As a kid, Almond Joy was always one of my favorite sweet treats. Even though I haven’t indulged in one in at least a decade, I still have clear visions of that blue wrapper with a cracked open coconut in place of an “O” in the word Joy.
There is just something about that combination of coconut, almond and chocolate. The melt in your mouth deliciousness that is accented by the nutty crunch of a full sized almond. There was also that feeling of being cheated out of the good stuff if you had to settle for a Mounds Bar. Am I right? The only thing that separated the two was that almond, but that one little kernel really made all the difference between a mediocre bar and one that was at the head of the class.
With Passover and Easter both right around the corner, I’ve been thinking about coconut and candy a lot. My family background is half Jewish, half Catholic, so I grew up celebrating both holidays. Of course, strictly from a culinary perspective – junk food that is – the treats that came along with Passover and Easter were the things I always looked forward to the most.
Passover meant we had cans of Manischewitz Macaroons in the house (chocolate chip were my favorite), and Easter meant we had all sorts of candies available, including Almond Joy in the shape of Easter eggs.
With these two delectables in mind, I thought I’d give a somewhat healthier, vegan makeover to one of my favorite childhood treats. The filling of my vegan Almond Joy uses unrefined sweetener in the form of brown rice syrup, but the outside is coated in melted chocolate chips, which usually contain cane sugar. If you want to make them even healthier, you could try a mixture of melted coconut oil and cocoa powder instead, but they will have to stay cold in order to not melt.
Now I know that there are those Mounds fans out there that would disagree with me and say that the almond is a distraction. If you feel that way, go ahead and omit it from the recipe.
Alternative Almond Joy
Makes about 1 dozen candies, approx 2″ in diameter.
½ Cup brown rice syrup
1 ½ Cup (1 can) coconut milk, shaken
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
5 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
To make the coconut caramel filling
1. Combine rice syrup, coconut milk and extract in small pot over medium heat, stirring constantly to dissolve rice syrup into coconut milk.
2. Once dissolved, continue to stir until it comes to a boil. Boil for 2 to 5 minutes, then reduce heat to a high simmer. You want it to be bubbling in order to reduce. Continue to boil until thickened, stirring frequently to prevent burning. This will take a minimum of 25 minutes, or could take up to 45 minutes, so patience is key.
3. When the mixture reaches a thick syrup consistency, stir in coconut. Simmer for 3 minutes longer, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Once it’s reached about room temp, transfer to a container and store in the refrigerator for a few hours, up to overnight. It needs to continue to thicken and get firm.
To assemble almond joy candies
1. Once firm, scoop out the coconut filling by the tablespoonful and roll into balls. Lay out onto a plate and press an almond into the center of each one. Return to the fridge to firm up again.
2. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chips. Use a double boiler, or create your own by putting the chocolate chips in a metal bowl, then placing it over a pot of simmering water. Stir the chips until they all melt into a smooth chocolate sauce.
3. Remove coconut balls from the fridge and dip into the chocolate. You may want to use a spatula to evenly coat. Once each ball is covered in chocolate, place onto a parchment lined plate. When all the balls are coated in chocolate, transfer to the fridge to allow to harden.
Also by Christine: Vegan Caramel Apple Bites
Photo: Christine Oppenheim