This past weekend, we celebrated the conferral of the Sacrament of Confirmation on my little sister Amy. I love all of my sisters greatly, but Amy holds a very special place in my heart for she is also my goddaughter. Months ago, she humbled me greatly by asking me to sponsor her as she prepared for her Confirmation. I was honored to be chosen and felt blessed that the role of being her sponsor naturally syncs with the responsibilities I already carry as her godmother - to mentor her and guide her in the Catholic faith as she grows and discerns her vocation. And, honestly, I benefit greatly from this as well because there is nothing like having someone looking up to you as a role model to force you to keep your own life in check!
Amy chose Agnes for her Confirmation name because she feels a strong connection to Saint Agnes, a first-century martyr who died at the age of 12 or 13 for refusing to compromise her purity. Amy spent quite a bit of time choosing her saint's name, almost embracing the name of Saint Gianna at one point, but, in the end, she really identified with Agnes' commitment to chastity and purity. So, Amelia Grace Agnes is now her name!
At one point during the Confirmation Mass, the candidates all stood and renewed their baptismal promises. I got a bit emotional during this part because I remember so well the day 14 years previously that I made the baptismal promises on the behalf of an an infant Amy at her baptism. Now, it was truly moving to witness her reciting the promises with such fervor and commitment as she heads quickly towards adulthood. She has made her own mind up to be committed to Christ and a witness of his love to the world. Witnessing such faith in someone so young is always incredibly moving.
When we were walking up to the front of church for Amy's turn to be anointed by the Bishop, Amy was shaking like a leaf - she was so nervous! I loved seeing how seriously and reverently she received the sacrament. I know God has wonderful plans for this sweet young lady with the most gentle heart. I pray that she will always love God and her faith as much as she does today. Saint Agnes, pray for us!
Doesn't Amy look cute? I love the dress she wore. Catherine and I worked on her hair for about an hour. I was thinking that it would take maybe 20 minutes tops to curl, but she has so much hair! It took us almost 90 minutes to finish!
Random funny story, I bought the pink dress I wore for Easter at Macy's and actually called my sister Catherine immediately afterwards just to say "I just bought a dress that you would LOVE!" Well, turns out I was right because she actually already owned the exact same dress and we found that out because we both wore that dress for the Confirmation Mass. And similar shoes. Sister twins! Catherine thought it was oh-so-funny and said that it reminded her of the days when we used to match on purpose. I think she is remembering the days that she used to try to match me on purpose and I used to get so annoyed with it! Little sisters!
My Mom also wanted me to share the lovely ice cream cake she made for Amy's party following the Confirmation. Isn't it beautiful?
She did some lovely piping around the borders of the cake, but then accidentally dropped it when she tried shoving it back into the freezer, hence the slightly "squished" appearance. She requested a picture to be taken as evidence that I don't get any baking talent from her. And Paul was just happy to be eating ice cream soon, so he proudly took a picture with her. Ignore all my Mom's negative comments and just know that the cake was really delicious. Even Emma took a break from her sandbox play - where she pretty much spent the entire weekend - to slowly and deliberately enjoy a gigantic slice of cake.
Amy is also graduating from 8th grade this May and, as a present to her from our parents, she is coming to live with me for a month during the summer! I am beyond excited for her to stay and have already planned a whole slew of activities and road trips for her to experience during her time with us! Amy also shares my love of sweets and baking, so of course I want to do lots of baking and cooking while I have a dutiful live-in dishwasher (haha...just kidding Amy...or not!).
The recipe I want to share with you today is right up Amy's alley - it's sweet, salty, crunchy, and very reminiscent of a certain popular candy bar. Millionaire's shortbread is apparently British in origin and features a shortbread "biscuit" bottom, a chewy caramel center, and a smooth, shiny, chocolate topping. It's rich and indulgent but also something that would not be such a bad treat to serve with coffee (or "a spot of tea" if we are to truly pay homage to this cookie's origin). The only thing I would possibly change about the recipe is perhaps a touch more salt added to the shortbread layer although Paul told me not to change anything because to him it was perfect as is and thus I have presented the unadulterated version of the recipe below.
All THREE of my children loved this recipe, a rare thing for sure since there is always at least one child who wrinkles their nose at whatever it is I've lovingly prepared. Emma and Lucy actually sat right at my feet chewing on the extra bits while I photographed the nicer-looking cookies for the blog. Lucy in particular would have eaten the whole batch had I not cut her off. That girl loves chocolate.
If you're a fan of the Twix bars, this is definitely the cookie for you!
from America's Test Kitchen
Important Note: To ensure that the caramel filling has the perfect texture, use an instant read thermometer. Grating a portion of the chocolate is important for getting the chocolate to set properly. The small holes on a box grater work well for this task. Stir often while melting the chocolate and monitor the temperature by holding the bowl in the palm of your hand; overheating the chocolate will cause it to set poorly. For the neatest looking results, slice the shortbread with a serrated knife using a gentle sawing motion.
For the Crust:
2½ cups (12 ½ ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup (3 ½ ounces) granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the Filling:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup packed (4 2/3 ounces) dark brown sugar
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
½ teaspoon salt
For the Chocolate:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated
For the Crust: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom and sides of 13- by 9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir with rubber spatula until flour is evenly moistened. Crumble dough evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Using your fingertips and palm of your hand, press and smooth dough into even thickness. Using fork, pierce dough at 1-inch intervals. Bake until light golden brown and firm to touch, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack. Using sturdy metal spatula, press on entire surface of warm crust to compress (compressing crust while warm will make cutting finished bars easier). Cool crust to just warm, at least 20 minutes.
For the Filling: Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is homogenous and sugar is melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in sweetened condensed milk, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to boil. Cook, stirring constantly and scraping corners of saucepan, until mixture registers 235 degrees, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in salt. Pour over crust and spread to even thickness. Let cool until filling is just warm, about 20 minutes.
For the Chocolate: Microwave 6 ounces chopped chocolate at 50 percent power, stirring every 15 seconds, until fully melted but not much warmer than body temperature, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 ounces grated chocolate, and stir until melted, returning to microwave for no more than 5 seconds at a time to complete melting if necessary. Spread chocolate evenly over surface of filling. Refrigerate shortbread until chocolate is just set, about 10 minutes. Let set at room temperature for at least 1 hour before cutting.
Using foil, remove shortbread from pan and transfer to cutting board; discard foil. Using serrated knife and sawing motion, cut shortbread in half crosswise to create two 6 ½- by 9-inch rectangles. Cut each rectangle in half to make four 3 ½ - by 9-inch strips. Cut each strip crosswise into equal 10 pieces. (Shortbread can be stored at room temperature, between layers of parchment, for up to one week.)