Caramel shortbread squares

If I told you these are vegan and raw, you would probably be put off and think they would taste like a hippie shop with incense, tie-dye prints covering the walls and Tibetan music. But if I said that they’re almost better than the real thing, that they have zero trans fats, zero refined sugar and zero nasties, and that you’re guaranteed to eat more than one, even if you think you don’t do vegan food, let alone sweets, you would think I am exaggerating. I would be the first person not to choose something vegan and raw, trust me. I am all about trying to eat healthy meals so I can earn cake and chocolate. But the truth is that I actually made myself feel unwell from eating a massive chocolate bar a couple of weeks ago, so unwell I was put off by sugar and promised myself to really cut down and only eat it as a treat on weekends. The first three days weren’t easy, I caught myself day dreaming about biscuits and buttercream. But on the fourth day, I felt so full of energy throughout the day that I didn’t reach the 3 pm all-I-think-about-is-sleeping coma at work. On my second week of massively cutting down sugar, I decided to make a healthy snack and that’s how these were born. Nervous as I was to share them, I didn’t even want to try them beforehand in case they tasted vegan-gross. Until I did. And oh-my, they don’t disappoint! These beautiful squares are full of goodness AND flavour. The base is crumbly and nutty and just sweet enough. The middle tastes like caramel, thanks to the dates, and has a little saltiness from the nut butter (I used 3-nut butter, with hazelnuts, cashews and peanuts), whilst the top chocolate layer is delicate and sweet, yet with the delicious bitterness of raw cacao.

You can certainly make the base with other types of nuts and use peanut butter for the middle layer. It’s all down to taste really.

Happy baking! Or actually, freezing.

Ingredients (makes 20 squares)
250g brazil nuts
100g coconut oil
180g dates
2 tbsp raw cacao powder
4 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp nut butter

Method
Base
1. Grind the brazil nuts in a  food processor
2. Melt the coconut oil.  Add half the coconut oil to the brazil nuts, and set aside the other half as you will need it for the top layer.
3. Mix the ground brazil nuts, half (2 tbsp) of the maple syrup and half the coconut oil, until well incorporated.
4. Push the mixture down into the base of a baking tray until about 1.5cm thick – don’t worry if it does not come to the edge as it will hold its shape, just make sure that the edges are straight. Put in the freezer so it sets whilst you make the other two layers.

Middle layer
1. Finely chop the dates. Add to a food processor with the nut butter and a splash (approx 1 tbsp) of water). Blitz until mixed.
2. Spread over the base layer and place the tray in the freezer again.

Top layer
1. Mix the cocoa powder with the remaining coconut oil and maple syrup, until well incorporated. Warm up if the coconut oil is starting to solidify, you will want it liquid to spread over the other two layers, though not boiling hot.
2. Cover the ‘caramel’ layer with the chocolate mix and place back in the freezer for 15 minutes. Remove from the freezer and cut in small squares. Keep in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to a week.

 

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