When I first started experimenting with dietary theories (from Whole30, paleo, keto, to vegan) a few years ago, I found myself going through great lengths just to recreate my favorite foods. How can I make food that was healthy, without sacrificing taste?
This forced me to put on my creative hat and think about cooking and baking from an entirely new perspective. As an avid baker, everything I knew about traditional baking had gone out the door. For example, eating paleo means avoiding grains. That includes wheat flour, a.k.a all-purpose flour, the key ingredient used in most baked goods.
Wheat flour gives structure and elasticity to baked goods via gluten. It’s what gives baked goods that satisfying, slight spring back when you take a bit out of bread. However, most flours in paleo baking use wheat flour alternatives like almond flour which does not contain gluten. See the challenge here? Experimenting with a variety of dietary styles forced me to put on my creative hat so I could figure out how to enjoy my favorite treats with an entirely new arsenal of ingredients.
I cook and bake from a place of nostalgia and function. These Red Bean Dessert Bars are my ‘healthier’ take on a nostalgic treat: red bean popsicle, which is my grandma’s favorite treat. They’re chilled and bite-sized, making them a perfect dessert for the summer.
This is a Treat — so Treat Yourself!
Though this is a vegan dessert, I don’t really consider it to be a ‘healthy’ meal replacement by any means. I consider this a treat – something I enjoy sometimes, but not always.
Think of these Red Bean Dessert Bars as a ‘better for you’ alternative to a traditional dessert (and be proud that you made that choice)!
At the end of the day, whether you’re using maple syrup or honey, it will cause your blood glucose levels to rise (more on this later). Though it’s grain-free, refined sugar-free, and dairy-free, I wouldn’t want you to think of this as a ticket to eat all 16 bars at once. With this in mind, I want you to treat yourself and enjoy every bite. You deserve it!
There are several ways you can soak cashews:
- Quick Method (used in recipe): 1 hour in hot water
- Overnight Method: Overnight in room temperature water, covered on the counter or in the refrigerator. This will preserve the cashew’s full nutritional values in comparison to the quick method.
Can I use Roasted Cashews?
Raw cashews are necessary to make this cashew-cream based filling. In order to absorb the water as they soak and make it easy for blending and creating a silky smooth consistency, cashews will need to be raw.
How to Get a Creamy, Dreamy Filling
To ensure you get a creamy, velvety filling, use a high-speed blender. I used my beloved Vitamix, but any other high-speed blender can work, even a food processor. You might have to scrape down the sides, pulse, and give the mixture more patience as you continue to blend to achieve that lump-free, smooth consistency we’re going for.
Red Bean Paste
To control the sweetness of the final product, I recommend making your own red bean paste or using an unsweetened paste (though harder to find). Cooking the beans can take some time, so if you have a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, it will definitely save you time and make the process much easier. If you have an Instant Pot, check out my Instant Pot Red Bean Paste recipe!
Storing and Serving
In order to keep the structure and texture of the Red Bean Dessert Bars, they will need to be stored either in the refrigerator or freezer. If you’re storing in the freezer, make sure to thaw out for 1 hour in the refrigerator before serving. Make sure it’s wrapped tightly to avoid freezer burn.
To treating yourself!
Red Bean Dessert Bars (Vegan)
- Vitamix or another High-Speed Blender (alternative: Food Processor)
- 8 x 8" Baking Pan
- 1 1/2 cups almond flour blanched if available
- 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted refined if lighter taste is preferred
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 cups raw cashews, soaked or at least 1 hour and drained
- 1 cup homemade red bean paste for layering
- 1 cup homemade red bean paste for filling
- 3/4 cup coconut cream thick part of canned coconut milk, chilled overnight, liquid drained
- 1/2 cup maple syrup or to taste
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted refined if lighter taste is preferred
- In a medium sized bowl, place 2 cups of raw cashews and cover with boiling water, covering with enough water as they will expand, around 1-inch above the cashews. Set aside, making note of the 1 hour mark.
- In a large mixing bowl, add 1 1/2 cups of almond flour into the bowl. Add the remaining ingredients under 'Crust' and stir. Allow the dough to chill for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
- While the dough chills, heat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of an 8 x 8" baking pan with parchment paper, allowing the lining to go about 2-inches on the sides (to use as handles for removing the bars from the pan later).
- After the dough has chilled for 30 minutes, press the dough into the bottom for the lined baking pan.
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. The dough will look light-brown when ready. Set aside on a cooling rack to cool. To speed up the cooling, you can place the pan into the fridge after 20 minutes.
- Drain the cashews and rinse with cool water. Add all ingredients under 'Filling' into a high-speed blender (I used a Vitamix). Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary.
- Check the crust to ensure it's cooled. Create the first layer by spreading 1 cup of red bean paste evenly across the crust.
- Next, Pour in the filling into the pan and spread evenly. Cover tightly and freeze for at least 4 hours to set, or refrigerate for 8 hours/overnight.
- To serve, remove from the pan by gently pulling on the handles. Cut into 16 squares.