This recipe began as kind of a challenge to myself. Could I make layered, chocolate salted caramel vegan ice cream bars, even though I had never even made vegan ice cream or vegan caramel? It took a couple of tries, but the answer was a resounding YES.
Along the way I learned some techniques for making vegan treats, which I’m sure I’ll use again in future recipes. Even though I’m not vegan, it’s always good to have options, especially when you have friends who are. (If you’re making these for a vegan friend or family member, make sure that the sugar you use is vegan, though. An internet search will tell you which ones are.)
I can’t have you guys thinking that all I eat is kale and granola. Although I do eat a lot of both of those things, I strive for balance. Because even though these ice cream bars are vegan, they’re definitely a treat worthy of What Fat Vegans Eat (yes, that’s a real Facebook group).
Food writer Michael Pollan has a rule that’s applicable here, “Eat All the Junk Food You Want as Long as You Cook It Yourself.” I’m not gonna lie, these are a lot of work! There’s the cookie base (the easiest part), the salted caramel ice cream (which includes making caramel and vegan cream), the assembly, and then the chocolate coating. But are they worth it? Yep, definitely.
This is what nutritionists meant by food pyramid, right?
Coconut is a huge component of these bars. There’s practically every form of coconut: oil, milk, and butter, and you could even substitute in coconut flour for the regular flour to make these gluten-free. (Don’t try to substitute coconut oil for the butter, though–I tried that, and the coating was too oily and not thick enough.) But for me the real star here is cashews. I had no idea they could make such a rich, delicious cream when soaked and blended. Have you ever had cashew cream? Even if you’re not vegan, you should try it!
Salted Caramel Vegan Ice Cream Bars
There are a lot of steps and parts to this recipe, so here’s an overview. First you’ll make a cookie base. Then you’ll make a salted caramel sauce, some of which you’ll use for ice cream, and some of which you’ll keep separate for another layer. Next you’ll pour the ice cream onto the cookie base, let that solidify, then spread caramel sauce over that layer. Finally, you’ll slice up the frozen bars, and dip them in a chocolate coating. There’s some waiting involved in the prep, like the 6-hour soak for the cashews for the cashew cream, and the freezing time for the bars before you can dip them, so read the whole recipe first, and plan accordingly!
Vegan Cookie Base
1 cup all-purpose flour (you can substitute coconut flour)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/8 tsp salt
1-2 Tbsp melted coconut oil
Stir together the flour and salt, then add the maple syrup and 1 Tbsp of the melted coconut oil, and stir until it forms a slightly crumbly and moist dough. It should hold its shape when pressed between two fingers. If it’s too crumbly, add more coconut oil. Press into the bottom of 9×5-inch bread loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Place in the freezer.
Salted Caramel Vegan Ice Cream
Salted caramel sauce
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons water, divided
1 cup cashews
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp coconut oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
Add almond milk, 2 tablespoons water, and cashews to a dish, and soak for at least 1 hour. Pour into a blender and then process at high speed until silky smooth to make cashew cream.
Place sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a heavy saucepan and heat over medium heat. Stir until the mixture comes to a boil. Stop stirring, but swirl the pan occasionally, and simmer until the temperature reaches about 235 °F, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat, and whisk in coconut oil. Gradually add the cashew cream, stirring until combined. Add salt, and stir over low heat until smooth.
Remove 1 1/4 cups of the salted caramel to a glass measuring cup. Set aside and allow to cool.
For the remaining caramel sauce (about 3/4 cup), return the heat to medium, and bring it back to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until thickened. Allow to cool, cover, and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the bars.
1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk (don’t substitute light coconut milk)
1 cup cashews, soaked at least 6 hours
1 1/2 cups salted caramel sauce
Drain the water from the soaking cashews. Combine coconut milk and cashews in a blender, and blend on high speed until very smooth. Add cooled salted caramel sauce, and blend until mixed and silky smooth.
Assemble the bars
Pour 2 1/2 cups of the ice cream mixture onto the previously frozen cookie base. Return to the freezer and allow to solidify for several hours, or overnight.
After the ice cream layer has hardened, remove the caramel sauce from the refrigerator, and heat it in a microwave or stovetop over low heat until it’s just pourable. Pour it over the ice cream base, then spread it with a knife or spatula into an even layer.
Return the bars to the freezer for at least an hour to let that layer harden.
When the caramel is no longer too gooey to work with, remove the bars from the freezer. Place them on a cutting board, and slice them into bars with a sharp knife. Cut them into 8 long bars, then slice these in half to give you 16 short bars. Return the bars to the freezer while you make the chocolate coating.
1 1/2 cups coconut butter
5-7 Tbsp maple syrup, or agave nectar
3-5 Tbsp coconut oil
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Add 2 inches of water to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Turn heat down to low so that the water is simmering. Then set a medium glass or ceramic mixing bowl on top to create a double boiler. Add coconut butter and coconut oil and heat until melted, about 2-3 minutes.
Once melted, add the maple syrup or agave nectar and use a whisk or wooden spoon to mix until fluid and thoroughly combined. Remove bowl from heat.
Add cocoa powder and whisk to combine until there are no clumps.
Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more maple syrup if you like it sweeter. Dip a metal spoon into the chocolate, and note how thick the coating is. If it’s too thick and chunky, add more coconut oil to thin.
Once you have your chocolate at a good consistency, remove your bars from the freezer, and begin dipping. Consider your first one a test to make sure that your chocolate is the right thickness. Add more coconut oil if necessary. I found that the best way to get a nice coating was a double-dipping approach. Grab a bar by the bottom cookie layer, dip it in the chocolate, caramel side down, then place it caramel-side up on a cooling rack to allow excess chocolate to drip away. Then quickly return it to the freezer while you continue dipping more bars. Once you’ve worked through all of the bars, return to the first ones you dipped, and dip their bottoms. Place on their sides on the rack to let the chocolate drip away, then quickly return to the freezer.