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Smoked Almond Chocolate Shortbread

Servings: Makes 2 dozen bars

Ingredients:

Shortbread:
1/2 cup (2 ounces) smoked (or roasted) almonds
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, softened (plus additional for pan)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Chocolate Caramel:
11 ounces (about 2 cups) milk chocolate, chopped or chips
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sea salt or smoked salt (optional)

Cooking Directions:

Shortbread:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 9x9-inch pan with parchment paper or foil; butter the interior of the paper or foil. Grind smoked almonds in food processor until the consistency of coarse corn meal. In medium bowl, whisk together ground almonds, flour, salt and cinnamon; set aside.

In large bowl, beat butter, brown sugar and almond extract with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture in two batches mixing until crumbly, but sticky dough forms. Press dough evenly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake until golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely on wire rack.

Chocolate Caramel:

Place chocolate in medium glass or stainless steel bowl; set aside. In medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup and water. Cook mixture over medium heat 10 to 12 minutes, until mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove from heat. Add butter, cream and salt. Return to heat and simmer over medium heat, stirring until smooth. Simmer 2 to 3 minutes. Pour mixture over chocolate; let stand 2 minutes. Stir until smooth; let stand to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Pour mixture over shortbread. Allow to cool about 30 minutes and then refrigerate overnight or at least 5 hours.

Sprinkle with sea salt or smoked salt, if desired. To cut, run a knife around edges of pan to loosen the parchment or foil; carefully lift the paper out of pan. Cut bars with knife dipped in hot water and remove paper or foil. Store bars in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

TIP: Think Outside the Cardboard Box - Consider packaging your gifts in a simple wooden box with a festive bow tied around it. Visit your local craft store for interesting containers to help you break free of the typical cardboard variety.

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