I love recipes that bridge the gap between the sweet and savory worlds. For the past few years, bacon has been the ambassador of the savories, and chocolate has carried the torch for sweets. I'll never forget my first experience with a dark chocolate and bacon bar...it was cosmic!
When chefs on cooking shows roll their eyes at the dessert challenges, I'm slightly offended. But things are slowly changing. The stream of creativity flowing from pastries to proteins, and starches to sugars is limitless.
Desserts are proving that they can sit at the grown-ups table. Especially when they're arm and arm with ingredients like pine nuts.
Last year's apricot-rosemary squares were so popular, that I couldn't wait to find another dessert recipe that incorporated a quirky ingredient. I know that there are recipes for pine nut (pignoli) cookies and biscotti, but along with a desire for something unusual, I was also craving caramel. It happens.
And like a ray of sunshine in a deep, dark forest, Fine Cooking appeared on my wonky radar and pointed be towards this recipe.
These squares are mind-blowing. They're sweet, salty, buttery, and contain chocolate. But it's the pine nuts that really make this recipe sing. Pine nuts have such a unique nutty, creamy...piney, taste. That taste dances beautifully with caramel, chocolate, and shortbread. No substitutions on this one, it's pine nuts or bust! :)
Pine Nut and Chocolate Caramel Squares (adapted from Fine Cooking)
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon finely grated orange zest (about 2 medium-size oranges)
1 cup (that's 2 sticks, or 8oz) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature and cut into about 6 pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
middle chocolate layer
5 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, cut into bits
5 Tablespoons of water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pine nuts
3 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 13x9-inch baking pan with foil (leave a 2-inch overhang on two sides). Lightly spray the foil.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar and orange zest. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until it becomes moist and fragrant. Add the butter and salt. Beat on medium-high speed until well combined and light in color (scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed). Switch to low speed and add the flour. Mix until the dough is uniformly sandy (about 1 to 2 minutes).
Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom. Use the tines of a fork to press holes over the surface (this will keep the crust from rising too much). Bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Let the crust cool completely on a wire rack.
Prepare the chocolate layer: Melt the chopped chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water (a double-boiler). Heat, stirring frequently, until smooth. Pour the melted chocolate over the cool crust and spread evenly. Set aside as you prepare the caramel.
If you turned off the oven, preheat to 350 F.
Have the heavy cream and butter measured out and ready to use. Place 5 Tablespoons of water into a heavy-duty 3-quart saucepan. Pour the sugar in the center of the pan and gently pat it down with a spatula just until evenly moistened. (Try not to splash any sugar onto the sides of the pan.) Cook over medium-high heat without stirring until the syrup turns amber (about 6-10 minutes). Every now and then, swirl the pan as the sugar is cooking (this will prevent the caramel from burning in spots). Once the caramel is amber, turn the heat down to low and very Slowly whisk in the cream (the caramel will sputter and steam, so be very careful). Whisk in the butter and salt and continue cooking until the butter is combined (about 1 minute).
Immediately pour the hot caramel evenly over the crust and sprinkle the pine nuts over the caramel.
Bake just until the caramel is bubbling all over and jiggles only slightly in the center when the pan is nudged, about 20 to 23 minutes.
While the bars are baking, melt the 3oz. of chopped chocolate (you can use a microwave-safe bowl, or a double-boiler).
As soon as the bars have been removed from the oven, drizzle the melted chocolate over the entire surface.
Cool completely (about 2 hours), before slicing.
Makes about 20 squares