There is something very homely but elegant about an old fashioned slice. When I was a kid, my mother had about half a dozen slice recipes that were family favourites. In the days when most sweets were homemade, a slice was less labour intensive than biscuits and kept better than cake. Cut into small one inch squares, slices are also small and easy to justify as an everyday treat. There was nothing everyday about a caramel chocolate slice though, it was definitely a special occasion food, something my mum would make to have with coffee at the end of a dinner party.
As a teenager, I loved making caramel chocolate slices because it used my all-time favourite ingredient – sweetened condensed milk. My sisters and I loved boiling condensed milk in the can to turn it into caramel, which we would then eat by the spoonful. There was something incredibly appealing and powerful about the simple alchemy of turning condensed milk into caramel.
Sometime in the nineties, cafes started stocking caramel slices as part of the standard sweet offerings and I loved them. Then, either I changed or the cafe-style caramel slice did: they became bigger, sweeter and more mass-produced and I stopped buying them, despite the nostalgic pull. In January, while on a beach holiday, I was scouring the local supermarket for sweet treats and I bought a packet of caramel slices to take back to the holiday house. Unlike the oversized cafe offerings, these were small delicate squares, so I was lulled into thinking they might be good. In fact, they were terrible, so bad that even the two teenage boys on holidays refused to eat them and they had to be thrown out. That’s it, I thought, I’m done with the caramel slice, it’s one of those things that are better left to memory and not revisited.
When I got back home, I couldn’t quite let it go though, so I made a caramel slice for old times’ sake. I’m glad I did, because this caramel chocolate slice bears no resemblance to its commercial counterpart. In its homemade form, cut into small elegant squares, it’s a thing of beauty, something you could happily serve up at the end of a grown-up dinner party. We’re currently on our third making of caramel slice – I’ve made it three different ways: without the salt in the caramel; with salted caramel; and a ‘forgot the salt’ but sprinkled it on top at the last minute version.
They’re all good.
I’ve also tried two shortbread bases and have settled on this one, which uses less sugar and rolled oats, and is a nice mellow offset to the sweetness of the caramel. It also keeps brilliantly – I made one slice just before the last big heatwave hit and it languished in our fridge for over a week. I thought I would have to throw it out but when the weather cooled, it was still perfectly fine and we happily finished it off.
This is why I loved making caramel slices as a teenager, taking basic store cupboard ingredients – flour, sugar, butter, golden syrup, coconut and condensed milk, and turning them into something spectacularly special. It reminds me of when we boiled cans of condensed milk. After allowing them to cool, there was a moment of trepidation just before opening the can, of not knowing whether the process had worked. Of course, it always did and the condensed milk was turned into golden caramel, proving the magical alchemy of cooking to turn something quite ordinary into gold.
Salted caramel chocolate slice
For the shortbread base
- 1 cup of self raising flour
- 1 cup of desiccated coconut
- 1 cup of rolled oats
- ½ cup of brown sugar
- 150 grams of butter, melted.
For the caramel
- 1 x 395 grams sweetened condensed milk
- ⅓ cup of golden syrup
- 50 grams butter
- 2–3 teaspoons of salt (depending on the level of saltiness you desire).
For the chocolate layer
- 150 to 200 grams dark chocolate.
- To make the shortbread base – preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 28 x 18cm lamington tray or slice tin and line with baking paper. Mix together the flour, rolled oats, desiccated coconut and sugar, and add melted butter. Press mixture into tin and smooth out surface. Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool while you make the caramel.
- For the caramel – combine condensed milk, golden syrup and butter in small saucepan. Bring to simmer stirring constantly on a low heat and cook until slightly golden (about five minutes). Keep stirring otherwise the caramel will burn. Stir in 2–3 teaspoons of salt according to taste and remove from heat. Pour caramel over base and return to the oven to bake for another 10 minutes, until caramel is golden and bubbly round the edges. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
- Once the slice is completely cool, melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (be careful not to allow the water to touch the bottom of the bowl). When chocolate is melted and glossy, stir until smooth and spread chocolate over the top of the slice with a flat knife or spatula.
- Wait until chocolate has set before cutting slice into squares – I put the slice in the fridge to set it. Use a knife heated in boiling water, then dry it off when it is hot before cutting the slice. The heated knife stops the chocolate from cracking. These slices keep in the fridge for 1–2 weeks.