Being on Guam, there are a lot of ingredients commonly found in the States that you just don’t see here. It’s gotten a lot better from when I first started baking, when the shelves barely carried all the essentials. Nowadays, I love leisurely walking through the baking aisle to see what new products they have available. One item I managed to find after weeks of searching is tahini– a sesame paste that I’ve seen a dozen recipes for lately. Literally every baking channel I follow has recipes using tahini- all of which I bookmark for later in the odd chance I ever come across it. With my jar of (expensive) tahini in hand, I brushed off those old bookmarks and decided to start with these Tahini Billionaire Bars from Sarah Jampel of Bon Appetit. This is basically Sarah’s take on a millionaire shortbread– a Twix like dessert made up of shortbread, caramel and chocolate. Being as though I never made millionaire shortbread, I felt like I was killing two birds with one stone.
Sarah’s shortbread recipe comes together much like pie dough- by breaking down cold butter into flour, sugar and salt until the size of small peas. You then add in some egg yolks and mix that with a fork until a dough forms- much like wet sand. That gets tipped into and spread all over a prepared 8×8 metal pan and docked with a fork. The shortbread is baked or about 24 minutes until the edges are deeply golden. While that cools off, we get to work on arguably the most interesting layer– the tahini butterscotch. It starts by melting light brown sugar and butter in a saucepot, after which you add in the heavy cream and salt. I was thankful I didn’t have to make traditional caramel, because really, carmelizing white sugar is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks. It’s just one of those things that can go wrong no matter how much you try and prevent it. This one was simple, only having to be cooked down until thick. Once removed from the heat, the tahini and vanilla are mixed in. You do have to give the tahini a good mix as it has a tendency to separate just like natural nut butters. The butterscotch is poured over the cooled shortbread and eased into the edges by simply tilting the pan in each direction. After chilling for a half hour, you then add on the melted chocolate and tilt again to create a smooth layer. I used half 70% and half 56% which proved to be the perfect sweetness– see guys I do know what I’m doing! The chocolate then gets sprinkled with some toasted sesame seeds after which it’s left to set in the fridge for at least two hours.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from making these bars is to let them come to room temperature before cutting. I seriously had the hardest time trying to cut a single strip off the square, eventually leading to jagged edges and messy initial cuts. When cold, the butterscotch firms up to almost a hard crack stage- similar to toffee. That, paired with the crumbly shortbread, made for a frustrating time. It eventually got easier as it warmed up, making for much cleaner and far less fussy cuts. The flavor is really what’s spectacular- with the tahini lending some deeply nutty flavors- almost like a good almond butter. The lack of sweetness from the tahini really balances out that butterscotch which I worried would be sickly sweet. Many of the reviews mentioned these being two sweet, but really I found it to be perfect. The shortbread adds a nice saltiness and the chocolate brings bitterness- making for a bar that’s pretty well balanced. The overall flavor of sesame was so delicious- and got some great reviews from family members. Hopefully the stores continue to stock tahini because I can’t picture not having it anymore.
Full Recipe | Method from Sarah Jampel of Bon Appetit: