Homemade Date-Sweetened Vegan Caramel Apples are a quintessential autumn treat! They’re covered a dairy-free caramel-like sauce, dipped in crushed nuts, and then drizzled in melted chocolate. Enjoy them for dessert or an afternoon snack. This easy recipe is gluten-free and oil-free.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Autumn is my favorite time of year. Growing up, one of the things I always looked forward to during the season was caramel apples. I just loved biting through sweet, chewy caramel to a crisp, tart apple.
When I was young, my mom and I would buy caramel apple kits and make the treats ourselves. The kits came with popsicle sticks and sheets of premade caramel that we would melt over apples. I remember them not tasting as good as store-bought caramel apples, but they were fun to make.
My love for caramel apples followed me throughout my 20s as well. The treat would make its appearance in grocery stores in mid-September, and I would start hoarding them. I don’t remember the brand that made them, but they came three to a pack, and the apples covered in gooey caramel and then rolled in crushed peanuts. They were absolutely snack time perfection. If caramel apples weren’t in stock, I would buy the little tubs of caramel sauce for apple wedge dipping.
And then, at the age of 29, I went vegan. Years went by had a caramel apple. Traditionally, caramel contains milk, so store-bought vegan caramel apples are impossible to find. My autumn snack of choice has become apple slices slathered in crunchy peanut butter. This new snack is reminiscent of my beloved caramel apples since they were covered in peanuts, but they’re not the same thing.
This year, I was determined to recreate the caramel apples from all those years ago in vegan form. When I took the Rouxbe Essential Desserts course a few years ago, I did make a caramel sauce, but it was a little tricky and involved boiling different sweeteners. Dates can be caramel-like in nature though, and I also learned how to make date paste in the course. How about combining date paste and peanut butter for a healthier treat?
These vegan caramel apples are super easy to make. Some forethought is required though, as the dates need to be soaked ahead of time.
Once the dates are soft, mix them together with a peanut butter, vanilla extract, and a little dairy-free milk. A high-speed blender or food processor will do the trick. I like to use my Blendtec’s Twister Jar, since it’s works well with thicker blends. Whichever you use, you’ll need to stop and scrape down the sides with a spatula a few times, since the mixture will be thick. It will mix up to be pretty smooth and creamy, but don’t worry if it’s not totally smooth – little chunks of dates are okay.
Place a popsicle stick or apple stick into each apple, and then spread the date mixture on each one. Roll each in the chopped nuts and then drizzle on the melted chocolate. Place the caramel apples in the fridge to set for about an hour or so.
There are two kinds of dates that I often see at the grocery store – medjool and deglet noor. Deglet noor are the most popular, and they’re the ones that are often sold with the name of just “dates.”
Deglet noor dates are small and firm with a sweet flavor. Medjool dates are larger and chewier, with more of a caramel flavor. They’re softer, so they lend themselves well to raw dessert recipes and creams. I like to soak them for about 15 minutes when using them in recipes where they need to be blended. (Make sure you remove the pit!) Because the dates are blended into a paste in this recipe, soak them until they’re really soft. You can leave them soaking overnight in the fridge if needed.
Spread the peanut butter-date paste mixture on to your apples, roll them in chocolate, and then drizzle them with melted chocolate! The caramel apples of my youth didn’t have a chocolate drizzle, but I’m a firm believer that everything is better with a little chocolate.
The amount of Vegan Caramel Apples you end up with will depend on the size of the apples you start with. If your apples are on the larger side, this recipe will make 6 caramel apples. If they’re smaller, you’ll end up with 8 caramel apples.
I like to use granny smith apples in this recipe. Not only do I love their bright green hue, I also love the flavor combination of sweet caramel and tart fruit. Any type of apple can be used, though.
I’ve used peanut butter in my Vegan Caramel Apples recipe, but any nut butter will do. I haven’t tried it, but I’m sure they’re just as tasty with sun butter, too. I’ve used chopped peanuts, but you can use any type of chopped nut. You can even roll them in cacao nibs or toasted coconut flakes.
These Vegan Caramel Apples are super messy – both to make and to eat. But that’s what makes them so much fun! Don’t worry about making them look pretty – just slather them with the caramel, roll them in peanuts, and enjoy!
Date-Sweetened Vegan Caramel Apples
- 1 cup pitted medjool dates (12-14 dates)
- ¼ cup peanut butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2-4 tablespoons unsweetened dairy-free milk
- 8 popsicle sticks or apple sticks
- 8 green apples
- 1 cup chopped peanuts
- ½ cup non-dairy chocolate chips
Place the dates in a medium-sized bowl with enough water to cover them. Allow them to soak until they are soft. This will take an hour or two. They can also be left overnight in the fridge.
Drain the dates, and then place them in a high-speed blender or a food processor fitted with an s-blade. Add the peanut butter, vanilla extract, and two tablespoons of non-dairy milk. Process until smooth and creamy. Some small chunks of dates are okay. This could take a few minutes, and you may need to stop and scrape down the sides of your blender or food processor a few times. If you’re using a high-speed blender, start on low and then gradually increase the speed to high.
Place a popsicle stick or apple stick through the stem of each apple and line a plate or baking sheet with parchment paper.
Use a rubber spatula to spread the date mixture on an apple. Then roll it around in the chopped nuts. Place it on the parchment-lined plate or baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining apples.
Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler. (I fill a small saucepan with water and then place another pan that’s about the same size on top. I turn the burner on low and stir constantly.)
Drizzle the chocolate onto the apples. You can do this with a pipping bag, or you can just drizzle it on using a spoon or fork.
Place the apples in the fridge to let them set. Refrigerate until ready to serve.