Making Pumpkin Butter and Vegan Caramels

In an attempt to get more organised about healthy eating I bought a crock pot this week. My theory was (is) that if my working and sleeping hours could also be effectively used to create nutritious family meals, I'd have the whole not-eating-cereal-for-dinner-beacuse-there-really-isn't-anything-else-available thing licked. 

As it turned out, the first thing I've used my crockpot to make is confectionary. Plus ca change, and all that. 

Anyway, the point is that I needed the crockpot to make pumpkin butter because pumpkin butter is the base ingredient in the vegan caramels I'd decided to make for the #teamshowroom girls' Valentine's treat this week. 

On its own the pumpkin butter has turned out to be a delicious spread for toast and muffins. I can also see that it would make a wonderful hostess gift, especially in the colder months as it's so warmly spiced.

As would the vegan caramels, which easily won themselves a place in the category of 'best things ever'. They're also sticky, delectable, creamy on the inside, salty-sweet on the outside, subtly spiced, satisfying, simple, and pretty much healthy.

How To Make Pumpkin Butter in a Crock Pot

1.  Make unsweetened pumpkin puree. In North America, I'd just used a big can of pumpkin instead, but that's not so easy here in Australia. Instead, I just peel and dice a whole butternut squash, pop it all in a large pyrex bowl, cover it with a dish, and microwave it for 8-10 minutes. It's easy, and because the pumpkin steams in it's own moisture it always ends up the perfect texture (not too watery).  

2. Fill the crock pot. Just pile all the cooked pumpkin in. 

3. Add the spices. I like my pumpkin butter well spiced and use:

  • one tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • one tablespoon of ground ginger
  • one teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • one cup of darkest brown sugar

4. Cook the Pumpkin butter. Set the crock pot on low or medium heat. Pop on the lid and leave to cook for 6 - 8 hours, depending how thick you like it. It does help  the pumpkin to all break down if you stir with a wooden spoon occasionally. 

Hint: Crock pots heat up from the sides, so if you're worried about your pumpkin butter burning, use a spatula to scrape the paste away from the edge and you'll be fine to leave it overnight. 

How to Make Vegan Pumpkin Spice Caramels

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces (1 1/4 cup packed) medjool dates, pitted
  • 2 tbsp pumpkin butter (or sub plain pumpkin puree with 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice added in a pinch)
  • 2 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/3 cup raw pepitas

Instructions:

1. Preheat your oven to 350 and place the raw pepitas on a baking sheet. Begin soaking your dates in hot water. Wait 10 minutes and then drain thoroughly.

2. Bake the pepitas for 5-7 minutes, until they're fragrant and slightly toasty. Remove set aside.

3. Add dates to the food processor and mix until a ball forms. Then add in the pumpkin butter and mix.

4. While mixing, stream in melted coconut oil until a paste forms, scraping down sides as needed. If the paste is too thick and won’t mix, add 1-2 tbsp of hot water - this will depend on the size and stickiness of your dates. Taste and add a little extra ground cinnamon or ginger if needed. 

5. Transfer the mixture to the freezer to chill/harden for at least 2 hours, preferably 4-6. You want it to be tacky enough to allow for handling and rolling into balls.

6. Once the paste has set, remove your date caramel from freezer. Scoop out rounded tablespoons and roll each one between your palms to form a ball. Roll each ball in the bowl of pepitas to coat the outside, then sprinkle the tops with sea salt. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet or plate and pop back in the freezer to set.

7. Keep your caramels in the freezer for freshness - they won’t harden. Enjoy straight from the freezer, or let set at room temp for 5 minutes before serving. Or wrap individually in squares of parchment paper like bonbons if you plan to transport or gift them. 





Catherine Roberts