I'll Stick to the Original: Middle Eastern Millionaire's Shortbread

I've continued to keep tahini and halva on hand, so I'm still making sesame desserts. Since I loved the Tahini and Halva Brownies from Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, I decided to try the "Middle Eastern Millionaire's Shortbread" recipe from the same cookbook. Where regular millionaire's shortbread has a shortbread cookie base topped with caramel and chocolate, Ottolenghi's version is chocolate-less. Instead, it has a shortbread base, a layer of tahini mixed with halva, and a layer of tahini caramel.

The shortbread base is straightforward. You mix powdered sugar, cornstarch, sugar, melted and cooled butter, vanilla, flour, and salt to form the dough. You press it into a parchment-lined pan, bake it until golden brown, and let it cool completely before proceeding with the recipe.

The middle layer of the bars is just a mixture of halva and tahini (in a 5:2 ratio). You spread it onto the cooled shortbread crust. Finally, you top the bars with a caramel made by cooking sugar and water until it's a deep golden brown; adding butter and cream; and mixing in tahini and salt. After you pour the caramel onto the tahini-halva layer, you chill the bars for at least four hours before cutting and serving them.
When I pulled the chilled bars out of the pan to cut them, I was very surprised at the proportions of the bars. The bars in the cookbook photo have what looks like a moderate shortbread layer topped with relatively thin layers of tahini-halva and caramel, which is a rich dark brown and shiny (the recipe headnote describes it as "glossy"). My crust was much thicker by comparison, and the caramel was matte and more of a tawny shade.

I thought the bars were fine, but I didn't love them. For me, there was too much crust, especially because the shortbread was a bit crumbly and not particularly flavorful. The tahini-halva layer was rather dry and it wasn't securely attached to the shortbread base; the top two layers had a tendency to separate from the shortbread as people were eating their bars.

There is one more tahini recipe in Sweet that I want to try, but I don't think I'll be making these bars again. I prefer the Twix-like combination of flavors in traditional millionaire's shortbread.

Recipe: "Middle Eastern Millionaire's Shortbread" from Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, recipe available here from The Guardian.

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