I went dairy-free many years ago. It took some effort because as most people do when they transition into a something-free lifestyle, they lapse. I lapsed into various cheeses. Then cream cheese. And on occasion, ice cream. But above all, I love caramel. I love it. It's soft, sweet, tantalizing, and goes with all sorts of things. It's sweet and a little bitter, rich and robust. And a truly delectable caramel is hard to stop eating.
So, you can imagine my horror when I went dairy-free.
Now, I went dairy-free the first time when there was little to no selection of dairy-free options. There was no Daiya cheese company; no vegan cream cheese substitutes; no dairy-free sour cream. Only rice milk, and in limited options. That was it. That was a long time ago.
We now have so many, many options for those of us who eat no dairy in our lives, but caramel is still somewhat elusive. It usually takes some butter, depending on the recipe, and a healthy dose of heavy cream to round it out. The heavy cream has been the hardest to replace with true accuracy.
I've tried many different kinds and ways to reproduce the effectiveness of heavy cream in caramel. It's a challenge. Making caramel is a challenge. It requires patience and patience and more patience - if you are making a true caramel. It can take up to half an hour to get the sugar to caramelize properly and then, if you add the cream or cream substitute in and it's not just the right temperature, the sugar will seize. Most caramel recipes just have you add all the ingredients together and use the cream and butter to give the caramel all its flavor, but once you've had the deep rich beauty of truly caramelized sugar, you won't want anything else.
I've made my share of different versions of vegan caramel sauces. Some I really liked, some were sort of bland (which the richness of heavy cream usually adds this beautiful depth to caramel sauces), some just didn't thicken properly. And above all, they take time. And did I mention patience?
Most dairy-free recipes suggest the use of coconut cream, the nice, thick, rich, and heavy cream substance that rises to the top of a can of whole coconut milk once chilled. Which, by the way, makes a lovely, soft whipped cream if chilled long enough, then whipped into a fervor. The very same stuff (which Trader Joe's carries in a can and is awesome!) is what Dua Dua Coconut Products uses to make their vegan coco-caramel topping.
I found this little gem at a meat store (strange, right?) that happens to carry a large number of dairy-free and gluten-free items. Who knew? I grabbed it off the shelf and eagerly ran home to dip some of my orchard-picked honeycrisps right into it.
The first thing I noticed was the separation. I wasn't sure what to do with this, but on the label is says separation is normal. No other instructions. So, I just stirred it up and hoped for the best. And the best sure did come. On the separation note, once I stirred it all together, just like organic peanut butter or almond butter, and put it in the fridge between eats, it stayed combined. That was great! I didn't think too much about having to stir it, but it sure was nice to have it stay combined for all the later ingestions.
Dua Dua uses pretty simplistic ingredients to make their coco-caramel sauce - brown sugar, 100 % coconut cream, corn starch, and soy lecithin. When I put my spoon in (I wanted to taste if solo before adding the sweetness of the apple), I noticed it was thick and creamy. Not quite the same as a typical dairy caramel sauce, but it had a great texture to it. The coconut flavor was apparent, but I haven't had a coconut cream-added caramel that wasn't. It added a nice tang to the flavor. But what impressed me most was the richness of the caramelized sugar. I don't know if the makers take the time to make a true caramel by caramelizing the sugar first or if it's the richness of the molasses in the brown sugar they use, but either way, this was a full-bodied caramel. Not too sweet, yet really deep and rich and caramely. Very nice flavor. I ate this with the apples, placed some in a peanut butter swirl for peanut-butter-caramel apple dip, and on other occasions, would just take a small amount on a spoon for a snack. So good.
This is a great find for anyone who loves caramel and doesn't mind the flavor of coconut added to it. It makes me think of goat's milk confections - the basis of the recipe is the same, but it just adds this whole other dimension to the flavor and texture. I love that the ingredients are simple and for those who are seeking a dairy-free caramel sauce, but don't want to take the time, effort and patience to make it, this is a worthy companion to apples, vegan ice cream, or just a silver spoon.