Tan Squares



Here’s a classic traybake that should be in everyone’s back pocket. Not literally, of course, because crumbs – but it’s something you can make/bake in just over an hour from standard storecupboard ingredients and tastes divine.

We’re delving Down Under for this week’s treat, to Land of the Long White Cloud, New Zealand.

I love the name Tan Squares  – which also appears out there in Internet Land as recipes titled Tan Slice and Tan Fingers – because on the one hand it is both an incredibly dull-sounding but also accurate descriptive of exactly what it is, and on the other, it completely undersells the deliciousness of this particular treat. The ‘tan’ apparently comes from the colour of the caramel peeking through the crumble, and the ‘squares’ comes from… well, you get the idea.

Essentially, this is a less rich version of Millionaire’s Shortbread, but in my opinion it is the superior recipe.

Clutch the pearls! gif
Yes, clutch away my pretties! I’m aware of how controversial that might sound, but I stand by it.


Maybe I’m just getting old, but for my palate Millionaire’s Shortbread is too much. Sweet shortbread, really sweet caramel, sweet chocolate… too much I say!

This, however, is more restrained, and the better for it. The chocolate is replaced with a shortbread crumble made from the same mixture as the base and, oddly enough, the additions to the filling make it seem not as rich.

For this version I have combined the standard shortbread recipe (3 flour:2 butter:1 sugar) with my favourite cornflour shortcrust pastry recipe. I reduced the sugar and added cornflour to the mix to make for a crisp, crumbly contrast with the rich filling. I’ve also omitted the vanilla flavouring and baking powder which many recipes include, for making the shortbread unnecessarily ‘busy’. Recipes for the filling vary, mainly regarding the quantities of golden syrup and butter to add to the condensed milk, so I have opted for restrained amounts of each. You need to cook the condensed milk mixture for a while before pouring over the base, so that by the end of the cooking time, it will have turned into the tan-coloured caramel peeking through the crumble like the photo above.

It’s quick enough to make for a weekday treat, and yet delicious enough to serve for a special occasion or afternoon tea.

Tan Squares

I bake this in a 22cm square tin, and used 1/3 of the shortbread for the crumble. Other shapes/sizes of tins might require some adjustment of these quantities.

Shortbread base & crumble
60g granulated sugar
200g butter – softened
220g plain flour
60g cornflour
¼tsp salt

For the filling
1 tin (397g) sweetened condensed milk
60g butter
30g golden syrup

  • Whisk the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Add the flours and continue to mix until the mixture has formed into clumps.
  • Remove 180g of the mixture and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
  • Line a 22cm (or similar) tin with baking parchment.
  • Put the remaining shortbread mixture into the tin and cover with cling film. Press it evenly to make for an even layer. Using the base of a tumbler is useful in getting a smooth finish here.
  • Put the filling ingredients into a pan and stir over medium heat for about 10 minutes. You’ll need to stir pretty much constantly, because otherwise the mixture will start to catch on the bottom. It’s done when the ingredients are thoroughly combined, the mixture has thickened slightly and the overall colour is – and I can’t believe I’m actually going to advocate this as a goal in a recipe – beige.
  • beige
  • Think milky coffee or the colour of evaporated milk.
  • Switch off the heat and allow to cool slightly before pouring over the shortbread base.
  • Heat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Remove the crumble topping from the freezer and break up the larger crumbles with a fork or by chopping with a knife. Don’t let the pieces get too small – we want crumble, not crumbs – otherwise you’ll not be able to see the caramel in the gaps.
  • Sprinkle the crumble over the caramel filling. Make sure there are some spaces where the caramel can peek through.
  • Bake for a total of 45-50 minutes. Turn the baking try round after 25 minutes, to ensure an even bake.
  • The shortbread will be pale, but cooked, and the caramel filling will have darkened.
  • Cool in the tin until completely cold.
  • Cut into squares and store in an airtight container.