Millionaire Shortbread Cake

Millionaire Shortbread Cake

When I was little we lived in England for a while, and I have vivid and fond memories of being out somewhere, a museum, maybe, and becoming very tired all of a sudden. We’d all decide to stop for “tea and a sweetie” as my dad called it. And we’d all be instantly restored, and I remember talking about how remarkable it was that we all felt more lively. The restorative powers of tea are not to be underestimated! On these occasions, as I recall, my mother used to love millionaire’s shortbread, which (as I recall it) was a perfect combination of shortbread, caramel, and chocolate. And then there were variations – some had a digestive crust, some had milk chocolate, some had dark, one (my mother’s favorite) had lemon curd and dark chocolate.

Yesterday when faced with the delightful conundrum of what kind of cake to make for my mother’s birthday, I decided to make a cakey version of millionaire’s shortbread – combining different elements of my memories of the sweetie. So I made a cake very loosely based on a digestive biscuit (well, it had a tiny bit of oats and whole wheat flour in it, and I used brown sugar), a lemon caramel coating (turned out really tasty! I ate it by the spoonful as I was cleaning up) and a bittersweet chocolate ganache on top of that. My mom said it was the best cake ever! Result!

Here’s Barbara Dane’s It isn’t Nice. A song my mom likes, and I love, too.


2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (1 cup)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 t. vanilla
3 eggs separated
1 1/2 cups white flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup toasted, ground oats
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. flour
1 cup milk with 1 t. lemon added, left to sit until curdled. Or buttermilk.

Cream the butter and sugars and vanilla. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Add all of the dry ingredients and beat till well-combined. Add the milk. YOu might need to add a splash more to make the batter the right consistency. Which is basically quite thick, but stir-able and pour-able. Beat the egg whites till stiff. Stir a spoonful into the batter, and then fold in the rest.

Pour into 2 nine-inch pans that have been greased, floured and lined on the bottom with parchment or foil.

Bake in a preheated 325 oven for 20 minutes to half an hour, till lightly golden, and till the top springs back when you poke it lightly. Let it cool completely before playing with the caramel and chocolate. I put a layer of caramel between the two cakes, a layer of caramel on top, and the ganache on top of that.


This was the part that made me nervous! I wanted something that was between a caramel sauce and actual caramel candies. Something soft enough to spread. Not something that would crack your teeth or stick your gums together. Miraculously, I got that result! I hope you do, too.

1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1 T water
1 t. vanilla
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon (zest very fine – microplane, baby!)
2 T. butter
1/3 cup milk
dash of salt

Combine the sugar, vanilla, water, lemon zest and lemon juice in a thick-bottomed sauce pan. Put on a burner over medium-low heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves, and keep stirring till it starts to boil. Let it boil for a minute (still stirring!) and then take it off the heat and add the butter and milk and salt. Put it back on the heat, and stir for 10 or 15 minutes, until it starts to coat the spoon. If you have a candy thermometer, bring it to the “soft ball” stage. I had one, but it was old and unreliable, so, instead, I delighted in the fact that IF YOU DROP A TINY PIECE INTO A GLASS OF COLD WATER IT REALLY WILL FORM A SOFT BALL IF IT IS THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE!! When this happens, take the pot off the heat, and let it cool for a while, stirring vigorously every once in a while. When it’s cool enough that you can put your hand on the bottom of the pan, pour some on top of your cake, and with a flat knife, coax it gently over the edges. Try to make the top nice and smooth and about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick, and try to have pretty drips going down the side. OH! And I put a layer of caramel between the two cakes, too! SHould have said that first.

Cake with drippy lemon caramel


This is the easiest part of all!

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips. The darker the better
1/2 cup milk
1 t. vanilla
1 t. dark rum

Warm the milk till it’s steamy and just starts to bubble on the edges.

Combine the chocolate chips, vanilla and dark rum.

Pour the warm milk over the chocolate chips and stir until the chocolate is completely smooth and melted.

Pour it over your completely-cooled caramel coated cake (the caramel should be completely cool and set – I put it in the fridge for 10 minutes, because I was impatient). With a flat knife, coax the ganache over the edge so it drips down the sides in lovely patterns. Try to make the top smooth.

Let it cool for a while till everything is set.


4 thoughts on “Millionaire Shortbread Cake

  1. Oh Claire — you have made my day twice — with the best cake I’ve ever, ever tasted, and with “It ain’t nice”!!!! love, Mom

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