Alternatively I had thought about making the title for this post (said as if you were about to sneeze) “Ca-shew! Ca-shew! Ca-shEEEEWWWWWWW!!!”. However, this would’ve been a reference to a certain family member who totally sneezes like this (although making the more traditional “Achoo” sound. They might be nuts, but they’re not that nuts 😉 ), and only a couple of people would’ve gotten the reference (and maybe even they wouldn’t have, so I might’ve been literally only writing it for myself), and so, I opted for the more universally appealing (because you all totally loved this headline right? RIGHT???) literary reference. But don’t worry, this one may not reference sneezing, but Hold on (Holden), it still has a COUGH(field) reference 😉 (OK, I’m the first to admit that that one was a bit of stretch, but you have to concede that in your heart of hearts, way down deep, you’re just jealous that you didn’t think of that first).
Anywho, moving on to the post at hand – Caramel cashew bars!! Ok, to be perfectly honest and forthright with you all, I was a little disappointed in these (so much so that another title considerations was “The Cashew and the Cry” 🙁 ). The caramel cashew topping was delicious. The base however….I liked the flavour, but I don’t think the cookie base got baked long enough so it wasn’t as firm/ crunchy as I wanted it to be. The issue here was that I had to bake the base for a while before dumping the cashews and caramel sauce on top and then returning to the oven to finish baking. Downside of this is that you can’t see whether or not the cookie part is done anymore. I was so worried about burning it (and baking the caramel for too long and having it turn into teeth-shattering (aka dental industry supporting) shards of sugary goodness), that I took it out of the oven too early.
Now, according to any other baking blogs I follow, what all these people seem to do when they make a mistake is bake said item a million times and only share the perfected version with their readers. I tried to be good like these people, I made three – THREE!!! – half batches of this recipe, and this final version with the slightly underbaked base was by far the best. The first one I had to throw out (NOOOOOO!!!! I tried everything to think of ways of salvaging it somehow, but it just wasn’t really possible. I was happy that I’d at least done only a half batch, but still, dumping it into the compost just felt so heartwrenching, like I was throwing out my little sugar baby 🙁 Pour little caramel bars, it wasn’t you, it was me. Seriously. I’m so sorry for disfiguring you beyond repair. The kinder thing was apparently just to kill you off like a bad actor on a soap opera…although “bad actor” seems a bit redundant in this context 😉 ). I didn’t cook the caramel on the stove for long enough, so when it came out of the oven, it made the base a soggy soupy mess, and the sugar got kind of granular.
The second one was technically edible – and I did save it, but it needed to be kept in the freezer, because here too, the caramel just didn’t cook long enough before going into the oven, so it never quite set up. So although normally, this third one would’ve seemed like a horrible failure as well, comparatively it was amazing, and I just didn’t have it in me to try again. I can only reject so much dessert before I start to feel evil.
After a ringing endorsement like that, you’re sure to try this recipe now right? 😉 If you are a brave soul who chooses to try and make these, and you want to prove how much more awesome than me you are, I’d recommend (although I wouldn’t trust my recommendations at this point either) baking the cookie base until it’s at least lightly browned. Alternatively, I recommend making something else.
Despite all the trials and tribulations I went through with these, sometimes you need a little failure in your life to make you appreciate the successes all the more right? RIGHT???? (‘m clearly a ca-shew in for delusionally lying to myself to feel better).
Yield: 20 bars
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons vegan cream cheese
- 1/2 cup vegan butter
- 2/3 cup cane sugar
- 2 teaspoons cadamom
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup vegan white chocolate chips (optional)
Caramel Cashew Topping:
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon vegan butter
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons canned coconut milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 3 cups cashew halves
- 2 tablespoons bourbon or whisky
- Preheat oven to 350F and line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper (there’s caramel involved here which means it’s more likely to stick to your baking vessel. Feel free to just grease it instead if you don’t have parchment paper, but don’t come cryin’ to me if you end up unable to easily remove your bars from the dish).
- In a large bowl, mix together the cream cheese, butter, sugar, salt, caradamom, cinnamon and vanilla with an electric hand mixer until fully combined and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With hand mixer on low speed, slowly incorporate flour. Stir in white chocolate chips (if using).
- Press dough firmly onto the bottom of the baking dish, spreading evenly to the edges (I used the bottom of a glass to really get it flat and even). Bake for 15 minutes.
- Immediately after you put the dish in the oven, start making the caramel.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the sugar on medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Use a spatula to occasionally stir the sugar and ensure it’s not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Don’t stir too often or too vigorously, just enough to keep it from burning (browning = good, burning = bad). It’ll take a little bit to melt completely (5-10 minutes), so be patient.
- Once your sugar is pretty much fully melted and a medium golden colour, immediately remove from heat and stir in the butter (mixture will violently bubble, but that’s what you want).
- Stir with your spatula until the butter and sugar are completely melted together (this might take a couple of minutes).
- Now pour in the coconut milk, bourbon and sea salt. Stir until combined.
- At this point, about 15-20 minutes will have gone by, so check your cookie base to see if it’s lightly bronwed. If so, remove your cookie base from the oven, sprinkle the cashews evenly over the surface before pouring on your bourbon salted caramel (otherwise continue baking until base is slightly browned). Place back in oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely before garnishing with more sea salt if desired.