Two years ago, I spent a fun-filled month in southern Spain with a couple of lovely ladies from my university course. Before we departed, we were casual acquaintances; by the time we left, we were close friends, and each of us had assumed a role in our strange, constant commune. One of our number, who we dubbed “Ma” for her frequent affirmations that she was the Mother of the group, has since requested that I come up with a recipe for her favourite tray bake, and, after last night’s disappointing start, I arose this morning with ambition and determination in my soul. I would create something fabulous today. I would create a caramel square for Ma.
For those who are unfamiliar with this tasty treat, they are a tray bake made up of a biscuit base, soft caramel centre and chocolate topping. I must admit, I’ve never made caramel squares before, but I enjoy a challenge! So, armed with my trusty kitchen scales and maverick sense of culinary adventure, I set to work, and came up with this (pretty nifty) version of the traditional caramel square, named for the lovely surrogate Mother of our Spain days.
Ma’s Millionaire Marvels
(Makes 12 – 16 decent sized tray bakes, depending on your sense of generosity.)
For the biscuit base
• 300g Digestive biscuits
• 200g unsalted butter
For the caramel
• 200g unsalted butter
• One 397g can of condensed milk
• 5tbsp golden syrup
• 1tsp sea salt
For the chocolate topping
• 350g dark or milk chocolate, dependent on your taste
• 100g white chocolate (optional)
Grease a baking sheet or swiss roll tin and line with baking parchment, making sure you leave an overhang of parchment on either side. This means the whole traybake will come out nice and easily at the end, and you aren’t left chiseling bits of biscuit off the bottom.
Next, put your Digestives into a freezer bag and bash them to bits with a rolling pin. (You can whizz them in a food processor, but I find the bashing quite therapeutic). Keep going until they resemble fine sand.
Melt the butter, either in the microwave or in a saucepan over medium heat. When fully melted, add the butter to the digestive crumbies and mix well, until all the crumbs are coated with buttery goodness.
Put the crumbs into the parchment-lined baking sheet and press down flat with your fingers, ensuring the crumbs go all the way into the corners and there are no gaps. Put the pan into the fridge for 15 – 20 mins, until the base has hardened slightly.
While the base is chilling, make the caramel. Put the condensed milk, butter, sea salt and golden syrup into a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring often to make sure the syrup doesn’t burn the bottom of the pan.
When the mixture is boiling, let it bubble away for ten minutes. Keep stirring – this stuff burns easily – and watch it closely; you’ll see the colour change from the pale yellow of condensed milk to a lovely golden caramel colour. The mixture will thicken too, to become a cold custard-y consistency.
When it gets to this point, quickly take your cooled base out of the fridge and pour the caramel over the top. As it is thick and sticks to EVERYTHING, don’t try to spread it with a palate knife or spoon; it won’t work, and you’ll end up with caramel everywhere but where you want it! Instead, lift the pan and tip it slowly from side to side, ensuring the caramel spreads into the corners of the pan. Make sure all the biscuit is covered and the caramel layer is nice and even across the whole surface. Pop the pan back into the fride for at least half an hour; it’s ready when the caramel feels cool, hardened and slightly springy when you touch it.
For the chocolate topping, break the chocolate into small pieces and put into a heatproof bowl over a pan of boiling water. Make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl – this will burn the chocolate.
Let the chocolate melt slowly, and stir often to keep the chocolate at the bottom of the bowl moving.
When the chocolate is melted and nicely smooth, take the baking sheet out of the fridge and pour the chocolate over the caramel. Use the same process of tipping the pan from side to side to cover the whole surface.
At this point you can add some decoration with white chocolate. Melt 100g white chocolate in the same way as the milk/dark, and either pipe or drizzle it over the top. Put the baking sheet back into the fridge for another 15-20 minutes, until the chocolate is cooled and solid.
Once the chocolate is cool, it’s time to cut this baby into squares. Using the handy overhang of parchment, pull the whole lot out of the baking sheet and set onto a flat surface. Fill a glass or mug with recently boiled water, and get a nice big knife. You can measure out the size of each square if you like geometry; otherwise, just do what I do and run your knife lightly down the chocolate layer, leaving lines to guide you when you’re cutting.
Now dip your knife into the hot water and dry off with a towel. The hot knife will make cutting easier, but make sure it’s completely dried – water and chocolate don’t make a pretty pair! Use your lines for guidance and cut your tray bake into squares. I did twelve, as my family like a big bun, but feel free to add another horizontal line and make sixteen if you prefer a more delicate delight.
Enjoy your yummy square with a good strong cup of tea!