When it comes to vegan desserts, these Vegan Caramelitas are among the best I’ve ever had! A golden brown sugar crumb filled with layers of chocolate and dairy-free caramel makes these quick bar cookies an irresistible addition to any dessert spread.
The first time my college roommate caught me eating her homemade caramelitas, she suggested (rather mildly) that I could just take one and eat it if I wanted. You see, she had put them in the freezer for safekeeping and invited me to help myself anytime–but in my half-hearted attempt at self-control, I politely declined her invitation every time. Of course, what actually ended up happening was that when nobody was around, I would tiptoe into the kitchen, take the box out of the freezer, cut off a single edge from a single caramelita, then sneak the box back as if it had never been touched.
And then I would repeat this process several times a day.
Needless to say, by the time the bars had inexplicably shrunk to the size of postage stamps and my roommate realized what was happening, she was probably confused (and a little more than annoyed) at my “thank-you-no-thank-you” routine. To this day, I still have no idea why I insisted on sneaking around like some sort of Caramelita Bandit all those months of living together. What I do know, though, is that stumbling across Food & Wine’s wildly popular Chocolate-Oat Caramelitas recipe several years later was one of the best moments in my sweet-loving adult life.
It’s no exaggeration to say that these Vegan Caramelitas are among one of the best–and easiest–desserts that you will ever make, right up there alongside my No-Bake Cookie Butter Avalanche Bars and my ultra-favorite Baked Brownies. With gooey, luxurious dairy-free caramel and semisweet chocolate sandwiched between two layers of golden brown sugar oat crumble, these bars are wildly addictive and I’m almost embarrassed that you haven’t already thrown your phone or laptop aside to start whipping up a batch stat!
While the original recipe calls for regular butter and caramel, I made my version vegan-friendly as an added bonus for those out there who either have dietary restrictions or are just looking for a great way to health things up as we head into the throes of the holiday season. I also used a brilliantly simple 5-minute Vegan Caramel recipe from dear Aimee at Wallflower Kitchen (though not to be confused with this Wallflour kitchen!), but if you’re pressed for time you can always use a premade dairy-free jar from the store as well.
The final thing I’ll say about these Vegan Caramelitas is that while they’re a definite lesson in practicing moderation (and maybe not being a really weird roommate?), they also serve as a great reminder that it’s okay to indulge once in a while and just enjoy what you enjoy. By the time I finished taking the photos that you see in this post, I only had five squares left because I kept nibbling while rearranging them and it suddenly occurred to me how lucky I am to still be doing something where my biggest challenge is to not, you know, eat all the food subjects before I get a chance to photograph them. And if that’s not something to celebrate this crazy, bonkers year, I don’t know what is.
So take a little time for self-care this holiday season, whip up a batch of these caramelitas, and enjoy!
For the caramelitas
- 1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup vegan margarine, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3/4 cup dairy-free semisweet chocolate chips
For the vegan caramel
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup vegan margarine, room temperature
- 1/4 cup soy milk (or dairy-free milk of choice)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the caramelitas:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper and lightly grease all edges. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add margarine, oats, and sugar, then cream together until a crumbly mixture forms.
- Pat half of mixture into prepared baking pan and bake for 10 minutes.
- Sprinkle chocolate chips and evenly pour vegan caramel (recipe below) over oat crust, then crumble the remaining dry mixture on top until filling is covered.
- Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until edges have set and oat crumble turns a light golden color. Remove from oven and cool completely before slicing and serving! You can also store these cookies in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days and in the freezer for up to a month.
For the vegan caramel:
- In a pot over medium heat, bring sugar, margarine, and soy milk to a gentle boil. Allow mixture to continue boiling and stir occasionally until mixture thickens (approximately 5-7 minutes). Turn off heat, then stir in vanilla.
- Allow to cool to room temperature. If making beforehand, you can also refrigerate caramel in an airtight container for up to 3 days--make sure to bring back to room temperature before using.