Traditional millionaire’s shortbread features a rich biscuit base with soft, sweet caramel and milk chocolate layered on top, which can be a little cloying. This Middle Eastern variation from Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi keeps the buttery shortbread layer but tops it with rich and roasty halva (a crumbly sesame-based confection) and a faintly bitter, slightly salty tahini caramel. For more brilliant desserts from Ottolenghi, try their Chocolate, Banana, and Pecan Cookies, and Flourless Coconut and Chocolate Cake.

You can make this shortbread up to 4 days ahead of time and store it in airtight container, or even freeze it. Refrigerated in an airtight container, it keeps for up to a week, but should be removed 20 minutes before serving to take the chill off the bars.

For more uncommonly delicious sesame-accented dessert options, try our Marzipan Caramel Apple with Sesame and Almond recipe, or our Toasted Sesame Seed and Honey Gelato recipe.

  • Yields: 16 servings
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Total: 1 hr 5 min, plus 5 hours cooling time
  • Active: 1 hr 5 min

Ingredients (16)

For the shortbread:

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and set aside to cool slightly
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

For the halva:

  • 7 ounces halva, roughly crumbled into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup tahini paste

For the tahini caramel

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup tahini paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper, making sure that the paper rises up over the edges of the pan.
  2. Make the shortbread. Sift the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch into the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place, then add the granulated sugar and mix on medium speed. With the machine still running, slowly pour in the melted butter and beat until combined. Add the vanilla extract and turn the speed to low, then sift in the flour and salt and continue to beat until the dough comes together. Tip the mixture into the pan and use your hands to pat and even out the surface. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside until completely cool; this will take an hour or so, so don’t start making the caramel too soon or it will have set by the time the shortbread is cool.
  3. Make the halva. Place the halva and tahini in a small bowl and mix with a wooden spoon to combine. Spread the mix over the cooled shortbread and use the back of a spoon to smooth it into an even layer.
  4. Make the tahini caramel. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil and cook—still at a boil—for about 12 minutes, until the sugar is a deep golden brown. Remove from the heat and add the butter and cream; take care here, as the mixture will splutter. Whisk to combine and, once the butter has melted, add the tahini and salt. Whisk to combine again, then pour evenly over the halva layer in the pan, so that all of the halva is covered.
  5. Place in the fridge for 4 hours until set, before cutting into bars, about 1 × 4 inches. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over the middle of each bar and serve.

Reprinted with permission from SWEET by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh, copyright 2017 Ten Speed Press. Photography by Peden + Munk.