I’m no vegan. I’m not vegetarian. I eat gluten. I eat (some) dairy. I eat nuts, shellfish, seafood, soy, meat, fats, sugar. I try to avoid processed foods although I can’t help a little treat every now and again in moderation (hey, I’m a child of the 70s). I also enjoy dishes that are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free… as long as the ingredients are wholesome and real. Crazy ingredient substitutions with substances that are unnatural make me wince. Fake butter, fake sugar, fake gluten. Heebie jeebies. It isn’t often that I seek out vegan recipes, but I really do like the idea of vegan snacks as long as they use real whole foods. So when I saw this recipe for vegan caramels pop up in my feed, I began scribbling down the short list of ingredients to pick up from the store.
dates, tahini, coconut oil, cardamom, flake salt
pit the dates
I love me some caramels. Call it a weakness. Thankfully, I only need nibble on one to satisfy any craving. This recipe fascinated me. Really? Vegan caramels? It’s mostly based on dates, of which I am a fan. They are the vegan glue that binds my favorite homemade blueberry muffin LÄRABAR together. I had to procure coconut oil, which I’ve never used before. Coconut oil implies a liquid, so it was quite a surprise when I scooped it and it was solid and somewhat brittle.
just a little coconut oil
Although the recipe highly recommends Barhi dates, I could not find them anywhere. I settled for Medjool dates from the bulk section of Whole Foods. Choose the moist, mooshy ones rather than the hard, drier ones. And I think Deglet dates are too dry for this recipe. When I put the ingredients through the food processor, it seemed to remain clumpy, so I let it run a while. That resulted in a good deal of the tahini oil warming and separating somewhat. I just poured the excess oil off and proceeded from there. It was not a smooth, creamy, thick paste. It was a smooth, chewy, thick paste. Tasted pretty good.
process it into a paste
press the mix into a parchment-lined baking pan
sprinkle with finishing salt
Thick, chunky caramels appeal to me because I like to bite into something substantial. Rather than spreading such a small amount of paste into the bottom of a wide pan, I used a mini loaf pan to get a 1-inch thickness. The “caramels” were tossed into the freezer for an hour to set up. Once out of the freezer, I gave the paste a minute to warm up so I could remove it from the pan and cut it into cubes.
slice the “caramels” with a sharp knife
they almost look like caramels
How did they taste? Great! Did they taste like caramels? No! But the texture is nice and chewy, albeit a little on the grainy side (because of the dates and tahini) compared to the sublime smoothness of real caramels. As a healthy snack, they are lovely little nuggets of goodness and so very very VERY easy to make compared to traditional caramels. Jeremy said not to call them caramels because it caused him significant cognitive dissonance when he bit into one. Call them what you will, but these are tasty, easy, healthy snacks worth giving a try.
delicious, chewy treats
1 cup dates, pitted (I used Medjool dates, but the original recipe calls for Barhi)
1/2 cup tahini
2 tbsps coconut oil
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (optional, but good)
1/8 tsp finishing salt (I used Maldon)
Place the dates, tahini, coconut oil, and if using, the ground cardamom in the bowl of a food processor. Run the processor until the contents transform into a thick, creamy paste. Press the paste into a parchment-lined loaf pan (I used a mini loaf pan) and smooth the top out until it is even. Sprinkle the salt over the paste. Freeze until firm (I let it go for an hour). Remove from the freezer and lift the paste out of the pan. Cut into bite-size pieces. Store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one month. Makes 12-18 pieces.
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