Recipe: Vegan Coconut Caramels That Taste A Bit Like Popcorn

This recipe has been haunting me for nearly a fortnight.  Actually, my kitchen has been haunting me generally.  “Caaaaaatherine!“, it has moaned in the dread hours before dawn “Why have you forsaken me?  Why is my oven cold and empty?  Why are all the candy thermometers broken?  Where, oh where, is the frivolous baking of days gone by?”

Actually, I don’t think it was really asking about the candy thermometers.  My kitchen knows as well as I do that candy thermometers don’t last a month in this household.  Sometimes, they don’t last a week.  If my kitchen were saying anything about candy thermometers at all, it would only be to taunt me.  Which is, admittedly, a possibility.

Anyway, judging it foolish to meddle with caramels when I did not, in fact, have a working candy thermometer, let alone a working brain, I’ve been ignoring my kitchen’s siren song, but yesterday at lunchtime I decided the time had come.  I went into town and bought a digital thermometer which I am assured will not die within 48 hours like the last one did.  And then, because I did not actually believe this, I also bought an analogue one.

And last night, I shuffled zombie-like into the kitchen after dinner and finally – finally! – gave these caramels a try.


Not to put too fine a point on it, they are weird.  Not so much in taste – they taste quite good, actually, though they don’t really work for my palate – it turns out that I really don’t like coconut *that* much. However, extensive scientific testing (on real scientists!) suggests that this really is a personal taste thing – people who like coconut-ish sweets really loved these, and the extremely large batch (approximately 125 caramels, I think) had mostly disappeared by the end of the day.  And this on Cup Day, when very few people are at work.

You can tell I’m tired, because this post rambles even more than usual.  What I was actually trying to tell you here was that from start to end, this recipe looks as though it isn’t going to work.  It starts of with a mixture that is quite unappetisingly grey, and this then goes through various stages of unpleasantly opaque white to reach a not-particularly-caramel-coloured beige.  I put this down to the fact that coconut milk and coconut cream already have a much more greyish-white tinge too them than the faint yellow tinge of dairy products, and when you add specks of black vanilla, this is only accentuated.  Seriously, these are absolutely unsightly in all stages of preparation, so don’t worry if your batch looks awful – you are probably doing it exactly right.

You probably could cook these caramels longer, to reach a more traditionally caramel-coloured stage, but I like my caramels chewy (think a Columbines sort of texture), so beige is what you get.  Having said that, I might have taken them a little further if I’d known what I was doing.  (Which, really, I didn’t.  It’s astonishing I ended up with anything edible at all, really…) It’s also tempting to try making these with brown sugar, to see what sort of effect that would give.  Maybe next time.

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375 g coconut milk
160 g coconut cream
350 g sugar
1 vanilla bean
300 g glucose syrup
50 g cocoa butter
20 g flaky salt

Now what will you do with it?

In a *large* saucepan – seriously, much, much larger than you think you need; a 6 or 8 litre saucepan would be good – combine the coconut milk, coconut cream and sugar.  Split the vanilla bean from end to end and scrape out the seeds into the saucepan, then fling in the bean.

Stir everything to incorporate the sugar and chunks of coconut fat (or whatever those white lumps are, did I mention that this mixture really does look revolting to start with?), and bring slowly to the boil.  Try not to stir it too much during this time.  Use the time wisely by measuring out the rest of your ingredients and lining a 25 cm square cake tin with greaseproof paper.

It actually looks even more unappetising than this in real life.

It actually looks even more unappetising than this in real life.

When the coconut mixture boils, add the glucose syrup, raise the heat to medium-high, and boil to 110°C, stirring often to prevent anything sticking and burning.  The mixture will foam up enormously, and aren’t you glad you used a saucepan that seemed so much larger than you thought you needed?

Starting to foam...

Starting to foam…

Foaming to a degree that makes me start worrying about the size of my saucepan...

Foaming to a degree that makes me start worrying about the size of my saucepan…

At 110°C, fish out the vanilla pod and add the cocoa butter.  Incidentally, I use a powdered cocoa butter called Mycryo, which is quite light in taste and distributes well.  Though initially, it makes the mixture look even more revolting, than it already did, alas!

Yep, pretty revolting-looking.

Yep, pretty revolting-looking.

Continue cooking, stirring continuously, until the mixture reaches between 116°C and 120°C.  It will be an unpromising shade of beige.

Not very caramel-coloured, but you can see that the mixture is thicker, which is what you are really looking for.

Not very caramel-coloured, but you can see that the mixture is thicker, which is what you are really looking for.

Take it off the heat, and stir in the salt.  The mixture will continue cooking from the heat of the saucepan, so you should do this fairly quickly.

The wrong sized tin!  Should have used a much smaller one, and then I wouldn't have had to juggle the whole mixture into a second tin, messily.

The wrong sized tin! Should have used a much smaller one, and then I wouldn’t have had to juggle the whole mixture into a second tin, messily.

While the mixture is still fairly warm, score into little rectangles, or else it will be a pig to cut (I speak from *bitter* experience).

Note the lack of score marks.

Note the lack of score marks.

Let the caramel continue cooling for an hour or two, until firm, then use the score marks to help you cut it into individual caramels.


Eat, while endeavouring to discern what this caramel actually tastes like.  Because, seriously, to my palate, it’s buttery caramel popcorn with coconut.  Which is a strange thing indeed to find in a sweet.


This recipe is vegan, nut-free and gluten-free, so long as you use a gluten-free glucose syrup (Australian glucose syrup tends to be corn-derived, so you’re golden).  Alas, coconut milk is fairly high in fructose, as is corn-derived glucose, so the fructose intolerant might want to give this recipe a miss… though given a serving size of only a few grams, it might be the sort of thing you can have occasionally.  It’s definitely not low GI, but did you really think it would be?

In terms of variations, I actually have a few up my sleeve that I’m planning to try over the next few days, so stay tuned!  These will be experiments with other non-dairy milks, all of which have different fat contents, so I’m sort of figuring out the maths of that right now.  You could, however, replace the cocoa butter with a dairy butter or a non-dairy butter substitute of your choice – you need some kind of fat there, basically.  I realise that cocoa butter is not in everyone’s pantry. And if you make this with dairy milk, cream and butter, you get truly luscious salted caramels as raved about by Lisa L from my lab at work.  But you do not get vegan points any more!


One year ago: Recipe: Vegan Pasta Primavera
Two years ago: Recipe: Pistachio and Cardamom Kourabiedes
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4 comments for “Recipe: Vegan Coconut Caramels That Taste A Bit Like Popcorn

  1. November 6, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I am very positively disposed towards coconut and therefore, these caramels! They look grand.

    I know what you mean about that greyish coconut milk colour… I was making vegan icecream on the weekend, slightly concerned that it would look fairly ugly. That is, until I dumped in a cup of coconut sugar and then everything was caramel brown. 🙂

    • Catherine
      November 6, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      Thank you! Yes, there really is something a little bit wrong-looking about coconut milk when you mix it with anything, isn’t there? All the other non-dairy milks have a sort of yellow-beige tint, but coconut is decidedly on the grey-blue side of the spectrum…

      Love the coconut sugar idea. Come to think of it, I have maple sugar – I wonder if that would work, flavourwise, with coconut?

  2. November 6, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Nice to see you back blogging – hope the conference and singing went well. And am interested in your caramels – I did some caramels with coconut milk a while back and never posted it – I thought I might just wait until I tried it again because mine was indeed a caramel colour but it was so chewy that there was a danger of losing a tooth – come to think of it I should have given it to my niece whose teeth were very slow in falling out 🙂 I’d like to try it with less chew

    • Catherine
      November 6, 2013 at 8:40 pm

      I think dairy and non-dairy caramels have slightly different temperatures for reaching the various textures – and of course, if you let the temperature get just a couple of degrees higher by taking too long to get things out of the pan, that can send it into a much harder, chewier direction…

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