Small Batch Sweets: Clairesquares


[Photograph: Maggie Hoffman]

San Francisco is a mighty long way from Ireland, but that doesn't mean we don't have some similarities—a lot of foggy, damp weather, hills, and a fondness for beer among them. And it was on just such a cool day that I discovered Clairesquares, the small "Handcrafted Irish Sweets" purveyor who sells her goods at a variety of San Francisco stores including Bi-Rite and Rainbow Markets.

Classic shortbread was an option, but I had to go for the bar which holds what I believe to be a candy trifecta: shortbread, caramel, and chocolate. I'm well aware of how good this combination can be, and I really hoped that this old Irish recipe would come through.

The square was, in a word, awesome. The base is a shortbread cookie that's quite good on its own. A little crumbly, though still easy to eat, heavy with the taste of brown sugar and accented by salt. The buttery taste is there, but it's not so aggressive as some shortbread can be, which works given the decadent toppings.

The caramel layer is a good 1/4-inch thick and, best of all, it's gooey. Yes, that makes it one of my favorite things, and I couldn't have been happier to find that it's not a hard layer of caramel or a caramel flavored layer of cookie, but a pulls-away-from-the-bar, luxurious, slightly smokey caramel. The top of the bar is a smooth dark chocolate that's just bitter enough to offset the other two layers. When you take a bite, your teeth crunch through the cookie, slide through the caramel and snap off the chocolate.

Fair warning: despite the relative balance, it's a very rich treat and you could easily split each bar in two. Clairesquares also sells flapjacks, brandy butter, and regular shortbread— and I'll be back to try them all.

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