I love nearly everything about Halloween: the pumpkin carving, the practically month-long marathon of horror movies on TV, and the march of excited, costumed little kids through my neighborhood when the big night finally arrives. Most of all, I love that Halloween encourages festive baking and homemade treats, but doesn’t come with too many heavy-duty cooking or entertaining obligations.
Funny enough, candy is probably my least favorite part of the holiday. It’s not that I don’t have a sweet tooth (I most definitely do!), but my favorite desserts tend to be dense and filling and rich, rather than sugary bites. To me, “treat” means a fat wedge of cake, a slice of just-baked pumpkin or banana bread, or a warm serving of crisp or cobbler. Candy is fun, but baked treats are more satisfying.
Not surprisingly, as a kid, I gravitated toward the richer side of the confection spectrum: candy bars and peanut butter cups, rather than red vines, gummy bears, or candy corn. Now that I’m older—and no longer at the mercy of trick-or-treat offerings—I can create Halloween treats as I like them. This chocolate peanut butter tart is a grown up, supremely satisfying answer to the (non-vegan) Reese’s peanut butter cups that were my all-time childhood favorites—the candies I cherished and saved carefully for last in my bucket of loot each October.
When I was first thinking about this recipe, I considered making both the base and the top out of dark chocolate. It would have been a literal rendition of a giant peanut butter cup, but I’m glad I went with a chocolate crust on the bottom of the tart instead. Its lightness and crunch offsets the gooey richness of the peanut butter and chocolate layers, and it makes the whole dessert feel more textured.
I first attempted a riff on my standard pie crust, with cocoa powder and sugar worked into the pasty. It didn’t have the crispness I wanted, so I did a little research, and settled on Stella Parks’ chocolate tart shells as inspiration for my next version. It worked like a charm. The crust is reminiscent of chocolate shortbread: sturdy enough to hold its shape, but buttery and tender to eat.
Choose between either vegan butter or solid coconut oil for the crust. I prefer the butter’s texture and recommend it, but if you can’t locate it (or would rather not use it), coconut oil will work. If you go that route, you’ll want to bring the tart to room temperature (post-chilling/setting) before slicing and serving, as coconut oil pastry can get rock-hard in the fridge. You’ll also want to add a half teaspoon of salt to the crust (most vegan butter is salted, so it eliminates the need for extra).
I tested the recipe with all sorts of filling bases: coconut cream and oil, silken tofu, agar, and more. In the end, a combination of good, old-fashioned vegan cream cheese and peanut butter was the clear winner—no other combination firmed up as nicely while also maintaining a rich, creamy consistency. Vegan cream cheese is relatively easy to find these days in major grocery chains and health food stores—you may even have your pick of brands (Tofutti has been my go-to for years now). But if you’re really in a pinch, and have a high-speed blender (like a Vitamix) at home, you can use one cup of soaked and drained cashews instead of the 8 ounces vegan cream cheese.
The tart is plenty sweet, but is balanced by a nice dose of saltiness. It hits a sweet spot between grown-up sophistication and unabashed, Halloween nostalgia. Feel free to get a bowl of traditional candy and confections ready for little ones, but then help yourself to a slice of peanut butter chocolate bliss as you settle in for a spooky night at home.
For the crust
- 10 tablespoons (140 grams) vegan butter (room temperature) or solid coconut oil*
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) cane sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups (180 grams) unbleached, all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (24 grams) cocoa powder
For the filling and glaze
- 1 cup (190 grams) creamy peanut butter (Jif or Skippy is fine!)
- 8 ounces (227 grams) vegan cream cheese
- 1 5.4-ounce can coconut cream (or the cream from a can of coconut milk, but be very careful to use it straight from the fridge and drain off the extra liquid—you’re aiming to use the cream only)
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 ounces (113 grams) vegan dark chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 cup non-dairy milk (coconut, almond, and soy all work well)
- 2 tablespoons cane sugar
What's your favorite Halloween candy from childhood? Any grown-up versions you're making tonight?