This recipe has been in the works for quite awhile, as I hemmed and hawed over making a thick homemade vegan caramel for the umpteemth time (let’s just say my first few attempts were less than stellar). After working on my 12 Days of Dairy-Free Cookies, I was finally ready to dive back in. And I’m so glad I did! I nailed the caramel and am hoping my easy tips translate to successful cookies for you as well!
The homemade caramel is the trickiest part of this recipe; the cookie dough itself is super easy and doesn’t require chilling. For the caramel, you’ll add sugar and water to a medium saucepan, and, without stirring at all (ever), bring the mixture to a boil until amber in color – no thermometer required! You’ll take it off the heat, slowly pour in the coconut cream and vanilla, and then return the caramel back to the heat, bringing it to a boil. Stirring occasionally, you’ll boil the caramel for 5-10 minutes or until it has thickened in texture. I used a wooden spoon and would remove the spoon after each time I stirred. I knew my caramel was ready when it cooled to a thick and sticky caramel on the spoon.
Some of the ingredients I like for this recipe:
Coconut cream is a thick and creamy alternative to heavy cream in this caramel. It adds a slight coconut flavor to the caramel, which I think is actually reminiscent of a Samoa cookie when paired with the chocolate thumbprint cookie!
White granulated sugar is the best sugar to use for this easy caramel. Since it’s white, you’ll be able to tell exactly when your boiling sugar reaches the amber color that we’re after.
Coconut sugar is my favorite, better-for-you sugar. It’s unrefined, low GI, and makes for a great 1:1 replacement for white sugar in most baking recipes.
Olive oil adds necessary fat and moisture to the chocolate cookies. Feel free to use any vegetable oil, but I do not recommend using coconut oil as it tends to bake up crispy and makes cookies spread.
- 1/2 cup coconut cream (from a can that has been shaken)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup white granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup natural cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup coconut sugar
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 large egg OR 1 flax egg (1 Tbsp flaxseed meal + 3 Tbsp warm water)
Make the Caramel:
- Combine the coconut milk and vanilla extract; set aside. Prepare a work space on your counter with a wooden spoon and folded towel or hot pad holder.
- In a medium, heavy bottom saucepan, add the granulated sugar and then the water, dispersing the water over the sugar. Very lightly swirl the pan, if need be, to soak all the sugar in the water. Place on medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, without stirring or touching the mixture, and cook until sugar is amber in color - this can take up to 15-20 minutes but it will burn very quickly once color starts to form.
- Immediately remove sugar from the heat and place on your towel. Slowly pour in the coconut milk and vanilla while gently stirring with a wooden spoon. The mixture will bubble up and be very hot, so be careful! Gently stir the caramel until it stops bubbling.
- Return caramel to medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Boil caramel for 5-10 minutes or until it thickens, stirring occasionally. You can check the thickness of your caramel by pulling out your wooden spoon and seeing how thick the caramel is as it's cooling on the spoon. Around 8 minutes was the perfect time for me (using a gas range).
- Transfer caramel to a heatproof bowl to cool.
Make the Cookies:
- Preheat your oven to 350°F and line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk until combined; set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut sugar, olive oil, and egg (or prepared flax egg). Add wet ingredients to dry and gently mix until well combined.
- Scoop dough balls 1.5 Tbsp in size and roll into smooth balls. Place eight dough balls on your baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 4-5 minutes. Immediately make wells (or "thumbprints") in your hot, baked cookies, using any rounded tool - like a measuring spoon or the cap to a bottle.
- Allow cookies to cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet, re-press your wells (if needed), and then transfer to a cooling rack. Continue once more until all cookies are baked.
- Once your cookies have cooled, spoon the cooled caramel into the wells. If your caramel is too thick to easily spoon, simply transfer it to a microwave-safe jar (or bowl) and heat until it's thin enough to spoon.
- Top the caramel with sea salt flakes and allow cookies to set. Once set, you can store cookies in a single layer in a structured, airtight container (not plastic bag) at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
- Letting the sugar boil without stirring or otherwise disrupting it ensures that your caramel won't form unwanted sugar crystals.
- 1 flax egg = 1 Tbsp flaxseed meal + 3 Tbsp warm water. Mix and allow to thicken for at least five minutes.