Sometimes recipes turn out better than I can even imagine. This vegan caramel recipe is one of those recipes!
Growing up I watched my mom make homemade caramel every year at Christmastime. She would combine white sugar with water and let it brown on the stove, then add butter, heavy cream, a pinch of salt, and vanilla extract and swirl it into delicious caramel. Now that I avoid dairy and processed sugar, traditional caramel is definitely off limits.
I’ve been playing around with date paste in recipes for the past few years and the other day it dawned on me to try to caramelize the date paste and add coconut milk to try some sort of vegan caramel recipe. I was happily surprised that it worked on the first try, and it’s absolutely amazing! And way better for your health than traditional caramel.
Most of the vegan caramel recipes that I’ve come across use some sort of nut butter, like almond butter or cashew butter, as the base. While nut butters are great, I wanted a vegan caramel recipe that was nut-free because I tend to get nuts in so many other places. Nuts are really good for you if you’re not allergic to them, however, they’re used as a substitution in so many vegan and healthy recipes that sometimes it can feel like nut overload.
This recipe is simple to make and easy on digestion. I ate it every day last week with apple slices and didn’t feel any blood sugar spikes that I normally feel when I eat processed sugar.
The process is easy, you’ll make a date paste then caramelize it for about 10 minutes on the stove–an enamel covered cast iron dutch oven works best. Then stir in the coconut milk and let it simmer and bubble for about 10-20 minutes; the longer you let it simmer the more it will reduce and thicker and sweeter it will be. Turn off the heat, then stir in the salt and vanilla extract. And voila! Vegan caramel sauce or dip. Reduce it less for a sauce and longer for a dip. In the photos here I let it reduce for approximately 18 minutes.
Start with Date Paste
You’ll need to make a simple date paste before you make this caramel.
Date Paste Ingredients:
- 20 whole dates (approximately 2 cups), soaked
- 1 cup date soaking water (the water that you soaked the dates in)
Method: Put your dates in a bowl and cover them with purified water by about three inches, then soak them at room temperature or in the refrigerator overnight. Alternatively, you can do a quick soak and soak them in hot, but not boiling, water for an hour or longer. Once soaked, pit and stem the dates (some might have a stem but most won’t) and add them to your high-speed blender or food processor with 1 cup of the soaking liquid. Blend on high until very well combined into a paste, about 1-2 minutes.
- Date paste (from 20 pitted dates and 1 cup water, see notes below)
- 1 13 ounce can organic full-fat coconut milk
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Preheat a large dutch over over medium heat.
- Add the date paste and allow to caramelize for 10 minutes, stirring about every 30 seconds. (See above for how to make date paste.)
- Turn the heat to medium-high if needed, careful to not let it burn. It will become a few shades darker than when you started.
- While the date paste caramelizes, use the blender or food processor to blend your can of coconut milk into a smooth mixture if it separated in the can; this step is simply to help you stir it into the dates more smoothly.
- Once your date paste is caramelized, add the coconut milk to the pan and stir vigorously; it will bubble up and settle down. If it doesn’t bubble up your pan is not hot enough, simply turn up the heat if that’s the case.
- Let the caramel mixture simmer and bubble over medium to medium-high heat for 10-20 minutes depending on the consistency you want.
- When it’s done, turn off the heat and immediately stir in the sea salt and vanilla extract. Serve or store in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator up to one week.
To make the date paste:
Put 20 Mejool dates in a bowl and cover them with purified water by about three inches. Soak them at room temperature or in the refrigerator overnight. Alternatively, you can do a quick soak and soak them in hot, but not boiling, water for an hour or longer. Once soaked, pit and stem the dates (some might have a stem but most won’t) and add them to your high-speed blender or food processor with 1 cup of the soaking liquid. Blend on high until very well combined into a paste, about 1-2 minutes in a high-speed blender.
Click play on this instagram video below to see what it should look like.