I have mentioned before that I'm a sucker for eating sweet and savoury together (my most classic example is eating salt and vinegar chips in the same mouthful as chocolate), so Salted Caramel is a no-brainer for me. It's sweet/savoury heaven. I just had to come up with a caramel consistency that was firm enough to hold it's shape in a bar, but soft and gooey enough to actually resemble caramel.
And then there was the chocolate- my first attempt at making my own rather than melting down dark chocolate. I consulted a few other recipes and it took a few attempts make adjustments and find a flavour I was happy with. The ingredients are simply cocoa butter, coconut oil, cocoa (or cocao) powder and raw honey. I get my cocoa butter from my local organic food store- Loving Earth brand. You can also find it online. If you don't want to use cocoa butter, you can replace it with more coconut oil. I have made it this way and personally find the coconut oil flavour a little to much in that quantity, but it will still work for this chocolate bar. I prefer raw honey for all it's amazing nutrients (the heating that most supermarket bought honey undergoes is done to stop it crystallising, but it destroys most of the nutrition). In this recipe the honey will get heated slightly in order to be able to whisk it into the other ingredients, but not so much to kill off all its goodness.
Having said all that, you could use melted 70% cocoa (dairy free) chocolate for this recipe if you don't want to make your own. I'd recommend using 2 x 100g bars - one for the top and one for the bottom. Don't forget it will only be refined-sugar free if you use naturally sweetened chocolate such as Loving Earth.
Anyway, enough explanations...let's get on with the cooking!!
For the caramel:
- 1/2 cup almond spread (unsalted). Make sure you stir it to distribute the oil evenly through the jar.
- 2 teaspoons finely ground sea salt
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla paste (or extract)
- 4 tablespoons raw honey
- 20 Medjool dates (2 tightly packed cups)
- 100g / 3.5oz cocoa butter (equivalent of 1/2 cup when melted)
- 110g / 3.8oz / 1/2 cup coconut oil
- 1/2 cup cocoa or cocao powder (preferably pure, fair trade)
- 1/4 cup PLUS 2 Tablespoons honey
- 1/2 cup roasted salted cashews for the top (you could use peanuts if you prefer...I can't because I have a son who's allergic!). You must use salted cashews to get the full 'Salted Caramel' flavour.
- Start the chocolate first. In a double-boiler (glass/ceramic/metal bowl over a pot that has a little simmering water in the bottom), melt together the cocoa butter and coconut oil. Stir occasionally until completely melted.
- Add the honey and whisk until smooth.
- Take the bowl off the double boiler and SIFT the cocoa into the liquid. Whisk until incorporated or smooth.
(Note : Please stick with this order when making the chocolate...I found out the hard way that mixing up the method produces disastrous results!)
- Allow to cool slightly while preparing the tin.
- Use a square or rectangular baking tin, or Pyrex or ceramic dish NO BIGGER than 20x20cm (8x8 inches). The dish can be smaller than this but not bigger or there will not be enough chocolate to adequately coat the bottom and top of the bars. Obviously, if it's smaller, the bars will be thicker than those in my pictures (I used a 20x20 tin).
- Line the dish with either baking paper or cling wrap. Cling wrap is best if you have a Pyrex or ceramic dish, as it will stick to the sides of the dish, and it also creates less 'dents' in the side of the bars. If you're using a tin that cling wrap won't stick to, grease the corners and sides of the tin so that baking paper will stick well to it. You don't want it shifting around when you pour the chocolate in.
- Once the tin is lined, give your melted chocolate another good stir and pour about half of into the bottom of the dish. Place in the fridge or freezer on a flat surface and leave it until it is rock-hard. In my fridge this takes about 1 1/2 hours. If it isn't ready, spreading the caramel on top will destroy the bottom layer (I also found this out the hard way!!)
- Leave the remaining half of the melted chocolate at room temperature until you need it.
- Meanwhile, make the caramel : In a food processor, add all the ingredients except the dates and blend until totally smooth.
- Add the dates one at a time (I de-seed them as I go) for a gradual blend (most processors won't cope with mixing that many dates all at once).
- Scrape down as necessary and blend until completely incorporated and smooth.
- Chop up your cashews or peanuts into small, rough pieces and set aside.
- Once the chocolate from the fridge is ready, gently spread the caramel over the top. Please move slowly and carefully- the caramel is quite sticky and you can destroy the chocolate if you're too heavy handed. Smooth out the top of the caramel as much as possible.
- Give the remaining melted chocolate another really vigorous whisking and make sure all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Pour over the top of the caramel.
- Sprinkle the cashews as evenly as possible over the top of the chocolate. Use every little crumb, as this is where much of the salt will be, and it's very important in the overall flavour.
- Return to the fridge for at least 2 hours. Once the top layer is completely firm, gently remove the baking paper or cling wrap and cut into desired size pieces. It really is super rich and I cut mine up into at least 20 pieces. I've had people eat pieces half that size and still think it was enough!! Store it in a container in the fridge (if it's not all consumed in the first offering!!).
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