This is the Middle Eastern Millionaire's Shortbread from Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's Sweet, and it's incredible. Millionaire's shortbread is traditionally made by layering shortbread, caramel, and chocolate. It's often shockingly sweet, and overly rich - even by dessert standards. This is different. Imagine a crisp, shortbread base spread thick with a creamy tahini-halva blend, finished with glossy tahini caramel. It's brilliant, and a thin slice makes for the perfect treat.
The trickiest part of this recipe is sourcing the halva. There are a couple grocers who stock big slabs of halva here in San Francisco, and you can purchase it by the pound. Call around if you're stumped, and check Middle Eastern markets. Even if they don't have it, they might be able to point you in the right direction.
One of the great things about this recipe is the components. You can make them in stages. For example, you can bake the shortbread crust a few days in advance, if you like. The spread comes together in a flash, so it's less of a consideration. And then you can make the tahini caramel when you're ready. When finished, you can keep the bars, refrigerated, for up to a week.
Play around with pan shapes, and the like. Individual, tiny versions are definitely on my list.
Middle Eastern Millionaire's Shortbread
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon / 40 grams confectioners' sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons / 35 grams cornstarch
2 1/2 tablespoons / 40 grams granulated sugar
3/4 cup / 170g unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups / 250 g flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 ounces / 200 g halvah, crumbled into small pieces
1/3 cup / 70 grams tahini
1 cup / 200 g granulated sugar
1/2 cup / 120 ml water
7 tablespoons / 100 g unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
1/3 cup / 80ml heavy cream
2/3 cup / 150 g tahini
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C degrees. Line an 8-inch/20-cm square pan (or equivalent) with parchment paper, making sure the paper rises over the edge 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. Transfer the mixture into the pan and use your hands to even out the surface. Prick all over with the tines of a fork. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely; this will take an hour or so, so don't start making the tahini caramel too soon or it will have set by the time the shortbread is cool.
To make the halvah, place the halvah 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 the spoon to smooth it into an even layer.
To make the tahini caramel, place the sugar and water in a small saucepan 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 (for me this was close to 300°F on the candy thermometer). Remove from the heat and add the butter and cream; take care here, as the mixture will sputter. Whisk to combine and, once the butter has melted, add the tahini and salt. Whisk to combine and, then pour evenly over the halvah layer in the pan, so the all the halvah is covered.
Place in the fridge for 4 hours until set, before cutting into 16 equal bars. Sprinkle a pinch of the flaky sea salt over the middle of each bar and serve.
With slight adaptations, from Sweet: Desserts from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh (recipe by Paulina Bembel), Ten Speed Press, 2017.
Prep time: 15 minutes - Cook time: 40 minutes