Honey walnut shortbread bars are a buttery and rich dessert treat. Crunchy walnuts are coated in a chewy honey caramel, then baked on top of a buttery and tender shortbread cookie crust.
These honey walnut shortbread bars may look complicated and time consuming to make. In reality, all you need are a few basic ingredients and an hour of your time.
If you have a sweet tooth, you'll love these rich and decadent dessert bars. First, you start with a buttery and tender shortbread crust. Then, your cookie crust is topped with a sweet honey caramel that's filled with crunchy walnuts.
These bars are very sweet and rich - a little bite goes a long way! Definitely a sweet treat for a special occasion, like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Ingredients and substitutions
For this recipe, you'll be making a shortbread crust, as well as a honey walnut caramel topping.
Shortbread is made with sugar, flour, and butter. I've also added vanilla extract and a small amount of salt for a more flavorful cookie crust.
The granulated sugar in the crust can be substituted with confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar) if needed.
The honey caramel topping is made with brown sugar, honey, butter, heavy cream, vanilla extract, salt, and walnuts.
The walnuts can be substituted with your favorite nut - cashews would be my next favorite choice. Peanuts or almonds would also work great.
If you've never made shortbread before, it has a different texture than a regular chocolate chip cookie. Shortbread is tender, buttery, and dense, because it contains no leavening agents.
When mixing your shortbread crust, your dough may look crumbly, but it will hold together when pinched between two fingers.
Properly measured flour
My biggest tip when making shortbread is to properly measure your flour. I use the spoon and level method. Use a spoon to add flour to your measuring cup, then level off the top with a knife.
When scooping your flour with your measuring cup, this compacts the flour into the cup, adding up to 25% extra flour to your recipe. The most common complaint I receive about shortbread recipes is that the dough is too dry - this is because too much flour has been added.
The best way to prevent this is to measure your flour with a scale. 1 cup of flour is 120 grams. For this recipe, you'll need 150 grams of flour.
Honey walnut caramel
Making your caramel topping is a surprisingly simple process, because most of the cooking is completed in the oven.
I recommend using a medium sized saucepan, because your caramel will double in size while boiling.
Once your bars come out of the oven, allow them to cool to room temperature. Your caramel topping needs time to thicken before slicing into your bars, and will still appear very liquidy straight from the oven.
Storing your dessert bars
Store your shortbread bars at room temperature in a sealed container for 3-5 days.
Bars can be refrigerated to lengthen their lifespan (up to a week), but should be brought to room temperature before serving.
Honey Walnut Shortbread Bars
- ½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ⅓ cup (66 g) granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon (1.5 g) vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ cups (150 g) all-purpose flour
- ⅛ teaspoon (1 g) salt
- ½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter
- ¾ cup (160 g) brown sugar
- ½ cup (168 g) honey
- 2 cups (226 g) chopped walnuts
- ⅓ cup (76 g) heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) vanilla extract
- ¾ teaspoon (5 g) salt
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add vanilla and stir to combine. Add flour to butter mixture and mix until a dough forms. Dough may be crumbly, but will hold together when pinched between two fingers.
- Press dough into an even layer in prepared baking pan. Prick the top of the dough with a fork, then bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned around edges and top. Remove bars from oven and set aside until topping is ready. Leave your oven on.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, add butter, sugar, and honey. Bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then add heavy cream. Boil for 1 more minute.
- Remove from heat and add vanilla extract and salt. Stir to combine. Add walnuts and stir to coat.
- Pour topping over shortbread crust. Place bars back in the oven and bake for about 18-22 minutes, or until entire top is bubbly. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before slicing (topping needs time to firm up).
- These bars are very sweet, so small slices (20-24 for this size pan) work best.
- Walnuts can be substituted with your favorite nut. Cashews, peanuts, or almonds are great choices.
- Bars will keep for 3-5 days at room temperature in a sealed container. If storing in the refrigerator, allow to come to room temperature before serving.
- Use the spoon and level method for measuring your flour: Use a spoon to add flour to your measuring cup, then level off the top with a knife. If scooping flour using your measuring cup, this compacts flour into the cup and adds up to 25% extra flour to your recipe. For best accuracy, weigh your flour instead.
The recipe did not specify the temperature for baking the topping so I assumed it was the same as the base. I hadn’t kept the oven hot so it had to heat up again and the topping sat on the base while it did.
Hi Keith, we hope you enjoyed the bars! Thanks for the feedback, I will reword the recipe to make it more obvious to leave the oven on while pouring the topping on the shortbread base.
Wondering of I can make this recipe without using the parchment paper?
The parchment allows you to lift the bars right out of the pan without any sticking. It would not be impossible to make these without parchment, but the caramel layer will stick to the side of the pan, making them much messier to serve.
Can you make the topping without the honey? As in, replace honey with more brown sugar or no?
Hi Jasmine, I haven't tried it myself, but honey could potentially be substituted with maple syrup in equal amounts. The honey helps to bind the topping together, and another sticky sweetener would be best for that.
Have you ever made this recipe with whole milk?
I have only made this with heavy cream so I can't say for sure if whole milk would work.
Hi there. These are delicious bars. I have a question. I am going to be making these for a wedding and I have to do 80 bars total. I am hoping I can make them before. Any recommendations? Are these somethings you can make before and freeze or refrigerate before they are needed? or prep before baking?
Any helpful information would be great. Thank you so much!
Hi Lisa, glad to hear you like the bars! Yes, you can make these ahead. Prepare the bars as directed. Once they've fully cooled, cover and refrigerate for up to a week. They can also be frozen for up to three months. Simply remove from the freezer and thaw overnight on the counter.
Thank you so much!!!