Inspired by Brown & Haley Almond Roca candies, these shortbread bars are warm and nutty with browned butter, sliced almonds and cacao nibs, and perked up with instant coffee powder for a chocolate mocha edge. Toffee bits — easily accessible in the grocery where you find chocolate chips — are baked on top of the shortbread dough, so they melt and then reharden into a shatteringly crisp topping. The color from soft sprinkles can sometimes bleed out when heated, so look for matte sprinkles or pearl sugar to use here; they hold their shape while baking.
This recipe is a part of the L.A. Times 2022 Holiday Bar Cookies.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan with baking spray, then line the bottom and two long sides with a sheet of parchment paper, cut to fit so it lies perfectly flat in the pan. Bend the excess parchment paper over the edges of the pan. If using metal binder clips, fasten the parchment to the edges of the pan (see Essential Bar Cookie Equipment).
In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat, then continue cooking the butter, swirling the skillet often, until the solids start to smell nutty and turn brown and the butter is foamy on top. Remove the skillet from the heat and immediately scrape all the browned butter into a wide metal bowl. Set the bowl in the refrigerator and let chill until the butter is cold to the touch (it may or may not be fully resolidified; that’s OK), about 1 hour. You can prepare this browned butter up to three days ahead of time.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, espresso powder, baking powder and fine sea salt.
Scrape the solidified browned butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle (or use a hand mixer and a large bowl), then add the sugar and milk. Beat on medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Add the almonds and cacao nibs and mix to combine.
Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan, and use your hands to spread it out and pat into an even layer. Sprinkle the toffee bits on the top and gently press them down. If using, sprinkle the snowflakes or pearls on top as well. Bake the shortbread, rotating the pan once halfway through, until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the shortbread cool.
Using the overhanging parchment paper like a sling, lift the slab from the pan and transfer it to a cutting board; slide out and discard the parchment. Cut the shortbread into 4 lengthwise rows by 12 crosswise columns to make 48 bars.
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