The Sweet Swap: Chewy coconut caramels
I can never say no to a sweet; I’m pretty convinced I have a separate stomach just for dessert! When Amanda from Chew Town told me about The Sweet Swap – which I had seen described by one person as a ‘Kris Kringle for food bloggers’ – I just knew I would have to take part. It was all for a good cause too, with the registration fees going towards providing banana plants to Ugandan families.
Everyone had to make a sweet and send it out to the three other bloggers they were matched with, and in turn received sweets from the three different bloggers who had been matched with them.
Here are the treats I received, which were all absolutely delicious and very cutely packaged:
Chocolate, almond and raspberry kisses (gluten free) from Martine at Chomp Chomp
Peanut butter and chocolate chip fudge from Christine at Cooking Crusade
Salted butter caramels from Swah at Love Swah
Tara had specified dairy free, which had me stuck for quite a while. No butter! No cream! No white chocolate! What was I to do? I trawled Google for answers, but nearly every recipe I found was in one of two camps: it was either some sort of raw/paleo monstrosity consisting of goji berries, cacao nibs and birdseed, or a normal recipe with strange non-dairy substitutes like highly processed margarine (ick) and soy condensed milk.
I ended up modifying a recipe for chewy caramels by substituting the cream for the naturally creamy goodness that is coconut milk. There was also some butter in the recipe, which I figured was more for taste rather than texture, but just to play it safe I swapped it out for an equal amount of lightly flavoured oil.
Chewy Coconut Caramels (dairy free)
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon lightly flavoured oil (I used light olive oil)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cup caster sugar
- 1/4 cup golden syrup
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 24cm x 24cm square cake or slice tin
- Baking paper
- Candy thermometer
- Large, heavy-based saucepan
- Small saucepan
- Pastry brush
- Balloon whisk
- Glass or small bowl of water
The most important thing to remember when making sweets is to be both prepared and vigilant – as anyone who has ever burnt caramel will attest!
Line the dish with baking paper so that excess paper hangs over the edges.
Heat the coconut milk in the small saucepan until it is hot but not boiling. Set aside.
Combine the sugar, golden syrup and water in the large saucepan and stir until the the sugar is evenly mixed through. Don’t be tempted to use a smaller pan as the sugar will bubble up when you add the coconut milk later on. Dip the pastry brush in water and brush down the sides of the pan so there are no sugar crystals above the surface of the mixture. Clip the thermometer to the side of the pan so that the sensor is immersed in the sugar. You may need to have your thermometer on a bit of an angle, like I did.
Cook the sugar mixture over medium to medium-high heat and let it come to a boil. Do not stir. The golden syrup gives it a caramel colour even when the sugar hasn’t caramelised yet, so you will need to rely on the temperature to know when it is ready. Heat the sugar until it is anywhere between 122°C and 160°C: the higher the temperature, the stronger the caramel flavour. I went up to about 145°C. This will take about 20 minutes, so be patient, and make sure you keep an eye on the sugar. Try not to get distracted by cats/iPhone games/trying to take photos of the caramel.
Remove the caramel from the heat. Slowly pour the warm coconut milk into the caramel, whisking as you go. The sugar syrup will bubble up quite a bit: don’t freak out, just keep whisking until all the milk has been added.
Return the pan to medium to medium-high heat. Let the caramel come back to a boil without stirring. Remove from heat when the caramel reaches 120°C.
Quickly whisk the vanilla into the caramel. If you are making salted caramels, now is the time to add your salt as well.
Immediately pour the caramel into the paper-lined tin. Tap the tin on the bench a few times to remove any air bubbles. Leave the mixture out for an hour to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for 4 hours at least hours until set.
Use the excess baking paper to lift the slab of caramel out of the tray and on to a chopping board. Use a sharp knife coated in cooking spray to cut into squares.
Wrap the caramels in squares of baking paper, twisting the ends closed. If the caramels start to get sticky, return the mixture to the fridge to re-set. I had to do this about 15,000 times (must have warm hands or something? Guess I’ll never be a pastry chef…)
The caramels will keep at room temperature for two weeks, but they do tend to get sticky so refrigerate if possible.