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Date-Caramel Shortbread Cookie Bars (Gluten Free +Vegan)

‘Tis the season for overindulging in sweet baked goods, so let’s make a sweet treat with wholesome, healing ingredients. If we are going to eat sugar, which who isn’t, then let it be real sugar that doesn’t have its nutrients stripped away like white sugar. Dates, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and unrefined cane sugar make great sugar alternatives. It is nice to bake a treat you can share with your most cherished humans during the holiday baking season. This vegan and gluten-free shortbread cookie recipe is made to be delicious and gut-friendly so you can fully be present for your holiday celebrations. 

These shortbread cookie bars are three layers of decadent goodness. Made with buttery shortbread cookies, gooey date caramel, and rich dark chocolate ganache, topped with candied nuts and seeds. The original recipe is from the Goodness Is… blog. Every ingredient is naturally sweet and made of whole ingredients. Completely vegan, gluten-free, and guilt-free. It is a healthy way to indulge your bliss with a healthier cookie. I highly suggest eating one with a warm cup of coffee or dark tea on Christmas morning or bringing them to a cookie exchange party.

*Specific items you will need: 

A food processor, a square 9-inch pan, parchment paper, digital scales for more precise measuring, all the ingredients listed below, and other basic kitchen utensils. The perfectly square pan is essential if you want your bars to come out evenly, I learned that the hard way. 

Gluten-Free Cookies 

I am not typically gluten-free, but I do notice a difference in my digestive health when I try to limit my gluten intake. So, typically, I will bake things with gluten-free flour. My go-to gluten-free flours that are inexpensive are organic white rice flour or organic oat flour. But I do love using corn flour, almond flour, coconut flour, or a gluten-free flour blend, depending on what I am baking. 

I combined brown rice flour with pecan-based flour for the gluten-free shortbread dough. This combination has a super nostalgic packaged pecan butter cookie you would buy at the grocery store. It is like a traditional shortbread cookie but with much cleaner ingredients that don’t make you feel like junk. 

Vegan Caramel Made With Dates

Caramel made with naturally sweet dates and creamy coconut milk is the star of this recipe. After the date caramel mixture is warmed in a pan for a few minutes, it will puree like butter in the food processor, creating a date paste texture that tastes exactly like a soft caramel candy. In my opinion, it is one of the best caramels I have ever had. It has me asking why all caramel candies aren’t made with dates—a match made in culinary heaven. There are so many ways to use this delectable concoction in other recipes. I cannot wait to experiment with it more. 

Chocolate Ganache 

The melted chocolate combined with a bit of coconut oil makes this chocolate ganache topping super thick and creamy, which helps hold the three layers of the cookie together. I used my favorite vegan chocolate bar brand, Evolved, which is sweetened with coconut sugar. You can also use carob and lightly sweeten that with some maple syrup. Or use any kind of chocolate that you prefer.

Health Benefits of Dates

Dates are world-renowned for their complex, sweet flavor and medicinal health benefits. Used as a food staple and for their medicinal values throughout the Middle East for thousands of years. They help prevent chronic diseases because of their anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial properties.

DATE-CARAMEL Vegan + GLUTEN FREE SHORTBREAD RECIPE

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Resting Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 43 minutes
Course Dessert
Servings 18

Ingredients
  

date-nut crust

  • cup/100g pecans
  • 115 g about 7 plump pitted Medjool dates
  • ¾ cup/105g superfine brown rice flour
  • ¼ cup/30g tapioca starch
  • ¼ tsp fine rock salt
  • 6 Tbsp/85g cold vegan butter or coconut oil cut into ½-inch pieces

date caramel

  • cup/90g canned full-fat coconut milk
  • cup/90g melted virgin coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • tsp fine rock salt
  • 240 g about 13 plump pitted Medjool dates

carob/chocolate glaze

  • 150 g finely chopped unsweetened carob or chocolate pieces or chocolate chips 70%
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • nut topping
  • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp/60g toasted pecans pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp raw sesame seeds
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp dried rose petals optional

Instructions
 

preparation

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Place the pecans on one cookie sheet and the topping mix of pecans and pistachios on another cookie sheet, and bake cookies for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Meanwhile, grease the inside of an 8-inch square pan with coconut oil and line it with baking paper, letting some hang over the sides. Set aside.
  • To make the date-nut shortbread cookie dough, combine the dry ingredients: pecans, dates, brown rice flour, nuts, tapioca starch, and salt in a food processor and pulse ten times until the dates and nuts are pulverized. Add the butter and pulse five times until the dough becomes a dry crumble and sticks together when pressed. If it feels dry, add a tsp of ice-cold water.
  • Firmly press the crust into the bottom of the prepared pan, making sure it is evenly spread. *Place an extra square piece of baking paper over the top, and run a flat-bottomed cup over to even out. Use the edges of the baking paper to fold over and run your finger along to create level sides and corners.
  • Bake for 22-25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature while you prepare the rest of the layers.
  • To make the date caramel, combine the coconut milk, coconut oil, vanilla, salt, and dates in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 1 minute, then remove from heat.
  • Let the dates steep in the coconut milk for 10 minutes, then puree in a food processor. Be patient- it will take 3 – 5 minutes to puree to a fine and creamy texture. Scrape the date caramel onto the cooled crust and spread evenly. See above*.
  • To make the carob glaze, add the carob/chocolate pieces and coconut oil to a small bowl that is heatproof. Fill a small saucepan one-quarter full of water and bring to a simmer. Place the bowl on top and stir until melted. Pour over the date caramel and spread evenly.
  • To make the nut topping, oven medium heat, place the toasted nuts and sesame seeds in a small pan, add the maple syrup and stir until all are coated and maple syrup is absorbed, 1 – 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.
  • Sprinkle the nuts, seeds, and rose petals over the top of the carob. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator for 2 hours or until the carob and caramel harden. This is important; otherwise, it will be difficult to cut.
  • Lift the shortbread from the pan using the baking paper, cut it lengthwise into four equal pieces, then cut each piece into quarters. Please take a look below for cutting tips. Once cut, store them in the refrigerator in a air tight container.

Notes

Notes

  • Leftover coconut milk can be measured in separate 90g bags and frozen for future use!

Best Way for Cutting The Bars 

  • Make sure the shortbread has been refrigerated for at least 2 hours and the carob and caramel have fully hardened. Otherwise, the middle will collapse when cutting.
  • Use a ruler for the most precise results, measure the squares with a ruler, and use the tip of a knife to make small marks where you’ll slice. 
  • A sharp knife is the best tool for slicing. Before you cut, dip the knife in hot water and wipe with a dry kitchen towel, or coat the blade with cooking spray and wipe it clean with a paper towel before making each cut. Repeat this process between slices.
  • When it’s time to cut, press the knife blade down firmly and then drag it back in a single motion. 
Keyword caramel, chocolate, gluten free, refined sugar free, shortbread, vegan

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