Sunday, August 18, 2013

Puttin' on the Brits

Oh my gosh, you GUYS!  I made the most delicious dessert yesterday (if I do say so myself).  I had a hankering for something sweet, a hankering that would not be denied.  When that happens, I often make shortbread, because you need so few ingredients (butter, sugar, flour, and salt).   I've made shortbread about a gazillion times, and I have several different recipes I use--all of them very similar, all of them very good.  But I wanted something a little different this time.  And I got thinking about these candies I bought on an impulse once, while waiting in line for an open register at TJ Maxx (whoever decided the check-out line was a good place to put irresistible gourmet chocolate goodies was a genius, I tell you). They were caramels covered in dark chocolate, then sprinkled with sea salt. Pretty much the best thing I'd ever tasted, no exaggeration.

I love sweet treats and salty treats just about equally.  You know how some people say they can resist cake, but not potato chips--or vice versa?  Well, I can resist neither.  (It's a problem.)

So...I decided to make shortbread, iced with dark chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt.
Then, because I have so much English blood flowing through my veins (my father's people are almost all from the British Isles--and in fact, a direct ancestor of Dad's fought with William the Conqueror and has an English castle named after him), I decided to enjoy my oh-so-British shortbread with a spot o' tea.  (And yes, I did break out some made-in-England transferware dishes and some lacy table linens--made by a great-great aunt and passed down to me from my mom at my wedding shower--so that my little snack would remind me of a true upper-crust British tea.)
Okay, I cannot tell a lie.  I had my shortbread with coffee, because I don't care who you are, you've got to admit that coffee beats tea by a country kilometer any day of the week.  Am I right?

I was contentedly sipping my coffee and nibbling on my shortbread--and as if a mug of hot java and a slice of uber-buttery-chocolatey-salty shortbread wasn't enough to make my day brilliant enough already,  I was also perusing my latest issue of Victoria magazine, which just so happens to be dedicated entirely to "Romantic England." (Could my day get any more British than it was?  It could.)  And to top it all off, on the cover of said issue of Victoria there was a picture of a castle that will look very familiar to anyone who's a fan of PBS's "Downton Abbey."  It's actually called Highclere Castle, currently the home of the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.  Julian Fellowes, the man responsible for the epic drama series that might be the best show ever,  is a longstanding friend of the Earl and Countess and a frequent visitor to the castle that was the inspiration for the show.  What "Downton"-ites will find interesting is that in 1895, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon married Lady Almira (the wealthy American heiress of Alfred de Rothschild), and this generous woman transformed Highclere Castle into a hospital for wounded soldiers during WWI.  Does any of this sound familiar? Is anyone reminded of Cora at all, or is it just me?

And speaking of "Downton Abbey," it has a way of making husbands/fiances/boyfriends who would normally never in a million years choose to watch a show even remotely like it become hopelessly addicted. My husband started watching it with me, and he got really hooked.  But he kept saying, "If someone asked me what I like about it, I'd have to say, 'I really have no idea.'"  My husband's brother got into it with his wife as well, and she told me that they would sit down to watch an episode or two on Netflix, and as each one ended they would say "Just one more!"--until suddenly, it was 3:00 in the morning!

My husband and I have watched the first three seasons on Netflix already; but we recently started them over again (in order to get prepared for the coming fourth season), and our second oldest son watched a few episodes with us.  His observations went something like this: "I'm sort of bored when I'm watching it.  This show has everything I hate: English accents, old-fashioned clothes, people talking all the time, with no car chases or explosions to break up the monotony...but every time an episode ends, I want to see what happens next!  I'm not even sure why I want to keep watching it, but I do."

So there you have it: "Downton Abbey" is a show for chicks; but men like it, too, even if they don't know why.

Now here's that shortbread recipe, so you've got something to nosh on while you're watching "Downton Abbey."  If you haven't gotten hooked on it yet, there's still time to catch up before the new season begins!

Sweet 'n Salty Shortbread
Beat til creamy: 1 cup softened butter, 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
Add and mix in: 2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt

Press mixture into buttered 9" square pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.  Poke holes in top with toothpick.  Bake at 300 degrees until golden brown at edges.  (The recipe says it takes 40 minutes, but my oven tends to cook things more quickly and it only took 30 minutes.)

Melt together in microwave-safe bowl: about 1 and 1/2 cups of dark chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons of butter (I'm spit-balling here, because I didn't really measure), and spread this over the top of the shortbread. While the chocolate topping is still all melty (before it has a chance to cool and harden), sprinkle with sea salt.

You're welcome!

Cheers, then.  Tarra, cheerio, and all that good stuff.  Have a jolly-good week!


  1. Oh yum, what a great recipe. I really believe that extra saltiness makes desserts so much better...I find myself adding heaping teaspoons instead of regular teaspoons for that very reason. :) I also love that you choose to make something sweet when you have a craving instead of going out to buy something! I'm the same way, and I think it makes the whole experience more fun when you've made something special yourself.

    1. I learned to do that growing up. My mom really never bought sweets (but she did buy the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies and every Saturday it was my job to make a batch for the family. Best. Job. Ever.)

      So we didn't have store-bought goodies, and I learned to scrounge around the cupboards looking for something I could turn into a baked good. I got really good at coffee cakes, because we always had Bisquik and cinnamon!