I still remember the day I first discovered Carmelitas. It was a dreary Saturday, and to avoid the rain, I was wandering the mall while on my lunch break. My high-school self must have been looking for something to make me forget about the boring sandwich in my bag...so naturally I ended up with my hands pressed against the bakery’s glass display. Most of the options were exactly what you’d expect: brownies, chocolate chip cookies and slices of banana bread. But what caught my eye was something I’d never seen before. They were oatmeal bars, stuffed with a layer of chocolate and caramel inside. The sign said “carmelitas”, and they were calling my name.
With carmelitas, it was love at first bite. I mean, it’s pretty hard to go wrong when you combine oats, chocolate and caramel into a soft and gooey bar. Sadly, it’s pretty tough to track them down in bakeries these days, so this delicious treat slipped my mind for years. But I had a recent craving that brought me into the kitchen to make my own. This version is a bit more wholesome (but still plentyyy indulgent). And best of all, it’s super easy to make.
This recipe keeps it simple with just 9 ingredients, most of which you probably already have in your pantry. I like to use whole wheat pastry flour in the cookie base. It keeps things light, with some whole grain thrown in for good measure. But you could easily substitute with all-purpose flour instead. Brown rice syrup might seem a bit odd here, but trust me on this one. It’s stickiness helps bring the dough together, and it also lends a slightly buttery flavor to our vegan version. And because brown rice syrup is less sweet than other liquid sweeteners, it doesn’t compete with the chocolate and caramel. Pro tip: pour the oil into your measuring cup before the brown rice syrup. It helps it slide out much more easily that way.
Assembling this dessert is quite straightforward. First you mix up the oat cookie base. This mixture also doubles as the topping, so you’ll keep some aside for the top layer. Once the base is packed down and baking in the oven, you’ll prepare a yummy date caramel. Date caramel comes together in minutes, and there’s no finicky cooking over the stove - which is always a win in our books. Also, it tastes delicious. Especially when covered with chocolate.
The remaining layers are simply roughly chopped chocolate (no need to melt it, the oven will take care of that). Then, the date caramel, which you can dollop over the chocolate or spread with the back of a spoon. The remaining oat cookie dough then gets added on top. A final bake in the oven and a decorative drizzle of chocolate on top for good measure!
We love to make this dish in advance and bring it over to friends’ houses for dessert. If you’re like us and often running late, you can let the bars cool in their fridge while you’re eating dinner. Thankfully, they’re super portable (just bring them over in the pan) - and even easier to serve. We like to garnish these with a sprinkle of flaky salt; and when we’re feeling really extra, a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
Vegan Chocolate Caramel Bars (Carmelitas)
Oat Cookie Base and Topping
- 1¾ cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
- 1¼ cups rolled oats
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ cup melted coconut oil
- ⅓ cup brown rice syrup
Date Caramel & Chocolate Layers
- ½ cup packed pitted Medjool dates (about 8 dates)
- ½ cup warm water, divided
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 8.8 oz chopped dark chocolate, divided (1½ cups)
- Flaky sea salt (for garnish, optional)
- Vanilla ice cream (for serving, optional)
- Preheat: Preheat oven to 325°F (165 C°).
- Mix Cookie Base and Topping: In a large bowl, stir together flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Pour in coconut oil and brown rice syrup. Stir until well mixed. Measure out ¾ cup of the dough and set aside for topping.
- Bake base: Transfer the remaining dough into 1 (8 x 8-inch) parchment-lined baking pan. Use your fingertips to pack down down into a firm, even layer. Bake until the top turns golden brown, about 12 minutes.
- Make date caramel: Meanwhile, to a food processor, add dates and ¼ cup of the water. Cover the lid with a kitchen towel (to prevent water from leaking out the sides), and process until a thick paste forms. Add the remaining ¼ cup water, vanilla, and salt. Process until completely smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.
- Add chocolate caramel filling: Set aside ⅓ cup (50 g) of the chocolate for drizzling later. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate over the base, then spoon in the date caramel.
- Add topping and bake: Use your fingers to squeeze together small clumps of the reserved ¾ cup dough, and spread them over the date caramel until the surface is mostly covered. Bake until the topping is golden brown, about 15 minutes.
- Drizzle and serve: Meanwhile, melt the reserved ⅓ cup (50 g) chocolate in a double boiler or microwave. Drizzle the chocolate over the bars. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Let cool fully before slicing into bars. Serve with vanilla ice cream if you'd like!
- Yield: These bars are quite decadent, so we recommend cutting these bars into 12 pieces, but do what works best for you.