2tablespoonspacked light or dark brown sugar(1 ounce)
4tablespoonsunsalted butter, cold, in 3/4" chunks(2 ounces/1/2 sticks)
1/2teaspoonstrained fresh lemon juice
1cuproasted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped into halves or quarters (salted or unsalted)
3ouncesbittersweet, 70% cacao mass chocolate (see headnote), finely chopped
1/4cupplus 2 tablespoons heavy cream(3 ounces)
about 1/4 teaspoon flakey salt (such as Maldon), for sprinkling on top
Make the crust:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Line a 9x5" loaf pan with parchment paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil (you can make chris-crossing slings, or just shove a piece in the bottom, but be sure to cover the sides of the pan; see photo in post, above).
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Rub the butter in with your fingertips until the mixture looks like coarse meal, with no large butter chunks remaining. Press the mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan.
Bake the crust until set and golden (mine took 40 minutes, but the time may be closer to 20 in a metal pan).
While the crust bakes, make the caramel filling:
Place the water and lemon juice in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Carefully pour the sugar right in the center of the water; if any crystals get on the side of the pot, brush them down into the water. (This helps to prevent crystallization.) Use your fingers to moisten all of the sugar. Place the pot over a medium flame.
Meanwhile, place the cream in a small saucepan and heat over a low flame to a bare simmer, swirling occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. If the cream comes to a simmer before the sugar is caramelized, turn off the heat and cover the cream to prevent a skin from forming.
Cook the sugar, without touching, stirring, or otherwise disturbing it, until it turns a deep amber. You can gently tilt the pot if the caramel is darkening unevenly. When the sugar has turned amber, immediately begin to slowly pour in the hot cream. The caramel with sputter and bubble; keep adding the cream slowly, being careful not to burn yourself on the steam. When the bubbling has subsided, place the pot over a low flame and stir to dissolve any caramel that may be sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Stir in the salt and the nuts.
Pour the nutty caramel over the baked crust, and return to the oven until the caramel is bubbling almost all over, about 20 minutes.
Remove the caramelly bars and let cool to room temperature (you can stick them in the fridge to speed this up).
While the caramelly bars cool, make the ganache:
Place the chopped chocolate and butter in a small bowl. Heat the cream in a small pot to a bare simmer, swirling occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for a minute to melt the chocolate. Gently whisk the ganache until smooth. Keep warm until ready to pour over the cooled caramel. (Or re-warm over a bain marie.)
When the caramelly bars are cool, pour the ganache over the caramel, tilting the pan to create a smooth, even layer. Chill the bars until completely cold and firm, about 2 hours.
Lift the parchment and bars out of the pan (you may need to pry them out with a butter knife or offset spatuland place on a cutting board. Use a sharp chef's knife to cut the bars into small squares, dipping the knife in hot water and wiping it dry between cuts. Just before serving, sprinkle the bars with flakey salt.
Serve the bars at cool room temperature. Store extras in the fridge, and bring to room temperature an hour or so before serving.
Adapted from Williams Sonoma's Essentials of BakingA few notes:This makes a relatively small batch of (very rich) squares; feel free to double the recipe and bake the bars in a 9x9" pan.The layer of ganache turned out thicker than I had planned. None of the chocophiles who ate these minded in the slightest, but you can cut the ganache in half if you like.If you use a chocolate with lower cacao mass than the 70% called for, you may need to decrease the cream – or increase the chocolate – to end up with a firm-enough ganache.These bars get soft and gooey at room temp; for best results, store in the fridge until an hour or so before serving.The salt topping will dissolve after an hour or two, so sprinkle the salt just before serving. If I were making these to give as gifts, I would add 1/4 teaspoon of flakey salt to the caramel instead of sprinkling it on top.I so love the macadamias here that I hesitate to suggest substitutions, but all nuts go well with salt, caramel and chocolate. (Peanuts, for instance, could make these taste like a sophisticated Snickers bar...).The lemon juice in the caramel keeps the sugar from crystallizing; lacking a lemon, you can substitute a teaspoon or so of corn syrup.Nutritional values are based on one of eighteen squares.