With Halloween coming up next week. I’m finishing all my preparations, which mostly involve putting together Isabelle’s costume and moving all the pumpkins in the house back to their designated places, after she’s moved them all again for the twentieth time. Apparently pumpkins are way more fun than her regular toys – who knew?
I’ve stocked up on candy for trick or treaters, but I couldn’t resist going into kitchen to make some sweets from scratch. This year, it’s a homemade rendition of one of my favorite candies from childhood – the Twix bar.
Twix bars are actually one of the easiest candy bars to duplicate in your home kitchen. Shortbread, caramel, and chocolate are all things I love making and working with individually. In fact, I’ve already done a Twix tart, one of my favorite tarts ever, so moving on the candy bar version seemed inevitable.
There are many quick and simple methods out there for making home versions of Twix bars; you can use all store-bought ingredients such as ladyfingers, caramel candies, and chocolate chips for a shortcut (and for a holiday that’s all about store-bought bags of fun-size candy, I’m not going to judge!), but if you’re looking to make a rendition that makes the leap to pastry school-and-restaurant dessert worthy, you’re singing my tune.
Again, none of the individual components are difficult to make, and it’s all about putting them together in a pretty package. The best method I found is in the excellent The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook, and I’ve adapted their recipe here. Just be sure to read the recipe through carefully and have all the equipment laid out and prepared ahead of time. You’ll use quite a few baking sheets and pieces of parchment paper, so as long as you have them handy you shouldn’t run into any sticky (ha!) situations. The refrigerator is also your friend. If it looks like things aren’t setting up quickly enough or bars are softening faster than you can enrobe them, just stick them back in the fridge to keep things cool. Let’s go!
The cookie base is sweet, buttery shortbread that’s crumbly but not too crumbly: that’s the trick to be able to cut it into bars without the whole thing disintegrating into pieces under your knife. The addition of a couple eggs gives the cookie the structure it needs to hold together, yet remain pleasingly tender and short. Whenever I make something where butter is the main component, I like to use a really good butter, like Kerrygold or Plugra, to make it really shine. The higher butterfat levels in these premium butters will give your shortbread extra richness.
The caramel is your standard cooked sugar syrup generously enriched with cream and more butter. I found the trickiest part of this whole recipe not the cutting or the enrobing, but actually covering the cookie layer with the caramel. It’s important that you roll the cookie layer out so it almost fills the baking sheet you’ll assemble the bars in. Otherwise when you pour the caramel in, if there’s too much space around the cookie, you end up drowning your cookie in a sea of caramel, which is extremely hard to remove from the sheet once it firms up. I’m considering a different method next time where I might press the cookie layer into a smaller pan like 13″ x 9″, so that there are no gaps for the caramel to flow into. Just be judicious when you pour the caramel on – lining the baking sheet with parchment paper also helps, as it’s easier to loosen then trying to free caramel stuck straight to the pan.
Here is the “slab” of caramel-topped shortbread, with the bottom layer of chocolate already poured, and then cut into bars. At this halfway point, they remind me that I’m essentially making another version of millionaire’s shortbread, that ultimate lily-gilding of the classic butter-rich cookie with layers of caramel and chocolate. You can probably serve these bars as is, and they have a very elegant layered look to them, but of course the goal of this post is homemade Twix bars, and for that we need to finish the enrobing process.
If you’re looking to go the whole nine yards, tempering chocolate is the how you get that perfect crisp shell. However, if at this point you just want to eat those candy bars as soon as possible, I’m a big fan of confectionery coating, also known as candy coating or summer coating. It’s a combination of melted chocolate and oil, which makes a smooth mix for dipping and sets up into a firm, shiny finish. It’s not as hard or glossy as tempered chocolate, and dipped chocolates should be kept in the refrigerator so they don’t soften too quickly, but it’s a great timesaver if you just don’t have the time or mental fortitude for tempering chocolate. They also sell bags of pre made candy coating at kitchenware/cooking shops, but it’s so easy to make at home, I’d highly recommend doing it so you can choose the chocolate to use: for these bars, I like a mix of bittersweet and semisweet – dark enough to balance the sweetness of the caramel, but not so dark that it overpowers the rest of the candy.
Probably my favorite part of this whole process. There’s nothing as glorious as freely ladling warm chocolate over something sweet and making it even sweeter. It’s pretty exciting to see rows and rows of freshly enrobed bars and feel like a candy factory in miniature.
The combination of crisp shortbread, creamy caramel, and rich chocolate is unmistakably reminiscent of a Twix bar, but with a decadence all its own. I’ve been known to scarf down half a bag of those mini bars in one sitting, but I find one of these bars is plenty for me. So hoard a few for yourself, and share the rest with your favorite -and luckiest- trick or treaters.
Looking forward to ghosts, pumpkins, and lots of sweets next week!
- 1/2 lb (225 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2/3 cup (133 g) sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar
- 1/2 cup (175 g) light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup (60 g) water
- 1 cup (230 g) whipping cream
- 5 tablespoons (70 g) unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- 2.5 lb (1.13 kg) dark chocolate, roughly chopped
- 1 cup (225 g) vegetable oil
For the cookie layer:
- Combine the butter and sugar in bowl of a stand mixer. Beat with paddle attachment on medium speed for several minutes until fully combined and the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating to combine thoroughly. Add the salt and beat to combine.
- Add the flour in two additions, beating just to combine with each addition. Add the vanilla and beat to combine.
- Turn out dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Place another piece of parchment paper on top and roll out the dough between the two sheets to about 1/4" thick. The dough should be about as big as the sheet of paper; if it's smaller, it's okay. Place the dough, still between the sheets of parchment paper, onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for a hour to firm up.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Take out dough from refrigerator and peel off top layer of parchment paper. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until edges of the cookie are turning golden brown and surface of cookie is dry. Remove from oven and let cool.
For the caramel layer:
- Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat and cook until mixture reaches 300 degrees F.
- Meanwhile, place the cream, butter, and vanilla bean paste in a separate saucepan and bring just to under a boil over medium heat. Don't let it boil but keep it warm until the sugar mixture finishes cooking.
- When the sugar mixture reaches 300 degrees F, remove from heat. Slowly pour the warm cream mixture into the sugar, a little at a time, as the sugar will bubble up vigorously. Stir with a rubber spatula to combine.
- Return mixture to the heat and cook over medium-high heat until it reaches 250 degrees F.
- Place cookie layer (still on the sheet of parchment) in a rimmed baking pan. Carefully pour the caramel over the cookie layer, spreading it out evenly with a metal spatula as needed. It's ok if the caramel spreads off the edge of the cookie layer - the rim of the baking sheet will keep it in. You should have enough caramel to cover the cookie layer but try not to let the caramel completely fill the baking sheet, or you will have a hard time removing the candy from the baking sheet.
- Let caramel set for a minimum of 2 hours, preferably overnight. If it is warm or the caramel doesn't seem to want to firm up, you can place it in the refrigerator until it is firm enough to cut.
For the chocolate glaze:
- Place chopped chocolate in a metal bowl and set over a bowl of simmering water. Melt chocolate, stirring occasionally. (If you want to temper the chocolate, you can also do so, and not add the vegetable oil).
- Remove bowl of melted chocolate from heat. Stir in the vegetable oil until it is a smooth, shiny mixture. Let cool for about 10 to 15 minutes.
To finish the bars:
- Place a cutting board large enough to fit the cookie layer on the counter. Run a knife around the edge of the baking sheet to loosen any caramel that stuck to the edges.
- Place a sheet of parchment paper over the top of the caramel layer. Place the cutting board over the parchment paper, and then invert the entire assembly so that the candy comes loose from the baking sheet and is now cookie side up on the cutting board.
- Take about 1 cup of the chocolate glaze and pour over the cookie layer. Use a metal spatula to spread it out evenly, covering the whole layer.
- Let chocolate set, about 10 minutes. You can place in the refrigerator to speed up the process, about 5 minutes.
- Flip the slab of candy over so that the set chocolate side is now on the bottom. Using a ruler and a sharp knife, trim off the edges of the candy so it is an even rectangle. Cut the slab into 1 in by 3 in bars.
- Place the bars chocolate side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill in refrigerator for half an hour to let the chocolate fully set and to keep the candy bars firm.
- Rewarm the chocolate glaze. Place a wire rack over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Arrange the candy bars, chocolate side down, in rows on the rack, leaving enough room between them to pour the chocolate.
- Using a ladle, pour the chocolate over the candy bars, making small side to side motions to get chocolate on the sides of the bars. Tap the wire rack on the counter a few times to let the chocolate settle.
- Use an offset spatula to move the bars from the wire rack onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can also use the offset spatula to cover any spots you missed on the bars. Let bars set, about 20-30 minutes. Again, if it's warm or it seems like it's taking a while for the chocolate to set, you can put them in the refrigerator to speed up the process.
- Store the finished bars in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper, for up to 3 weeks.