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LA, Vegas + Salted Caramel Shortbread

We’ve been traveling for the past couple of weeks. We were mostly in Los Angeles visiting Bryan’s family and some friends (hi guys!). Bryan’s sister and her husband recently had the most adorable baby ever, and the highlight of our trip was getting to meet our sweet niece. She was in her fifth week of life when we were with her. Five weeks! It is hard to wrap your mind around. In addition to plenty of baby holding, we also took a small side trip to Las Vegas.


Last year when we attended the Saveur Blog awards [1] party, Bryan entered a raffle. Luck was on our side that night because he won the grand prize: a stay at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I think we’d need to be 10 years younger(or 30 years older?), heterosexual, and very drunk to really enjoy Las Vegas, but we did our best. Mostly we enjoyed our truly amazing suite (3 bathrooms!) and marveling at the insanity that is “The Strip”. We ate at a bunch of restaurants, but to be honest I didn’t love any of them. Everything was overpriced and under-loved. It was hard to find magic. We left the strip for a brief excursion to Amber Unicorn Books [2], which has the most glorious selection of used cookbooks I have ever seen—hundreds and hundreds…maybe even thousands? It is in a pretty nondescript strip mall, a fifteen minute drive from where we were staying. As we drove through the streets of Vegas that most tourists never encounter, I wondered what other secrets were lurking throughout the city. I know that if people come to Chicago and never leave the loop or Michigan Avenue, they have no idea of Chicago. I wondered if it is frustrating to live in a city mostly known for a couple of miles of casinos and shopping malls.

In any case, Las Vegas was a fun diversion, and we drove back to Los Angeles with a trunk full of cookbooks.

 

L.A. has become a bit like a second home to me over the last decade. Which means, in part, I take it for granted. I no longer worry about where to eat or what to do. I like how that feels, it takes the pressure off, it doesn’t feel like I am a tourist. The one exception is that I always make sure to eat at either Huckleberry or Milo and Olive in Santa Monica, usually I eat at both. They’re two of my favorite places anywhere, it is the sort of food I love eating—vibrant salads, pizzas, rustic pastries. They’re my jam, and Zoe Nathan is a like a pastry hero to me.

These salted caramel shortbread are almost always in the case at Huckleberry, and I love them. They’re sweet and rich (obviously!), but so delicious. Huckleberry cuts these into giant squares which I could never eat in one sitting. I chose to cut them into smaller bites.

I am excited to be back home and in the kitchen, ready to tackle the back-log of recipes I have been waiting to write about (pasta! English muffins!)

Salted Caramel Shortbread (recipe by Zoe Nathan [3])

Pastry Shell

  • 1 stick (4oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg white, beaten

Caramel

  • 2 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2  teaspoons kosher salt
  • Maldon Sea Salt, for finishing

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the short sides. In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer at low speed, cream the butter. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar. Add the whole eggs and beat until incorporated, then beat in the flour and salt. Press the pastry into the prepared pan in an even layer, 1/4 inch thick. Freeze until firm, 10 minutes.

Line the pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 35 minutes, until just set. Carefully remove the pie weights and parchment. Brush the shell with the egg white and bake for 20 minutes longer, until golden and cooked through. Let cool.

In a saucepan, bring the cream, vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer. Cover; keep warm.

In a large, heavy saucepan, stir the sugar into 1/4 cup of water. Simmer over moderate heat, without stirring, until a deep amber caramel forms, 7 minutes. Remove the caramel from the heat and carefully add the cream. When the bubbling subsides, stir in the butter. Insert a candy thermometer and cook over moderately high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the caramel reaches 240°, 10 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean and stir in the salt.

Pour the caramel over the shell. Refrigerate until firm, 4 hours or overnight; bring to room temperature. Remove the bar from the pan using the parchment overhang; cut into squares. Sprinkle with Maldon salt before serving.