I considered waiting until the holidays to share these salted tahini date caramels with you, but they are so swoon-worthy that I just had to post the recipe right now. Plus, if you can get your hands on caramel-like Barhi dates, which won't be in season for long, they will make these confections all the more special. I like to think of them as the heavenly offspring of caramels and halva, without the need for stirring a pot of bubbling hot sugar; in fact, they don't even contain any refined sugar, or flour, or dairy.
If you're like me, when your farmers' market Date Guy says that Barhi dates will only be available for another week or two, you greedily buy up as many boxes as you can carry. Then you go home and dream up a thousand glorious ways to serve these soft, chewy, melt-in-your-mouth dates... That's how these sweets came about. If you have access to Barhis, I highly recommend them (even if just for eating out of hand). Don't worry if you can't find them, however; Medjool and other soft, moist dates make wonderful caramels, too.
While these don't taste exactly like traditional caramels — again, think of sesame halva if you have trouble wrapping your mind around the tahini part! — they have that great creamy, chewy texture. They also come together really easily and don't require any time on the stovetop. Simply combine dates with tahini and a little coconut oil. I also like to add a pinch of cardamom. Press the mixture into a dish, sprinkle with sea salt, and freeze until firm. That's it!
I hesitate to make a big deal of the fact that this is (or can be), a raw recipe because you needn't follow any particular diet to enjoy them. But if you prefer to eat raw or refined sugar-, dairy-, and gluten-free, then these fit the bill! I also have two wonderful cookbooks to thank for inspiration: Practically Raw Desserts by Amber Shea Crawley, which contains a recipe for Salted Tahini Caramels, and Pomegranates and Pine Nuts by Bethany Kehdy, which includes a recipe for Date & Tahini Truffles. My recipe is a sort of mash-up of the two.
Tahini-Date Salted Caramels
Makes about 18 candies
1 cup pitted dates (see Recipe Notes)
1/2 cup tahini
2 tablespoons coconut oil (room temperature)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/8 teaspoon fleur de sel or other finishing salt
Combine the dates, tahini, coconut oil, and cardamom in a blender or food processor. You should have a very smooth, creamy, and thick paste.
Transfer the mixture to a parchment-lined loaf pan (or another equivalent container) and use a spatula to press it down evenly. Sprinkle with salt.
Freeze until firm. Remove from the pan and cut into bite-size pieces.
Store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a month.
Dates: For a superbly soft and chewy texture and caramel-like flavor, I recommend Barhi dates; however, you can also use Medjool dates and other soft, moist varieties.
(Images: Emily Ho)