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Caramel is made by cooking sugar with water until it thickens and browns. So when I tell you I've got a recipe for raw caramel made without refined sugar that tastes just like chewy caramel candy, you are probably going to think I've lost it. I mean, that was my reaction when I stumbled this caramel recipe from The Kitchn. But like most recipes I end up making, it had a pretty picture and I had the ingredients on hand, so I said why not and gave it a go.
Holy moly y'all. If I didn't tell you it was different, I honestly don't think you would pick up on the difference. It even gets stuck in your teeth like caramel candy! The only slight variance is that it's not as cloyingly sweet as real caramel candy, a good thing if you ask me.
So, what's the secret to this faux-caramel? Just three - dates, coconut oil, and the curveball, tahini.
Now, I know right now you're a little bewildered by the tahini addition, but can we talk about dates for a minute first? For years, I've been using them to sweeten everything from desserts to smoothies to salad dressings to energy bars. Naturally low in moisture, dates are concentrated in sugar. But there's no need to fear nature's candy - dates are packed with more than enough nutrition to make up for their high sugar content
Dates are rich in fiber, with about .5-1.5 grams per date, depending on the type. Fiber slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream, so dates won't spike blood sugar the same way added sugars do. In fact, as sweet as they taste, dates are considered low on the glycemic index. Dates are also a rich source of polyphenols, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Sweetness-wise, 1 small date is equal to about 1 teaspoon of sugar. Add 1-3 whole dates to the blender with a smoothie or salad dressing to sweeten it. Or, make a quick date paste, a convenient sweetener to have on hand for cooking and baking. Two thirds of a cup is considered equivalent to 1 cup of sugar, just make sure you adjust your ratio of wet/dry ingredients to compensate.
Now, on to the surprise ingredient - tahini. Made from ground sesame seeds, tahini is normally used in savory applications. But when you think about it, tahini is basically peanut butter made from sesame seeds, so sweet applications make total sense. The tahini I used in this recipe was sent to me by Soom Foods, who creates tahini from a special type of sesame seed grown in Ethiopia. They said this type of seed lends a superior flavor and texture, but honestly, I didn't expect to notice much of a difference. Umm, I was wrong. It had the smoothest texture you could imagine, and even had a hint of sweetness without any added sugars. In fact, I found myself getting a little spoonful whenever a sweet craving hit! I should probably just go ahead and pick up their chocolate flavor for next time!
By itself, the raw caramel was pretty amazing. Eat it by itself or cut it into little square candies. But, apparently I lack restraint, so I stuffed it into a fig, dip it in dark chocolate and sprinkled on some sea salt. No regrets here.
- 1 cup dates, chopped
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- Pinch of salt
- 30 dried figs
- 3/4 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Flaky sea salt for garnish (optional, but not really)
- Place dates, tahini, coconut oil and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Blend until creamy and smooth.
- Using a small paring knife, cut a slit into the center of each fig. Stick your finger or the tip of a butter knife into the slit and wiggle it around to form a small well. Stuff it with as much caramel as it will take.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave, stopping to stir it every 15 seconds or so. Dip each fig into the chocolate then place on the parchment paper lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Refrigerate until chocolate is hardened, about 5 minutes, or until ready to eat.