Sunday, June 22, 2014

The easiest vegan candy bar

Because sometimes you don’t want to break out the candy thermometer.

The average candy bar aisle can be a little barren for vegans. You’d be lucky to find a couple of plain dark chocolate bars, and not even that if you require carob. Pretty much nothing with fillings or add-ins such as nuts, toffee or peanut butter.

I’ve done quite a few posts on homemade vegan candy and chocolates—a couple of years ago I did a full week of posts on the subject for Valentines Day. Some of them are quite elaborate and produce excellent results. But sometimes you just want an easy treat without a lot of fuss and labor.

This recipe is the best balance I’ve found between easiness and still producing a recognizable candy bar with all the elements you miss from pre-vegan store-bought candy bars: layers of toffee, crunch, nuts, peanut butter and chocolate, all without needing a candy thermometer or the bother of hand-dipping in chocolate.
To me, it tastes most like a combination of a Butterfinger and a Heath bar or Almond Roca. Yum!

Safety note: even thought we're not using a candy thermometer here, we're still dealing with hot sugar, aka culinary napalm. So be careful, please, and no kids during the hot sugar part of the recipe. They can help make the cracker sandwiches if they want, but after that they should go play away from the kitchen until it's time to eat. 
Peanut Butter Toffee Bars

Chocolate--Peanut Butter--Toffee--Cracker Candy Squares



1/3 cup turbinado sugar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
3 Tbsp smart balance light
2 Tbsp oil
dash of cinnamon

16 saltine crackers (matzo or ritz style crackers may be substituted)
about 3 Tbsp peanut butter (or other smooth nut butter)
1/3 cup vegan chocolate or carob chips

Optional: chopped nuts or crushed candy canes


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Filling the crackers with peanut butter

Make little sandwiches out of the crackers and peanut butter by spreading half the crackers with about a teaspoon of peanut butter each and placing the other half of the crackers on top of them.  Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray, and arrange the cracker sandwiches in a single layer across the bottom of the pan, breaking them if necessary to fit.

Place sugar, maple syrup, smart balance light, oil and cinnamon in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 2 ½ to 3 minutes, stirring once a minute, until the mixture forms large foamy bubbles.

Foamy bubbles

Toffee poured over crackers
Wearing oven mitts, carefully pour the sugar mixture over the cracker sandwiches. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 5-6 minutes, until the butterscotch is fairly brown (but not black).

While the bars are baking, melt the chocolate or carob chips in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds. This took me about 1 minute 15 seconds, but that may vary.

When the bars come out of the oven, pour the melted chocolate on top and spread it out in an even layer using a spatula or the back of fork. Sprinkle with nuts or candy, if using. Let cool until the chocolate is completely hard.

Flip the bars out on to a plate and break them into pieces. They should break into fairly even squares along the borders of the cracker sandwiches.

Note: if you cook the sugar mixture for a shorter amount of time in the microwave, it will come out less like hard toffee and more like soft, oozy caramel. However, the bars will not hold together as well or come out of the pan very easily. It’s your call.

vegan candy bars

As far as the toppings are concerned, you can achieve a number of different effects. You may find you like salted, toasted or even spiced nuts better. The candy cane version would be nice during the holidays.

Vegan Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

These are intended to be a vegan substitute for those  classic bake-sale cookies that have a Hershey's kiss or peanut butter cup pressed in the middle. With peanut butter stirred right into the chocolate, it tastes like a mix of the two.

Unlike jam thumbprints, you don't really want to fill these before baking. After is better.

Vegan Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies, fresh from the oven


Vegan Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies


Your favorite vegan cookie recipe—can be sugar cookies, shortbread, peanut butter cookies, chocolate cookies, oatmeal cookies, etc—scaled to make about 18 cookies.

heaping 1/3 cup chocolate or carob chips
2 Tbsp peanut butter (or other nut butter)
1-3 Tbsp soymilk


Bake cookies as usual. While they are still warm and soft, press the back of a ½ teaspoon into the middle of each cookie to form an indentation.

Oatmeal cookies, with indentations

Microwave chocolate/carob chips, peanut butter, and soy milk together for 1 to 1½ minutes, stirring and mashing every 30 seconds, until melted and smooth.

Spoon the chocolate mixture into the indentations in the cookies. Let them cool to room temperature and store in the refrigerator.

Note: Use the smaller amount of soymilk for firm, Hershey’s kiss-like chocolate centers. Use the higher amount for soft, ganache-like centers.

Cooling and setting

Variation: Sprinkle the chocolate centers with chopped nuts, coconut flakes or crushed candy canes before the chocolate filling sets, or press a vegan marshmallow on top.

Sugar Free Vegan Cashew Shortbread Cookies

Sugar free desserts can sometimes suffer from texture issues due to the fact that sugar substitutes can only replace the sweetness of sugar, not its chemical or physical properties. One of the physical properties of sugar is a tenderizing effect on gluten, without which sugar-free desserts can become dense, gummy or bread-like.

There are different ways to combat this problem. One would be to lower the gluten content by cutting the wheat based flour with gluten-free flours. Another is to add oat bran, ground nuts or cocoa powder, all of which have the ability to interrupt strands of gluten and prevent them from getting too long and tough.

These shortbread cookies use a third option: limiting gluten development by restricting water content. Gluten is already present in the flour, but it does not develop its rubber band-like physical properties until combined with water and mixed or kneaded. Keeping water content low keeps the cookies tender and crumbly, the way shortbread should be.

Vegan Cashew Shortbread Cookies


Sugar Free Cashew Shortbread Cookies


1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
Stevia or splenda equivalent to 6 Tbsp of sugar
1/8 tsp cardamom
dash of salt
5 Tbsp oil
4 tsp water or soy milk
½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp coconut extract

¼ cup cashew pieces  (not whole)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together the flour, cardamom, salt and sweetener (only if sweetener is dry. If sweetener is liquid, add it with the wet ingredients). Measure in the wet ingredients and stir to combine, using your fingers if necessary.

Roll dough into a 1½ inch wide log and slice off 3/8 inch rounds. Take each round and press and shape with hands to firm it up. Place cookies on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle tops of cookies with cashew pieces and press down lightly to help them stick.

Pressing the cashews to the tops

Bake for about 8-10 minutes, rotating cookie sheet once, until cookies are golden around the edges and fragrant. Don’t let the cashews burn.

Let cool and enjoy. Makes about 20 small cookies.


The cashews can be replaced with any other nut as well as sesame seeds or coconut flakes.
Shortbread cookies can also be made in a wide variety of flavors by changing the extracts and spices.

If you wanted to try these cookies with real sugar instead of sweetener, you should be prepared to add a little extra water or soymilk to get the dough to come together.

These went over pretty well. They’re fast and easy, so it’s easy to whip them up at the last minute to round out your dessert platter in case of an unexpected diabetic guest : ). The recipe can be halved or quartered if you only need a few cookies.