How to Make Vegan Caramel

Caramel is a popular ingredient in baking, known worldwide for its sweet, rich flavour and golden colour. It’s used in a wide range of desserts, from cakes and cookies to pies and tarts. However, for those of us following a vegan lifestyle, making caramel can be a challenge due to the traditional recipe’s reliance on dairy-based ingredients like butter and cream. Additionally, it’s just quite difficult to get right (even for non-vegans!)

Despite these challenges, vegan caramel is not only possible but also delicious when done correctly. By using alternative ingredients, vegan bakers can achieve the same creamy texture and decadent taste that non-vegan caramel offers.

In this article, I’ll explore the importance of caramel in vegan baking and the specific challenges of making vegan caramel. I’ll also provide a step-by-step guide on how to make vegan caramel, along with helpful tips and variations to try. With this ultimate guide, you’ll be able to make perfect vegan caramel for all your baking needs.

What is the Difference Between Caramel and Vegan Caramel?

Traditional caramel recipes typically include dairy products, which provide a creamy texture and contribute to the flavour profile. Vegan caramel, on the other hand, is a version of caramel that is made without any animal-derived ingredients.

To make vegan caramel, non-dairy alternatives are used to replace the dairy components. Common substitutes include coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk, and other plant-based creamers or milk substitutes. Vegan butter or margarine can also replace the dairy butter traditionally used in caramel recipes.

The process of making vegan caramel is similar to traditional caramel-making: sugar is heated until it caramelizes. However, the choice of non-dairy ingredients ensures that the end product is still flavourful and has a similar consistency to regular caramel.

vegan caramel

Ingredients Required for Vegan Caramel

Let’s jump straight in! To make vegan caramel, you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar: The main ingredient that gives caramel its sweetness and colour.
  • 1/4 cup water: Used to help dissolve the sugar and prevent it from burning.
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy milk: Provides the creamy texture and richness that butter and cream would typically offer in traditional caramel recipes.
  • 1/4 cup vegan butter: Helps to create a smooth and velvety texture in the caramel.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract: Adds flavour and aroma to the caramel.

Note: You can also add a pinch of salt to balance out the sweetness and enhance the flavour of the caramel.

When choosing non-dairy milk and vegan butter, make sure to select products that are unsweetened and unflavoured. Some good options include almond milk, soy milk, and oat milk. Vegan butter substitutes can be found in most supermarkets, and they are typically made from plant-based oils like coconut or soybean oil.

vegan caramel

Step-By-Step Instructions for Making Vegan Caramel

  1. In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 1 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water.
  2. Place the pot over medium-high heat and stir the sugar mixture until the sugar dissolves completely.

Tip: Make sure that no sugar crystals remain on the sides of the pot, as this can cause the caramel to crystallise.

  1. Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring and allow the mixture to boil.
  2. Clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pot and let the sugar mixture cook until it reaches 350°F (175°C).

Tip: Be patient during this step, as it may take a while for the sugar to reach the right temperature.

  1. Once the sugar mixture has reached 350°F (175°C), remove the pot from the heat.
  2. Add 1/2 cup non-dairy milk, 1/4 cup vegan butter, and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract to the pot.
  3. Whisk the mixture vigorously until everything is fully combined.

Tip: The mixture will bubble up and steam when you add the liquid ingredients, so be careful.

  1. Return the pot to medium heat and stir the mixture continuously for 5-7 minutes, or until the caramel thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
  2. Remove the pot from the heat and transfer the caramel to a heat-resistant container.

Tip: The caramel will continue to thicken as it cools, so don’t worry if it seems a little runny at first.

  1. Allow the caramel to cool completely before using it in your favourite vegan baked goods.

Troubleshooting tips:

  • If the caramel is too thick, you can add a little more non-dairy milk to thin it out.
  • If the caramel is too runny, you can return it to the heat and cook it for a few more minutes until it thickens.
  • If the caramel turns grainy or crystallises, you can add a small amount of water and cook the mixture again until the sugar dissolves.
vegan caramel

Variations of Vegan Caramel

Here are some ideas for customising your vegan caramel recipe:

  • Salted Caramel: Add a pinch of sea salt to the caramel mixture while cooking, and sprinkle a little more sea salt on top of the finished product for a sweet and salty treat.
  • Chocolate Caramel: Add 1/4 cup of cocoa powder to the caramel mixture when adding the non-dairy milk and vegan butter for a rich and decadent chocolate flavour.
  • Coffee Caramel: Dissolve 1 tablespoon of instant coffee in the non-dairy milk before adding it to the caramel mixture for a delicious coffee-infused caramel.

Ideas for using vegan caramel in baked goods:

  • Vegan Caramel Apple Pie: Use your homemade vegan caramel as a filling for a delicious apple pie. Simply slice your favourite apples and mix them with the caramel before filling your pie crust.
  • Vegan Caramel Brownies: Pour your caramel over your favourite vegan brownie recipe for a sweet and gooey twist on a classic dessert.
  • Vegan Caramel Sauce: Use your caramel as a topping for vegan ice cream, cake, or even pancakes and waffles.
  • Vegan Chocolate Caramel Tart: I’ve made a wonderful recipe here!

The possibilities are endless when it comes to using vegan caramel in your baked goods. Get creative and experiment with different flavour combinations to create your own unique treats.

Vegan Caramel FAQs

Is vegan caramel as good as traditional caramel?

Absolutely! With the right ingredients and cooking techniques, vegan caramel can be just as delicious as traditional caramel.

What can I use instead of non-dairy milk?

You can use any non-dairy milk of your choice, such as almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk.

Can I use a substitute for vegan butter?

Yes, you can substitute coconut oil, vegan margarine, or vegetable shortening for vegan butter.

Why is it important to use a heavy-bottomed saucepan?

A heavy-bottomed saucepan helps distribute the heat evenly, preventing hot spots that can cause the caramel to burn or crystallise.

How long does vegan caramel keep?

Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, vegan caramel can keep for up to 2 weeks.

How can I tell when the caramel is done?

The caramel is done when it reaches 350°F (175°C) on a thermometer and has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Can I make vegan caramel without a candy thermometer?

While a specialist candy thermometer is recommended for accuracy, you can use the “cold water test” to check if the caramel is done. Drop a small amount of the caramel mixture into a bowl of cold water. If the caramel forms a soft ball, it is ready.

What if my caramel turns out too thick or too thin?

If the caramel is too thick, you can add a little more non-dairy milk to thin it out. If it is too thin, you can return it to the heat and cook it for a few more minutes until it thickens.

Can I double or triple the recipe?

Yes, you can double or triple the recipe, but make sure to use a larger saucepan and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Can I freeze vegan caramel?

Yes, you can freeze vegan caramel for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.

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