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Caramel Nut Shortbread Cookies

These Caramel Nut Shortbread Cookies are so flavorful and addicting, it’s no wonder they’re award winning! I submitted them into the cookie category of Chicago’s Best Baker 2019 Contest. They were one of five recipes I entered, winning me the overall title of Chicago’s Best Baker.

Amidst the chaos on the morning of the competition, I managed to temper chocolate correctly two times (a personal victory)! But the victory was short-lived. For some reason (probably because the universe knew these were for a competition), the tempered chocolate did not stick to the bottom of the cookies, despite this process working multiple times in the past.

Nevertheless, there was no time to waste. I flew into action, drizzling the chocolate over the topping instead, which ended up looking great. This replacement method used slightly less chocolate, but I actually preferred the cookies this way. My husband thought they needed the original amount of chocolate, but you can do it whichever way you prefer.

While the caramel and shortbread make this cookie delightfully chewy, the hint of orange from the candied orange peel brightens up the flavor so the cookie doesn’t taste too rich. These Caramel Nut Shortbread Cookies have a complex flavor, but they’re not just for adults. Kids will be just as addicted to these fantastic treats. As an added bonus, since they taste festive these are the perfect cookies for the holiday season! 

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Ingredients for Caramel Nut Shortbread Cookies:

Put the butter in a stand mixer and cream the butter on medium-low speed using the paddle attachment.  Add the sugar and salt and mix on medium-low speed until light and fluffy (approximately 2 minutes).  Next, add the vanilla paste and mix on low to incorporate.

Add the flour in 2 additions and mix after each addition until just combined.  This will help to not overmix the dough and to make sure flour doesn’t fly all over your kitchen.  Scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated. 

Pour the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and use it to knead the dough into a rectangular block.  Wrap the block in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. 

Preheat the oven to 325°F/165°C and place the rack in the middle of the oven. 

Baking the Shortbread Cookies:

Cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit the bottom of a half sheet pan (i.e., baking sheet) or use these pre-cut sheets that are super convenient.  Place the parchment paper on the counter and roll out the block of refrigerated dough to cover the entire sheet of parchment paper.  I typically start rolling on the counter and once it has covered most of the sheet, I transfer it to the baking sheet and finish my rolling1.  Run your hands over the dough to feel that it is level.  Gently press out any large air bubbles.  Trim the edges of the dough when in the pan so there is only dough on the bottom (i.e., no dough on the sides of the pan). 

If the dough has softened a lot (i.e., is not cool to the touch), put the pan in the fridge for a few minutes so the dough can harden again. 

Cover the dough and pan with a larger sheet of parchment paper, and fill with raw rice2

Bake in the oven for approximately 15 minutes.  The dough should no longer look raw, but it should also not have much color yet (i.e., it should not be golden brown).  The dough will be cooked a second time after the caramel topping is added.  The dough will finish baking at that time.  Remove shortbread cookie from the oven, place on a cooling rack until the caramel nut topping is finished, and remove the parchment paper and rice.  Try to avoid spilling any rice as you are removing it.  If rice falls onto the cookie, VERY CAREFULLY remove the rice.  The pan will be hot so don’t get burned.  Increase the oven temperature to 350°F/177°C. 

Ingredients for Caramel Nut Shortbread Cookies Topping and Decoration
Making the Caramel Nut Topping:

Begin making the caramel nut topping while the cookie is baking.  If you start too early, you run the risk of the caramel topping being ready before the cookie.  This could result in the caramel hardening too much to be able to spread. 

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, honey, and just enough water to moisten the sugar (that’s why I made it a range in the ingredient list).  Heat the mixture over medium heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar.  As soon as the sugar has dissolved, put the candy thermometer in the pan and cook until the temperature reaches 248°F/120°C. 

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, salt, and whole milk.  Put back on the heat for a couple minutes until the caramel is a light caramel color (approximately 300°F/150°C). 

Remove from the heat and stir in the almonds and pistachios first. Then add the orange peel and mix it in. I add the orange peel last so it doesn’t impart such a strong orange flavor. If you really like orange, you can add it at the same time as the nuts.

Baking the Caramel Nut Topping:

Immediately pour the mixture onto the cooked shortbread cookie and spread the caramel mixture evenly with an offset spatula.  Try to cover the whole shortbread base.  Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. 

To check if it’s done cooking, remove the pan from the oven and let the bubbles die down.  The caramel nut topping should be a rich golden brown with no undercooked areas.  When fully cooked, remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool completely in the pan.  Turn the cookie bar out onto a parchment lined cutting board. You might need to use a paring knife to loosen the cookie edges from the pan.

Tempering the Chocolate:

While I am getting better at tempering chocolate (2 times correctly in one day!!!!!), I still don’t feel confident enough telling others how to do this.  Please use the Ghirardelli tempering chocolate website to temper the chocolate for this recipe.  I used “Tempering Method 2”.

You have two options for adding the chocolate to the cookies:

  • Option 1: Pour the tempered chocolate onto the back (i.e., flat side) of the cookie bar and spread it into a thin layer using an offset spatula.  Then, use a decorating comb (not one for your hair) to make waves in the chocolate.  I have used this option successfully many times, however, the morning of the contest, the chocolate did not adhere to the cookie.  Nothing like a last minute catastrophe to make a competition more exciting! If this happens to you OR you want the shortbread bottom exposed, use option 2.
  • Option 2: Pour the tempered chocolate into a piping bag/Ziploc bag and cut a very small hole in the tip of the bag.  Use the bag to drizzle chocolate over the cookie bar.  This method uses less chocolate so you can cut the chocolate amount in the ingredients by approximately half.
Cutting the Cookies

Cut the caramel nut shortbread cookies into squares or use a circle cookie cutter to make this look more “cookie-shaped” and enjoy!  I absolutely love these cookies.  The chewy caramel topping has a slight citrus flavor from the candied orange peel which tastes like perfection when paired with the buttery shortbread cookie.  This is definitely a recipe to impress. 

Let me know in the comments below if you make this cookie.  You can get creative and add all kinds of different mix-ins in the caramel topping (e.g., different nuts, dried fruit, coconut, etc.). 

Also, if you would like to get receive reminders about all of my newest recipes (and to get the rest of the award-winning recipes from the Chicago’s Best Baker contest), subscribe to the newsletter!

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Caramel Nut Shortbread Cookies

Servings: 24 cookies

Ingredients

Caramel Nut Shortbread Cookies

  • 3 sticks (360g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (180g) granulated sugar
  • tsp (4g) kosher salt
  • 2 tsp (11.8g) vanilla paste
  • cups + 1 Tbsp (540g) all-purpose flour

Caramel Nut Shortbread Cookies – Topping and Decoration

  • cup + 1½ tsp (104g) whole milk, room temperature
  • 1-2 Tbsp (15-30g) water
  • ¾ cup + 1 Tbsp (158g) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (84g) light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup (84g) honey
  • sticks + 2 Tbsp (210g) unsalted butter, cut into ½" pieces, at room temperature
  • ¼ tsp (0.75g) of kosher salt
  • 3 cups (252g) sliced blanched almonds
  • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp (84g) shelled pistachios, roasted
  • 3 Tbsp (42g) diced candied orange peel
  • 4 oz (113.5g) semi-sweet chocolate

Instructions

Making Caramel Nut Shortbread Cookies

  • Put the butter in a stand mixer and cream the butter on medium-low speed using the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and salt and mix on medium-low speed until light and fluffy (approximately 2 minutes). Next, add the vanilla paste and mix on low to incorporate.
  • Add the flour in 2 additions and mix after each addition until just combined. This will help to not overmix the dough and to make sure flour doesn’t fly all over your kitchen. Scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.
  • Pour the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and use it to knead the dough into a rectangular block. Wrap the block in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 325°F/165°C and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

Baking the Shortbread Cookies

  • Cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit the bottom of a half sheet pan (i.e., baking sheet). Place the parchment paper on the counter and roll out the block of refrigerated dough to cover the entire sheet of parchment paper. Start by rolling the dough out on the counter and when it covers most of the parchment paper, transfer it to the baking sheet and finish rolling. Run your hands over the dough to feel that it is level. Gently press out any large air bubbles. Trim the edges of the dough when in the pan so there is only dough on the bottom (i.e., no dough on the sides of the pan).
  • If the dough has softened a lot (i.e., is not cool to the touch), put the pan in the fridge for a few minutes so the dough can harden again.
  • Cover the dough and pan with a larger sheet of parchment paper, and fill with raw rice.
  • Bake in the oven for approximately 15 minutes. The dough should no longer look raw, but it should also not have much color yet (i.e., it should not be golden brown). The dough will be cooked a second time after the caramel topping is added and it will finish baking at that time. Remove shortbread cookie from the oven, place on a cooling rack until the caramel nut topping is finished, and remove the parchment paper and rice. Try to avoid spilling any rice as you are removing it. If rice falls onto the cookie, VERY CAREFULLY remove the rice. The pan will be hot so don’t get burned. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F/177°C.

Making the Caramel Nut Topping

  • Begin making the caramel nut topping while the cookie is baking. If you start too early, you run the risk of the caramel topping being ready before the cookie. This could result in the caramel hardening too much to be able to spread.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, honey, and just enough water to moisten the sugar. Heat the mixture over medium heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the sugar has dissolved, put the candy thermometer in the pan and cook until the temperature reaches 248°F/120°C.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, salt, and whole milk. Put back on the heat for a couple minutes until the caramel is a light caramel color (approximately 300°F/150°C).
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the almonds and pistachios first. Then add the orange peel and mix it in. I add the orange peel last so it doesn’t impart such a strong orange flavor. If you really like orange, you can add it at the same time as the nuts.

Baking the Caramel Nut Topping

  • Immediately pour the mixture onto the cooked shortbread cookie and spread the caramel mixture evenly with an offset spatula. Try to cover the whole shortbread base. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.
  • To check if it’s done cooking, remove the pan from the oven and let the bubbles die down. The caramel nut topping should be a rich golden brown with no undercooked areas. When fully cooked, remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool completely in the pan. Turn the cookie bar out onto a parchment lined cutting board. You might need to use a paring knife to loosen the cookie edges from the pan.

Chocolate Coating

  • Temper the chocolate using your favorite method. After the chocolate is tempered, you can add the chocolate to the cookie using one of the following options:
  • Option 1: Pour the tempered chocolate onto the back (i.e., flat side) of the cookie bar and spread it into a thin layer using an offset spatula. Then, use a decorating comb (not one for your hair) to make waves in the chocolate.
    Option 2: Pour the tempered chocolate into a piping bag/Ziploc bag and cut a very small hole in the tip of the bag. Use the bag to drizzle chocolate over the cookie bar. This method uses less chocolate so you can cut the chocolate amount in the ingredients by approximately half.

Cutting the Cookies

  • Cut the caramel nut shortbread cookies into squares or use a circle cookie cutter to make this look more “cookie-shaped.”
Notes:
  1. To prevent cracking when rolling out cold dough, use a rolling pin to hit the top of the dough from one side of the dough to the other, turn the dough 90° and repeat.  I also like to roll my dough between two sheets of parchment paper or parchment and plastic wrap, so the dough is less likely to stick to the rolling pin. (Back to “Baking the Shortbread Cookies” section)
  2. This is the same process as blind baking a pie crust.  Blind baking is when the dough is baked before a filling or topping is added.  Typically, the dough is either pricked with a fork or covered with something heavy to decrease the rising that happens while baking.  You can use any materials that would typically be used for blind baking (e.g., rice, pie weights/balls, or dried beans).  Always place a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil between the dough and the blind baking weights so they don’t bake into the crust.  I typically use rice and keep the rice after baking in a separate bag labeled “baking rice” so I don’t confuse it with my normal “eating” rice.  This allows me to reuse the same rice over and over when baking. (Back to “Baking the Shortbread Cookies” section)
  3. Leave the salt out if using salted nuts.  (Back to “Ingredients for Caramel Nut Topping” section)
  4. I used Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate baking bars.  (Back to “Ingredients for Caramel Nut Topping” section)
  5. I adapted this recipe from the “Shortbread” and “Florentines” recipes in the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook.

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