“Third time’s a charm,” said someone very brilliant, someone who really knew what they were talking about. Somehow, this genius new it would take me three tries to come up with a sweet, chocolatey, pumpkin-y confection. I was determined not to let October go by without posting one. And at this rate, I still have time for another. If I can conjure up just the right idea.

A couple years ago, when I cared less about blogging only natural, wholesome recipes, I came up with this gem. (A winner in my not-so-humble opinion and that of everyone I sampled them too, mmmk?) A creamy pumpkin center inside a semi-sweet chocolate shell. They were delicious. And delightful. And different. And kind of a pain to make (because I made dozens and dozens and only had one little candy tray) and full of sugar and heavy cream and other things I try to avoid in my recipes nowadays. Not that I don’t eat them when someone else is doing the cooking

This time around, I was craving a health-ified version. The first round involved a date-based vegan caramel. Good, but not exactly pumpkin-y enough. And they were kind of ugly. That’s what happens when your chocolate congeals because you don’t melt it in a double boiler and try to scoop it into annoying-ly small little candy cup trays.

For the second round, I decided to go for a more traditional caramel, like the one I used in my vegan salted caramel ice cream. With pumpkin, naturally. It was pretty delicious, though I’ll admit the caramelized coconut sugar sort of overtook the pumpkin flavor. I mean, I had to really think about it to notice it. And at the very last moment, I decided to make caramel popcorn instead of caramel cups. It just seemed downright… right. Spiced pumpkin caramel folded into popped corn and almonds sounds totally tasty, right? And it was. I ate a lot more than I care to admit. But it was really dark brown and ugly looking and not pumpkin-y enough. Not what I felt like blogging.

Enter round 3. Returning to the idea of round 1 with the caramel of round 2. Only by this time I had eaten enough sugar (albeit lower-glycemic coconut sugar, but still) that I felt the need to lighten up a little. I have a huge bag of xylitol that I haven’t done anything wildly unique with, so I decided that this would be the day. Enter xylitol-sweetened vegan spiced pumpkin caramel. This stuff, my friends, is heaven on spoon. A cross between pumpkin butter and caramel, it’s rich and creamy. But the lighter taste of xylitol compared to brown sugar really allows the pumpkin to shine.

You’ve probably only heard of xylitol in relation to sugar-free gums and candy, and since “sugar-free” always seems to equate with “nasty chemicals” you might assume xylitol is one of them. So let’s clear some things up.

Xylitol Facts:

  • Xylitol is a sugar alcohol naturally found in plants and fruit
  • Xylitol is safe for human consumption, but harmful for dogs. If you have a pup, please make sure to keep xylitol in a place where he or she cannot reach it!
  • Xylitol is safe for anti-candida diets and is actually known to fight and control the growth of yeast.
  • Xylitol is great for your teeth! It kills plaque and fights cavities.
  • Xylitol has about 1/3 the calories of sugar, does raise blood sugar, and looks and functions like sugar in most cooking and baking.
  • Some people experience stomach troubles when introducing large amounts of xylitol into their diet. This can be controlled by eating a little at a time. In this recipe, you are only getting a small amount of xylitol in each candy so you should be safe!

This recipe for pumpkin caramel cups is made using mini muffin liners, so you get a bigger bite of the good (and good-for-you) stuff. Is this a trick or treat? I say, have your candy and eat it too.

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Pumpkin Caramel Candy Cups

Yield: 24 pieces

Dark chocolate cups filled with a creamy spiced pumpkin caramel. Vegan & naturally sweetened.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup
xylitol
1/4 cup full fat coconut milk
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons cup maple syrup
1 cup + 2 tablespoons natural, unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of salt
10 drops liquid vanilla stevia

Directions:

Combine the xylitol, coconut milk, 2 tablespoons coconut oil, pumpkin, salt, and pumpkin pie spice in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until, coconut oil is melted and xylitol is dissolved. Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. The mixture will become darker and thicker. Turn off heat and stir in vanilla. Let cool, and transfer to a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Line a 24-cup mini muffin tin with paper liners. Combine the 3/4 cup coconut oil, maple syrup, cocoa powder, salt ans stevia in the top of a double boiler set over water simmering at medium heat. Stir until smooth, then reduce heat to a low simmer to keep warm.

Spoon 1 teaspoon chocolate into the bottom of each muffin liner. Freeze for 5 minutes,until firm.

Place a small dollop of the pumpkin caramel mixture in each muffin liner, being careful not to let it touch the sides of the liners. (You may have some leftover.) Return to freezer for 10 minutes.

Transfer the remaining warm chocolate to a liquid measuring cup with a spout. Pour enough chocolate into each liner to cover the pumpkin caramel and fill in around the sides. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.

Cara Lyons, www.carascravings.com

This recipe is linked to Healthy Vegan Fridays at The Veggie Nook and Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free.