The British Food Festival

Hubby discovered this event while trolling the Internet a few weeks ago.  We had already made plans to be in the County Durham area during that weekend …. yes, of course, I want to go!  Master classes … celebrity chefs … local artisan foods … everything that I could learn from and use for my new blog and ultimately my new specialty foods café.  Who knows, maybe Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood would be there.  If not, then maybe one of the contestants from the Great British Bake Off.

I did my research, downloaded the map, the schedule of events, and was ready.  We took a drive to Bishop Auckland the day before just to get the ‘lay of the land’.  I certainly didn’t want us to get lost, or not know where to park.  As we drove along the highway into Bishop Auckland, the flashing signboards were up warning us to “expect delays” because of what was expected to be thousands upon thousands of foodies descending on the town.  We talked to relatives who kindly offered their driveways, knowing that we’d be driving around for hours trying to find a spot to park the car.

Off we set on Sunday morning.  A typical English day, cold, damp, and grey,  8° C (about 46° F).  The drive was uneventful.  Parking (thank you Morrison’s) was not a problem.  Walking to the town square was brisk, but quiet.  Where were all the people?   I was ready to battle the crowds.  We saw the first of the white canopies, then more, then row after row of folding chairs, and a stage platform.  But where is Mary Berry?

As we made our way through the market square down past the canopied vendors to Auckland Castle where the main event was to take place, finally, people!!  The day began to brighten and so did my attitude.  Look there’s a vendor selling Millionaire’s Shortbread and it LOOKS JUST LIKE MINE!!  Pies ….. steak and stilton, pork and apple, cheese and onion, traditional and exotic.  They were all here!  Scones …. cheeses …. breads ….!

food show image

We sampled everything we possibly could from Spanish Paella to 6-month aged Bleu Cheeses.  We drank hard ciders, homebrewed vodka, and, of course, tea.  There were traveling troubadours singing the praises of ‘tomatoes’, squawking seagulls to entertain (and annoy) the children, foods from all over the world.

Did I read more into this event than it actually was?  Probably!  But, did I enjoy it?  Absolutely!!

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References:  The British Food Festival

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Millionaire’s Shortbread

The first time I had this rich, buttery piece of deliciousness was about ten years ago, in a basement tearoom of an old Manor House in Cornwall.  The tearoom was very modest, providing visitors with just a quick cuppa and a biscuit (cookie) or scone.  But standing out among the other biscuits was this stunning shortbread …. a buttery cookie base with gooey caramel filling, topped with a thick layer of milk chocolate.  Irresistible!!

But now, at least 10 years later, Millionaire’s Shortbread is EVERYWHERE!  From the food counters at M&S, to the bakery cases in the finest patisserie, to handy packages of 2, 4 or 6 pieces at every roadside rest area shop.  But, honestly, even the prepackaged shortbreads were pretty darn good.

How did Millionaire’s Shortbread get it’s name?
Shortbread originated in Scotland around the 12th century as a simple unleavened biscuit (cookie) using just the ingredients available in most homes at that time ….. butter, flour, sugar.   The refinement of this biscuit didn’t occur until Mary Queen of Scots assigned her French chefs to the task.  Only with the addition of more butter, more sugar, a pinch of salt, and formed into different shapes, did this delectable morsel become in demand.  Over time, other ingredients were added, lemon, almonds, ginger, cinnamon.   This version, with its creamy caramel center and thick milk chocolate topping, didn’t appear until the 19th century.  It is said that to be able to afford this decadently RICH biscuit you actually had to be a “Millionaire”.

Of course, I had to try my hand at making it.  I must admit to a couple of fails (overbaked shortbread, burnt caramel, etc.), but the last one turned out exactly how I remembered it.  So, don’t be afraid to make a mistake (or two), it’s well worth the effort in the end.

MILLIONAIRE’S SHORTBREAD 
Shortbread base:
2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch

Caramel filling:
1/2 cup water
2-1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

Chocolate topping:
8 oz. milk chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease and flour, or line with parchment paper a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.  I recommend using parchment paper.  It makes getting the shortbread out of the baking pan much easier.

In one bowl mix together the flour and cornstarch.  In another bowl using a stand or hand mixer, beat the softened butter til creamy.  Add 1/2 cup of sugar to the creamed butter and beat til lemony colored, light and airy.

Using a wooden spoon, slowly add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, blending well. The mixture will be very crumbly (short).  Don’t overwork the dough or your cookies will be tough.  Dump the batter into the prepared baking pan and press down with your hands.  Use whatever you happen to have (with a flat bottom) to press the batter down firmly and evenly.

Bake at 350° for 16 to 18 minutes – just until its set and lightly browned.  Take the shortbread out of the oven and let it cool in the pan while you prepare the caramel.

The caramel can be tricky (believe me, I’ve burnt a couple of batches).  The secret is to not stir it, or take your eyes off it, while its boiling away.  A minute will make all the difference.  If you want to use a candy thermometer, then by all means use it.  I didn’t.


Using a heavy, high-sided saucepan pour the sugar into the center of the pan.  Then carefully pour the water around the outside of the sugar.  Try not to get the sugar onto the sides of the pan or it will crystallize.  If this happens, have a pastry brush handy in a cup of water to wash down the sides of the pan.  Do not stir the sugar and water together.  Just let it be.

Using medium heat, bring the sugar and water to a boil – NO STIRRING.  When it boils, reduce the heat to low and let it boil away until its caramel colored.  You can determine how dark you want it … but don’t let it burn.  This will take about 15 minutes.

When it is ready, remove the pan from the heat and drop in 2 tablespoons of butter.  The mixture will immediately boil up.  Using a wooden spoon, quickly stir in the butter.  Now pour in the 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  Again the mixture will bubble up.  Stir it down quickly.  Continue stirring until the caramel has cooled down and thickened.  This will take about 5 minutes.

When it is ready, pour the caramel over the cooled shortbread and place the pan into the refrigerator to let the caramel set.

This is the easiest part … dump a bag of chocolate chips (milk chocolate or semi-sweet, it’s up to you), into a microwave-proof bowl and melt the chocolate.  When its melted, stir in the oil. Quickly pour the warm chocolate over the cooled caramel filling and, with the back of a spatula, smooth out the surface.  Let the chocolate cool completely.

When ready to serve, take the shortbread out of the pan.  If you’ve used parchment paper, you can just lift it up and out.  Using a very sharp knife, cut the shortbread into bars or squares.  It’s up to you!  Stack them up on a plate and keep an eye on them because they’ll disappear right before your eyes.  But, if they don’t, they’ll keep very well in an airtight container.

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