I’m testing some dishes for holiday dinners so I decided to pull out all the stops with one called Pine Nut and Chocolate Caramel Bars. What that title doesn’t say is that there’s a hint of orange in the crust. Orange, chocolate, caramel, and pine nuts. Hold me back, I’m ready to soar!
I saw the recipe by Samantha Seneviratne in a spring edition of Fine Cooking magazine. Like a schoolgirl with a teen idol magazine, I’ve had this page open and laid out where I could see it every day over the last couple of months. I studied the fine ingredients, imagined serving it to my family. Plotted out a vegan version. Laughed in the mirror pretending to be the kind of person who serves Pine Nuts in my desserts for the holidays. “Would you like a slice of my Pine Nut and Chocolate Caramel Bars?” I say to my imaginary holiday party guests. “I found the recipe in Fine Cooking magazine.” They smile, impressed with my impeccable taste and wishing they knew where I got that fabulous dress. Yes, I live a Walter Mitty sort of fantasy life. It’s much better than reality.
Besides, I had no choice but to live in Fantasyland because my schedule has been too hectic for a recipe like this. One that took a little more time. A little advanced planning. But now that it’s said and done, I can say the waiting was well worth it.
I started with a little zest. Oranges are not looking their best this time of year, but never mind that. All I needed was a little zest from its peel. And from what I’ve read lately, there are health benefits from eating orange peel. It may be one of the few health claims this recipe can make so I’m gonna go with it.
Next I made the crust. I call for Earth Balance Buttery Spread and Earth Balance Coconut Spread in this recipe. I know these can be a little more expensive, but I think they’re definitely worth it in this recipe.
Then the crust is coated with a fine layer of dark chocolate. Ghirardelli Chocolate Chips were the only kind that would work for me today. Dark, rich, and velvety smooth.
And finally, that caramel topping. This recipe has some expensive ingredients and takes a little more time than others, but I wouldn’t recommend it to you unless I wasn’t completely and totally in love with it. Every single bite was pure delight. And every minute on the elliptical machine to make up for the calories will be worth it as well. That’s saying a lot!
Pine Nut and Chocolate Caramel Bars
For the Crust:
- ½ cup Earth Balance margarine
- ½ cup Earth Balance coconut spread
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon orange zest, finely grated
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 ½ cups flour
- 1 cup chocolate chips, dairy-free
For the Caramel Topping:
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- ¾ cup Cream from chilled coconut milk
- 3 tablespoons Earth Balance margarine, sliced into several thin pieces
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup pine nuts
Heat your oven to 350˚F. Spray a 13X9 baking pan with vegetable spray.
In a food processor combine the margarine, coconut spread, sugar and orange zest. Pulse to combine ingredients and then scrape the bowl to bring down any ingredients that have risen to the edges. Continue processing the mixture for one to two minutes or until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl mix the flour and salt and stir to combine. Then slowly add the flour mixture to the food processor and pulse until everything is well incorporated. You’ll have a course dough once it’s all said and done.
Place the dough in your prepared baking pan and press it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Bake at 350˚ for 20 minutes. The crust will be a nice toasty color when it’s ready. Set aside and let it cool completely.
In the meantime melt the chocolate in a microwave. I did two cycles: one for 22 seconds followed by a stir and another for 11 seconds. Then let it sit for a minute and stir. It should be nice and melted at this point. Spread half of the melted chocolate over the cooled crust. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate evenly across the crust.
To make the caramel, pour 3 tablespoons of water in a saucepan, followed by the sugar. Press the sugar with a wooden spoon to make sure it’s all saturated by the water. Now, turn up the burner and cook over medium-high heat. For my stove, I have to learn toward the high end of the burner to get a nice caramel color to the syrup. You don’t want to stir this mixture, but you can jiggle the pan a little if you need to help the ingredients cook a little more evenly. You should cook this anywhere from 6 – 10 minutes to get the desired caramel color. If it takes longer than this, you’ve probably got the setting too low.
The next step takes a little precision. Premeasure 3/4 cup of the creamiest part of a can of coconut milk. I keep a can of coconut milk in the fridge to help separate the cream from the runnier juice at the bottom of the can. You’ll want to slowly add the coconut cream to the caramelized sugar all the while using a whisk to stir it together. Be careful because the hot syrup will sizzle and you don’t want to get burned from the steam. Once you’ve incorporated the coconut cream, next add the margarine and salt. Stir and then bring this mixture back to a boil and cook for about a minute.
Set that hot caramel sauce aside to allow it to cool for just a minute or two. You don’t want any burned fingers! Once it’s cooled a bit, pour the caramel sauce over the chocolate-coated crust. Make sure it’s evenly distributed across the crust. Then spread the pine nuts on top. Bake the bars in the oven on 350˚ for approximately 25 minutes. You should notice that the caramel is bubbling while it’s cooking. You’ll know it’s done when the caramel is more firmly set.
Remove from oven and top with remaining melted chocolate. Serve to adoring party guests, family, friends. Or even have a piece for yourself. You’re worth it!