top of the dough.
- Roll and press into an even rectangle between 1/4" and 1/3" thick. Sprinkle the top of the dough evenly and liberally with some more of the Dixie Crystals granulated gold and press it lightly into the surface of the dough. Square up edges with a bench knife or pizza cutter.
- Cut the dough into squares or rectangles the size of your choosing (mine were roughly 1 1/2" square) and arrange on two Silpat-lined or parchment-lined baking sheets. Prick each cookie 2-3 times with a fork for a traditional Scottish shortbread look.
- Working with one pan at a time, bake for 6 minutes. Sprinkle a bit more Dixie Crystals "granulated gold" over the tops of the cookies, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and bake an additional 6 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool and repeat with the second pan of shortbread.
- Once the timer goes off after 6 minutes, remove the cookies from the first pan to the rack to cool. Allow the second pan to cool off for a few minutes before removing the cookies to a rack. Note the second pan of cookies may bake slightly faster, so keep an eye on them.
- Cool completely and store in an airtight container.
Please note that active time does not include the 4-5 hours it takes to caramelize the sugar. Don't worry though--most of that time is passive, so catch up on Kimmy Schmidt. Just don't forget to stir between episodes!
And there you have it, perfectly caramel-y, just sweet enough and warmly nutty. I think you will really enjoy these alongside a bowl of ice cream or maybe with some coffee or tea.
And now before I go and submit this recipe (wish me luck), let me just say that I am very much looking forward to the Blog Life University Conference. I’ll be telling you more about it next week, so stay tuned for that.
Thanks so much for spending some time with me. Enjoy the Caramel Walnut Shortbread Cookies and have a lovely day.