Did you love caramel and candy apples as a kid?
I sure did, though as a juvenile junk-food-junkie, I opted to eat the caramel or candy – but leave the apple behind (so sad)! Don’t believe this ‘Queen Bean’ had such a penchant for junk? … Proof that my sweet tooth started pretty darn early… frosting was my gateway to mars bars, fun dip, Mackintosh’s toffee, and pixy sticks.
These days I prefer a treat without the processed sugars, chemicals and colors… and a caramel apple that won’t pull out a filling! (The candy of my youth has provided comfortable living for quite a few dentists!)
In my prevegan days, I once made more traditional caramel apples. They were messy, sticky, and SO much clean-up. I can assure you these caramel apples are far easier – yes, some prep and cleaning, but much simpler.
These apples are made with a date caramel, which is pretty effortless compared to stovetop caramel – it just requires a couple of steps (soaking the dates, then draining and processing with a few other ingredients). Once the caramel is made, you smooth a layer around your apples of choice, and add a coating (if you like). Here is the caramel, up close!
Let’s talk about the apples for a moment…
I think one of the reasons I never cared much for the actual apple part in those candy and caramel apples of my youth is because it was typically a McIntosh apple. I’m not a fan of McIntosh apples to begin with – a little sour and mealy for my liking, I prefer a crisp, crunchy, sweet apple like Gala, Fuji, Spartan, or Sweet Orin. So, as a kid, to bite through a sweet, sticky caramel coating into a sour apple… not my idea of food fun. Might be appreciated by older kids and adults, but for me – did NOT work.
You can choose any apple you like for these treats, but I opt for one of the sweeter, crisper varieties mentioned above. Then… for coatings. In these photos you’ll see I”ve used coconut (unsweetened), and also grated chocolate (use a vegetable peeler to get some shavings from a chocolate bar). Obviously if using the dark chocolate these apples aren’t entirely sugar-free – but with a good quality, higher cocoa content dark chocolate, the sugar content is much lower than a milk chocolate. Then, do you see the other coating? That is almond meal! I think it is fabulous with the caramel. You could also combine the almond meal with dark chocolate, that would be incredible. At first, I wasn’t sure if the almond meal would fly, but it DOES. And, because it is much finer than chopped nuts, it holds to the caramel very well!
I think I’ve talked enough, it’s time to snack! Enjoy…
Healthy, Sugar-Free Vegan Caramel Apples gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free
1 1/2 cups pitted dates, lightly packed
1/2 cup plain non-dairy milk (to soak dates)
3 1/2 – 4 tbsp raw cashew butter (see note and can substitute)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (or the seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean)
1/8 tsp (rounded) sea salt
couple pinches freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
4-6 organic apples (or more, depending on size)
popsicle sticks or spoons
Coatings: unsweetened shredded coconut, grated chocolate, mini chocolate chips, chopped dried cranberries, almond meal!, chopped pecans, etc.
First, combine the dates with the non-dairy milk in a bowl. Let soak for about an hour. Then, drain the dates, gently pushing the excess milk through a sieve. In a food processor, combine the dates with the cashew butter, vanilla, and sea salt (and nutmeg, if using). Process until very smooth, scraping down the processor bowl as needed, and puree again. This will take several minutes. Transfer to a container and refrigerate. When ready to coat your apples, insert a popsicle stick into the stem end of each apple (if you don’t have any sticks handy, try inverting a spoon so you insert the handle into the apple and you hold the rounded ‘spoon’ end). Then, simply lift the apple and use a butter knife or spatula to coat your apples with the caramel (not too thick as the caramel is very sweet, but thick enough for it to be substantial and for the toppings to adhere). Place in a container or on a tray or baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and serve, or refrigerate for up to a day before serving.
Nut butter Notes: I really like raw cashew butter in this caramel for a couple of reasons. First, it is a very thick/dense nut butter, so it helps make the caramel a little thicker. Second, it has a mellow, soft taste that works well in this caramel. But, you could substitute regular cashew butter, or raw/regular almond butter, or macadamia butter. So, for best flavor I’d choose either cashew, almond, or macadamia nut butter. If you have a nut allergy, you can either opt for sunflower butter (and maybe add some cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice – it IS pumpkinfest! – to the mixture to bump up the flavor), or omit altogether and just have a date paste. This also works if you want to reduce the fat content in the caramel – you can either reduce the nut butter or omit it altogether.
Kitchen Tip: This makes a softer caramel, easy for spreading. If you’d like a firmer caramel, simply omit the soaking step, and combine the dates with the cashew buttter (or other nut butter), using the full 4 tbsp (1/4 cup). The mixture will form into a ball in the food processor. You can use it to roll for little chewable caramels for children that can be left as is, or coated in grated chocoate (or ground chocolate chips).
Leftovers?: If you have leftover date caramel, it can be kept in a container, refrigerated, for a week or longer. Use it as a spread for toast, sliced apple or pear, muffins, crisp breads, etc.
Have you ever made caramel apples? What is your apple of choice?
This recipe has been submitted for the FoodiePages CHEF’S BOX Challenge – wish me luck!