Nutty caramel apple slice

I was invited to dinner at a friends house recently, and was asked to bring dessert, something I am always happy to do! As I’m out in Portugal at the moment, I don’t have all my usual kitchen gadgets with me though, so couldn’t go down the raw dessert route, my usual dinner party option.

Thinking about it for a while, I remembered a recipe I posted a few years ago (5 1/2 years to be exact!) called “Simply delicious apple caramel slice‘. As I hadn’t made it for a while, I had to look it up and was somewhat surprised by the ingredients list. It may have been delicious, but I couldn’t count it as whole-food or healthy; it was definitely time to update it.

One of the differences now is that if I want something containing caramel, I use dates as the key ingredient rather than refined sugar and dairy-free spread. Of course it still contains a high sugar content, but it’s unrefined and is still packed with healthy fibre, good for blood sugar control and gut health. Dates also have some magnesium, vitamin B6 and potassium hidden inside as well as a collection of phytonutrients called polyphenols that can help reduce inflammation in the body. As they are super sweet, they really do make a great sugar replacement.

The other key ingredient in the original recipe that needed updating was the fat used. Since starting the Overcoming MS programme, I’ve excluded dairy-free spreads from my diet. Dietary fats are a key issue for people with MS as well as other chronic health problems. Dairy-free spreads are made with vegetable oils, but they go through a complex processing that alters the structure of the oils; this makes them solid rather than liquid. In this unnatural form, they can create more inflammation in the body , amongst other things as it tries to work out whether its friend or foe.

So for baking things like cookies and crumbles, I tend to use alternatives like nut butter. It is more expensive, so I use less of it, plus it gives a deeper, richer flavour. And because it’s just ground nuts, it includes the fibre and more of the nutrients. Mind you, it does also include a high fat content too, so a large slice is of this dessert not going to help if you’re trying to lose weight. Having said that, because of the high fibre content from the nuts, oats, dates and flour, this dessert is REALLY filling, so it’s difficult to eat too much in one go anyway.

Of course, you can stick with dairy-free butter if you so choose – I’ve cut the amount required from the original recipe, so it will still make it slightly healthier, just not quite as high on the whole-food rating scale!

If you want to see the original recipe, click here to check it out. Otherwise, why not have a go at this updated version. You may notice I have a new way of displaying recipes to make it more user friendly. You can also print it out now too to save sticky fingers on your iPad! I hope this is helpful – do let me know how you get on.

Nutty caramel apple slice

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Dessert
Keyword: dairy free, plant based, vegan

Ingredients

For the caramel

  • 280 grams dates
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 250 mls almond or oat milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the base

  • 270 grams wholemeal or gluten free flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 100 grams coconut sugar
  • 150 grams oats
  • pinch salt
  • 170 grams almond butter dairy free butter choice
  • 5-7 tablespoons reserved date water

For the filling

  • 3 medium apples
  • 50 grams walnuts

Instructions

  • To make the caramel: soak the dates in hot water for 10 minutes to let them soften, then drain, reserving the soaking liquid.
  • Place the drained dates in a food processor bowl or blender jar. Add the vanilla essence, dairy free milk and salt and blend until smooth. NB: if you want salted caramel, add a little more salt at this stage.

To make the base:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC. Line a 33x22cm baking tin or dish with grease-proof paper.
  • Place the flour, baking powder, coconut sugar, oats and salt in a large bowl and mix together well with a spoon. Add the almond or butter alternative of choice and rub in with your finger tips to make a sticky breadcrumb-like mixture. Add 5 tablespoons of the reserved date water and bring together into a soft dough. If the mix is too dry, add a little more date water with care – you don’t want it too wet.
  • Cut off 1/3 of the dough and put to one side. Press the remaining dough into the base of the prepared dish or tin, spreading it out as evenly as possible. Pop in the oven to bake for 10 minutes

To prepare the filling and finish off:

  • Wash the apples, cut into quarter then cut into thin slices. Slice the walnuts. When the base is ready, remove from the oven and spoon 1/3 of the caramel over the top, spreading it out to cover. Arrange the apple slices on top, layering them to get a good covering, then scatter on the walnuts. Pour the remaining caramel over the top and spread out then finally drop pieces of the remain dough on top, roughly covering the apple and caramel filling.
  • Place back in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the apples soft when pricked with a knife. Remove from the oven, leave to settle for 5 minutes then serve. Goes well with cinnamon ice cream or dairy-free cream.

Nut butter pastry

It’s day 18 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar – only a week until Christmas! It’s also my son’s birthday, so I will be whipping a chocolate birthday cake for him – all plant-based of course.

Back on day 6, I shared my recipe for mincemeat. Full of unrefined sugars and no added fats, it still tastes, and works, like traditional mincemeat, just slightly healthier.

But of course, mincemeat by itself is no good. It can be used in various recipes, but the key one for this time of year just has to be mince pies. The challenge is what pastry to use?

If you are not managing a health problem, then it is easy – buy ready-made pastry! Brands like Just-rol are dairy-free, using various vegetable fats instead of butter (just make sure you don’t buy an all-butter pastry by mistake!). There are gluten-free alternatives available now too, including one by Just-rol which is also vegan. But they do use palm oil, so if you are trying to avoid that then this might not be the option for you.

You can make pastry at home using Trex, a vegetable fat with similar properties and looks like lard. Similar effects on your body too! This also contains palm oil. It does however make great pastry, so the choice is yours.

None of these options work for me. Following the OMS (Overcoming MS) programme means avoiding products containing saturated fats like palm oil and coconut oil. So I make my own pastry. In the past I’ve used olive oil; it works but it’s a little bland. Christmas is a time of rich, luxurious flavours; nut butter does the job really well, especially pecan nut butter.

You may not have seen pecan nut butter on the supermarket shelves. That’s probably because they are more expensive than other nuts. I bought a jar from an artisan market stall and hid it in the cupboard as it was too much for general usage! You can make your own by lightly toasting a few handfuls and popping them into a high-speed blender or food processor. It takes a little while as you have to keep stopping the machine and scrapping it off the sides to blend again, but once the oils are releases it all comes together beautifully.  

I use the minimal amount of pecan nut butter as a fat replacement as possible. Partly because of the expense, but mainly because it is super rich and I don’t want it to dominate as a flavour over the mince meat. It’s not essential to use pecan nut butter. It will work with almond or cashew nut; I would avoid peanut butter though. And if you are nut-free, then try it with sunflower seed butter instead. 

This pastry comes together as any pastry would, but it bakes a little firmer and is somewhat solid. So please don’t expect to get a light and fluffy casing for your mince pies. It does however taste delicious. Plus, when it’s hard to find a pastry to eat, it somehow tastes even better! It also works just as well with gluten free flour, just make sure there’s a little xanthum gum in the mix to help it stay together.

So if you are struggling to find a pastry to meet your needs, or just fancy trying something a little different, then why not give this a go? If you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Pecan nut butter pastry mince pies (makes 7-8)

  • 125g wholemeal or gluten free flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar (optional but good)
  • 2 tablespoons pecan nut butter (or chosen alternative)
  • 5 tablespoons cold water
  • mincemeat to fill

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the coconut sugar. Add the pecan nut butter and lightly rub in with your finger tips until it’s incorporated and has a bread-crumb like texture.

Pour in 4 1/2 tablespoons of the water and bring together with your hands to form a soft dough. Add the final drops of water if required. Knead gently to make sure everything is well combined, then place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Roll the dough out on a silicon mat or sheet of greaseproof paper and cut out circles to fit whatever baking tin you’re using to make your mince pies. Place in the baking tray inserts and fill with mincemeat. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut out enough lids to top. Brush with soya milk and place on top of each of the pie bases. Press gently to seal and repeat until everything is used up. Cut a small hole in the centre of the pastry lids to let the steam escape and brush with a little more soya milk. 

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the tray and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool.