Author Notes: Date shakes. Date cakes. Recently, dates started taking over the dessert section, which makes sense since they add natural sweetness and a pop of sugary crystals to recipes. Because they’re sticky, they act as a perfect binder for granola bars and cookies. And when heated in a pan, they also make a great stand-in for caramel.
Although homemade caramels are generally low in sodium as long as you skip salted butter and salt, this recipe is a perfect example of how easily you can boost the flavor of a dish just by switching up the ingredients—like dates for sugar, coconut oil for butter, and coconut milk for heavy cream. If you want to see what the date hype is about, give this recipe a try and get ready to be impressed. Cover your date caramels in chocolate and chopped candied ginger, crushed nuts, or toasted coconut—or even crumbled Salt-Free Bacon (page 93) for a real low-sodium surprise.
Recipe reprinted from Low-So Good by Jessica Goldman Foung
Makes: 12 caramels
tablespoons unsweetened finely shredded coconut
tablespoons coconut oil
cup [180 g] pitted dates, finely chopped
cup [60 ml] canned light coconut milk
teaspoons vanilla extract
cup dark chocolate chips
cup 1/ 2 cup [70 g] chopped salt-free ginger candy (or pistachios, walnuts, or extra toasted coconut flakes)
- Put the shredded coconut in a large sauté pan or skillet and toast over medium-high heat until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Watch carefully and stir often to get even color. Pour onto a plate and set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add 1 Tbsp of the coconut oil and the dates. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the dates melt into a caramel-like consistency, about 5 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk, 1 tsp of the vanilla, and the toasted coconut and cook until the mixture comes together and thickens slightly, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Place a 5-by-13-in [12-by-33-cm] piece of parchment paper on the counter with the long edge facing you. Pour the date-caramel mixture onto the left side of the parchment, about 1 in [2.5 cm] from the edge. Using a spatula, flatten and spread the caramel until it makes a 4-by-4-in [10-by-10-cm] square, about 1 in [2.5 cm] thick. Fold the right side of parchment paper over the caramel square. Place on a cookie sheet or flat plate and put in the freezer to harden for at least 1 hour.
- Put the chocolate chips, remaining 2 Tbsp coconut oil, and remaining 1/ 4 tsp vanilla in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly until the chocolate melts, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. (You can also melt the chocolate in the microwave, heating for 30 seconds, stirring, and repeating another one or two times until melted.)
- Cut the date caramel into 1-in [2.5-cm] squares. Use a spoon or your fingers to dip the caramels into the melted chocolate, and then return them to the parchment paper. Sprinkle the tops with the ginger candy. Place the dipped caramels back into the freezer for at least 30 minutes before serving.
- Store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 month. Reserve any leftover chocolate in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week and reheat for more dipping fun.
- Variation: For those that don’t need to watch their sodium strictly, sprinkle sea salt on top of the caramels while the chocolate is hardening. For those watching their sodium closely but wanting to spice things up, add a sprinkle of cayenne pepper or salt-free chili powder.