In the balance between good and good for you, dessert still tends to be an everyday affair for me. I always make a healthier treat or keep chocolate on hand just to have something sweet after dinner each night. It’s one of my vices; and one I garner great joy from. As such, I’ve been relishing these Middle Eastern Millionaire’s Bars all week while soaking in page after glorious page of all of the other extraordinary desserts.
To give you a sense of what I mean, when you bite into them the creamy, earthy top layer all but melts in your mouth. Rich from the tahini caramel, each bite gives way to speckle of flaked salt giving it that right balance of salty sweet–one of my favourite combinations. Next you encounter the halva centre, which in my case added more of a taffy-like feel. (I accidentally bought a Persian halva that was formed more like floss rather than the more common flour-like halva–a new discovery for me!) I used a halva that had rosewater and pistachio in it and those flavours, in their perfect balance, added an ethereal level of complexity. The crunchy shortbread base didn’t veer to far off the course of mainstream, but its traditional composition played an important role in grounding the entire dessert. I really can’t say enough good things about these bars. The only downside, if you can call it that, is that they took a bit of effort to make. I ruined the caramel the first time and had to start again. But if you don’t have a 14-month old running around and can be much more present than me you’ll likely be fine to make it.
Ottolenghi’s work always floors me. He co-wrote this book with long-time collaborator and product developer, Helen Goh. And not only is the book a dream to look at, the recipes are captivating, evocative, and beautifully and artfully created. With so much to choose from, I had a hard time narrowing down what I wanted to make next. Each creation speaks well to its namesake, Sweet. The dishes are most certainly sweet, but they are also quite special–not your typical everyday food or even dessert. Rather, they are the kinds of delicacies that you savour in times of celebration, on special occasions, in a ‘treatyoself’ moment, or, in this case, when you’re writing a blog post.
These bars are a just a reflection of what Ottolenghi and Goh offer up in the book–breathtakingly unique food that is influenced from a Middle Eastern and Australiasian perspective. Here are just a few of the goodies I can’t wait to bake up for the coming holidays, birthday parties, dinner parties, and the like. The pistachio and rose water semolina cake whose picture alone got me, the coconut almond blueberry cake (a classic), the beet, ginger and sour cream cake (love the flavour combination), the rhubarb and blueberry galette (a familiar, yet unique pairing), and speaking of rhubarb– the roasted rhubarb icing (need I say more?), the almond and aniseed nougat (because why not?), the chocolate, rose, and walnut ice cream (they had me at rose), and the pot barley pudding with roasted apples and date syrup (t’is the season). For my everyday eats, I’ve already bookmarked the soft date and oat bars and the chocolate, banana, and pecan cookies. And trust me, guys; way more inspiration can be found in between these beautiful pages. In a nutshell, you need to buy this book. And to tide you over until you can get that copy in your hands, do yourself a favour and make these bars! If you’re not much of a baker, Sweet makes a lovely coffee table piece. It’s a delight to read through and is absolutely stunning and exquisitely photographed. I have no doubt it would lend some sweetness to your day. If you’re quick, there’s still time to enter to win a copy over on the BAKED instagram feed. Until next time, friends. xo
Middle Eastern Millionaire’s Shortbread (print recipe here)
Makes: 16 bars
Notes (from the book): The shortbread layer can be made up to 4 days in advance and stored in an airtight container. It also freezes well. The bars will keep for up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge. Remove 20 minutes before serving, to take off the chill. (I personally prefer the bars at room temperature.)
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp/40 g confectioners’ sugar
31/2 tbsp/35 g cornstarch
21/2 tbsp/40 g granulated sugar
3/4 cup/170 g unsalted butter, melted, and set aside to cool slightly
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups/250 g all-purpose flour 1/8 tsp salt
7 oz/200 g halva, roughly crumbled into small pieces
1/3 cup/70 g tahini paste
1 cup/200 g granulated sugar 1/2 cup/120 ml water
7 tbsp/100 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
1/3 cup/80 ml heavy cream 1/3 cup/70 g tahini paste
¼ tsp flaky sea salt
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Line an 8-inch/20-cm square pan with parchment paper, making sure that the paper rises up over the edges of the pan.
To make the shortbread, sift the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch into the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place, then add the granulated sugar and mix on medium speed. With the machine still running, slowly pour in the melted butter and beat until combined. Add the vanilla extract and turn the speed to low, then sift in the flour and salt and continue to beat until the dough comes together. Tip the mixture into the pan and use your hands to pat and even out the surface. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside until completely cool; this will take an hour or so, so don’t start making the caramel too soon or it will have set by the time the shortbread is cool.
To make the halva, place the halva and tahini in a small bowl and mix with a wooden spoon to combine. Spread the mix over the cooled shortbread and use the back of a spoon to smooth it into an even layer.
To make the tahini caramel, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil and cook—still at a boil—for about 12 minutes, until the sugar is a deep golden brown. Remove from the heat and add the butter and cream; take care here, as the mixture will splutter. Whisk to combine and, once the butter has melted, add the tahini and salt. Whisk to combine again, then pour evenly over the halva layer in the pan, so that all of the halva is covered.
Place in the fridge for 4 hours until set, before cutting into bars, about 1 x 4 inches/ 3 x 10 cm. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over the middle of each bar and serve.
Copyright ©2017 by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh. Photographs copyright ©Peden+Munk. All rights reserved. Published in Canada by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Random House LCC.