Halloween is always an excuse to eat candy. If you aren’t into artificially colored caramels or teeth-achingly sweet confections, this is the right recipe for you. My ideal Halloween includes real chocolates, peanut butter and caramel… aka, rich, fudgy and decadent.
Last weekend was one of those delightful weekends where not much was going on and I had some extra time for recipe testing. I paid attention to chocolate fudge and decadent caramel and salty pretzels. I took the time to bask in the scent of sweet sugars caramelizing and peanut butter and chocolate fusing together. I spent the afternoon licking peanut butter off my fingers and someones big brown puppy eyes following my every move in hopes I’d share.
I simply adore these bars! I love them for being vegan, gluten-free and no-bake. I am blissfully ecstatic about their melt- in-your-mouth texture and utterly delicious flavor. The medley of those flavors create an easy version of about 5 different candy bars all rolled into one… made with natural ingredients to boot!
I realized the name of these bars is a little funny. But how can you pin a name on something that contains so many delicious layers and flavors? My first idea was: “mouth-watering chocolate peanut buttery fudge with silky caramel and slightly salty pretzel goodness.” But trust me when I say they live up to that description.
If you’re wondering, last weekend was absolutely perfect. Do yourself a favor and make this weekend perfect too!
Peanut Butter Fudge Caramel Pretzel Candy Bars (no bake, vegan & gluten free)
Pretzel Crust Base:
1 Cup Gluten Free Pretzels (or regular pretzels)
1/2 Cup Gluten free Oats (or regular oats)
1/4 Cup Coconut Sugar
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Protein Powder
1/2 Cup Earth Balance Butter, very softened
1/2 teaspoon Natural Butter Extract
Peanut Butter Fudge layer:
1 Cup Natural Creamy Peanut Butter
1 cup Sugar-Free Chocolate Chunks or Chips
1/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Cocoa Powder
3-6 Tablespoons Crushed Pretzels (depending on how much pretzel topping you want)
1 teaspoon Coconut Oil
1/4 cup Coconut Sugar
1 Tablespoon Water
1 teaspoon Vanilla
Line a 8 by 8 baking dish with parchment paper.
In a food processor, process oats until just starting to become a flour. Add pretzels and pulse until fine. In a mixing bowl, combine the oat flour, pretzels, coconut sugar and protein powder. Add the soft butter and butter extract and mix to combine. The dough should be very moist, but not overly sticky. If it is too sticky, add a bit more protein powder and mix well. Transfer the dough to prepared pan and press firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan. Freeze while you make the fudge, or for about 10 minutes.
In a microwave safe bowl, add the chocolate and coconut sugar. Microwave for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or until all the chocolate and coconut is melted and combined.
While the chocolate is warm combine with the peanut butter. Allow the mixture to cool slightly and add the vanilla and cocoa and mix well. Pour the warm fudge mixture over the chilled base and return to the freezer to chill for about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, crush up the pretzels. Sprinkle the pretzel mixture over the fudge layer. Return to the freezer.
Next, make the caramel topping by combining the coconut oil and coconut sugar with 1 tablespoon of water in a microwave safe bowl. Stir well and microwave for about 2 minutes while stirring every 8-10 seconds. When the sugar starts to bubble and boil, it is turning to caramel! This bubbling is normal. Keep microwaving, pausing to stir every 8 seconds or so. Do this for at least 4 or 5 times or until you have a thickened, smooth caramel sauce. Be careful to watch it after 3 or 4 stirs so it doesn’t burn. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the bars and return to the freezer to harden and completely set (about 1 hour). Cut into bars once set and indulge! Store any leftovers in the fridge or freezer.
Make sure to use up all of the caramel! The other layers are pretty thick, so you want to use it all so it doesn’t get masked by the other flavors.
You can make the caramel topping on the stove top if you are more comfortable with that, but I chose to do the microwave method since it doesn’t make a lot of caramel and it’s a little faster.