Salted Caramel Crumb Bars – Low Carb and Gluten-Free

Low Carb Salted Caramel Crumb BarsCrumbly sweet bars filled with low carb salted caramel and dark chocolate chunks.  Try to eat just one!

I might be slightly obsessed with making the perfect low carb caramel sauce.  Actually, “slightly” doesn’t even begin to describe the depth of my obsession.  I have been working at this for a while now, and I’ve made quite a number of batches with the same ingredients in slightly different quantities each time.  I vary the amount of  the liquids, the proportions of the sweeteners, the cooking time.  And I’ve made many improvements, to be sure, but I am not yet satisfied.  Each batch is amazingly good, wickedly good, lick-the-spoon-and-then-go-back-for-another-spoonful good, but it’s not “perfect”.  Because making caramel sauce without sugar is a pretty tricky business and although the flavour is spot-on, I can’t quite nail the texture.

Low Carb Salted Caramel Bars

I could probably get the texture perfect if I was willing to forego the erythritol and just make my caramel sauce entirely with xylitol.  For the uninitiated in low carb sweeteners, both of these things are naturally-occurring sugar alcohols that are used in many sugar-free and low carb goodies.  But they differ in some important ways, not the least of which is their effect on my blood glucose.  I find that although xylitol is better than sugar, it still has a moderate effect on my glucose levels, whereas erythritol has virtually none.  Xylitol is also known to cause some tummy upset, whereas again, erythritol has very little.  So you can see why my preference for erythritol (Swerve) is so strong.

Low Carb Salted Caramel Bars

However, erythritol is a tricky little nut to crack when it comes to caramelization.  It doesn’t like to stay in solution so although it will dissolve nicely and liquify and even caramelize when subjected to heat, it begins to harden and re-crystallize as it cools.  So I’ve been trying to find just the right combination of erythritol, xylitol and a little xanthan gum to make a caramel sauce that stays liquid but doesn’t upset either my tummy or my blood glucose.

So far, I haven’t hit that perfect balance.  Perhaps I never will.  But I am having so much fun trying, I am not sure I even care all that much.  I always seem to find a great way to use my slightly imperfect caramel sauces, and these low carb Salted Caramel Crumb Bars are no exception.  The sauce was heavier on the erythritol this time and it hardened more quickly when it cooled so I knew I needed to find a way to incorporate it into some other recipe.  Putting it in between layers of tender crumbs was somewhat inspired, if I do say so myself, since it seemed to get soft and chewy again when baked inside these bars.  These are salty-sweet goodness!

Low Carb Gluten-Free Caramel Bars

Salted Caramel Crumb Bars – Low Carb and Gluten-Free

Yield: 25 bars

Serving Size: 1 bar

Salted Caramel Crumb Bars – Low Carb and Gluten-Free

Crumbly sweet bars filled with low carb salted caramel and dark chocolate chunks. Try to eat just one!

Ingredients

    Caramel Sauce:
  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup Swerve Sweetener or other erythritol
  • ¼ cup xylitol
  • 2 tsp molasses or honey
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp xanthan gum
  • Bars:
  • 2½ cups almond flour
  • 2 tbsp coconut flour
  • ½ cup Swerve Sweetener or other erythritol
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 12 tbsp butter, chilled and cut into ¼ inch pieces
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 20 drops stevia extract
  • 1, 3.5-oz bar 85% cacao chocolate, chopped into small pieces (or use 3.5 ounces of your favourite sugar-free chocolate chips).
  • ½ tsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. For the caramel sauce, combine water, Swerve Sweetener and xylitol in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir until Swerve and xylitol dissolve.
  2. Bring to a boil and cook without stirring 7 to 9 minutes, until mixture begins to darken in colour. Mixture may smoke slightly. Stir in molasses or honey.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in whipping cream, butter and kosher salt. Mixture will bubble vigorously.
  4. Sprinkle with xanthan gum and whisk in quickly to combine (if you get any lumps, use a hand blender to smooth them out).
  5. Set caramel sauce aside.
  6. For the bars, preheat oven to 325F.
  7. Combine almond flour, coconut flour, Swerve Sweetener and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Sprinkle butter, vanilla and stevia over and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  8. Spread half of crumb mixture in 9x13-inch pan and lightly press to bottom. Bake 8 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and pour caramel sauce evenly over top (if your caramel has started to harden, heat gently to make it easier to pour).
  10. Sprinkle surface with chopped chocolate and kosher salt. Top with remaining crumb mixture, pressing lightly to adhere.
  11. Bake 12 minutes, until edges are just golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
  12. Cut into 25 squares.

Notes

Makes 25 bars. Each bar has 6.1 g of carbs and 2.2 g of fiber. Total NET CARBS = 3.9 g.

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Comments

  1. Katharine says:

    Caramel is my FAVORITE! And I’ve been loving recipes that combine some coconut flour with the almond flour. I’ll definitely be giving these a try.

    • Be forewarned if you like salted caramel…this is really tempting so make them for a party or something so you won’t eat the whole batch! I had a really hard time resisting them. :)

  2. These look great. Question for ya — where do you buy the straight up xylitol?

  3. Oh my! These look highly addictive!

  4. The texture in these looks amazing, Carolyn! I don’t know how you have the patience to perfect all of these desserts with challenging ingredients.

  5. Love the sound of this recipe and the bars look so good too. Yummy!

  6. Check out this recipe for caramel (there is a video of Maria making it towards the bottom of the page). This caramel recipe only has 3 ingredients and it’s awesome tasting. I think I will add the salt to it and use it for these bars which look awesome!
    http://mariahealth.blogspot.com/2011/08/turtle-cheesecake.html?m=1

    • Thanks for the tip. The point for me is to make it with erythritol so I am going to continue to work at that. If I made it with all xylitol, it would send my blood sugar up too much. I haven’t tested Just Like Sugar on my own glucose levels yet, so I can’t say how it would work.

    • Just fyi regarding Just Like Sugar (chicory root). It is pricey, so I don’t use it very much…

      BENEFITS OF CHICORY ROOT:
      1. CHOLESTEROL: It decreases the levels of serum LDL cholesterol in the blood.
      2. INFLAMMATION: It contains vitamin C, one of the most powerful antioxidants.
      3. DIABETES: The inulin content is not digestible, so its lack of glucose can help promote optimal blood sugar levels while also increasing stool bulk and consistency.
      4. CONSTIPATION: It provides soluble fiber, which improves digestion.
      5. GALL BLADDER ISSUES: It builds your body’s resistance to gallstones and liver stones. By increasing the flow of bile, it assists the body in digesting foods and liquids. The extra bile also helps break down fats in the body.Chicory root has a mild laxative effect, increases bile from the gallbladder, and decreases swelling.
      6. URINARY INFECTIONS, KIDNEY STONES and GOUT: It has diuretic properties that provide protection for the urinary tract system and kidneys. Toxins are removed and the cleansing of the body is stimulated because of an increase in urine flow. It has been used to expel gravel, calcium deposits, and excess uric acid from the body, which helps to prevent gout and kidney stones.
      7. WEIGHT LOSS: Chicory root benefits weight loss because of the effect it has on the digestive system. It is an excellent source of fructooligosaccharides which help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. It also increases the rate of the break down of fats. It also helps with weight loss because it helps keep insulin levels low while enjoying sweet foods.
      8. NATURAL “Liver” CLEANSER: Chicory root also supports the body’s detoxification system through the liver and kidneys, and is believed to help with calcium absorption. Chicory also helps prevent jaundice and an enlarged liver when mixed with water. Because of Chicory Root’s potential for removing contaminants from the digestive system, the liver does not have to work as hard to filter out toxins that may have escaped into the bloodstream. It also acts as a gentle laxative and diuretic for removing excess water and toxins, and this can also reduce strain on the liver.
      9. ANXIETY: It is a natural sedative and anti-inflammatory for the nervous system. If you have anxiety issues and still drink coffee, this sweetener can help.
      10: INDIGESTION: It acts as an herbal antacid, the root neutralizes acid and correct acid indigestion, heartburn, gastritis, vomiting, upset stomach
      This info is from http://www.mariahealth.blogspot.com

      • Thanks. I’ve heard plenty of good things about it, but it’s just another item to add to my list!

        • These might be the best bars I have EVER had. Made these the other night (I did use Maria Emmerich’s caramel recipe), and they turned out absolutely amazing!
          My husband and I just literally almost fought over the last 2 pieces!! lol
          I just ordered more “just like sugar” – vitacost seems to have the best price, can’t wait to make them again, might have to be a double batch :=)

  7. Have you ever experimented with Poly D? it caramelizes perfectly!!!

  8. I ditto that quest! …I recently found tagatose (got mine from iHerb) which browns like sugar! I haven’t tried caramel sauce yet but it’s calling me…. Have you tried it yet?

  9. These look great. Sadly, I’m finding that I can’t handle any of the sugar alcohols. Used to be only Xylitol. Now even a small amount of Swerve (what it takes to sweeten a cup of coffee) is enough for some pretty distressing digestive “effects.” Since I don’t like the whole sucralose family, it doesn’t leave much. Maybe someday there will be an acceptable Lo Han Guo version that is affordable and works in baking (and isn’t made by a giant agribiz firm). Sigh.

  10. So much wonderful butter in these bars. They look great! :-)

  11. johanna campbell says:

    Poly d works beautifully for caramel and other gooey applications!! I just add 1/4 to 1/3 the total sweetener in polyd… so wonderful!!

    • Thank you for the tip. I generally try to steer clear of man made sweeteners like this but I may try it out in small doses at some point.

  12. If you ever need a taste tester just let me know. I’ll take my tent and camp outside your door. These caramel bars look so good. You’re a genius when it comes to baking with such challenging ingredients and I LOVE that you don’t give up.
    Thanks for sharing and thank you for the lovely comment left on my guest post on Sommer’s blog

  13. Thank you for sharing this recipe! It looks amazing!!
    Something on your challenge to create a better texture of your caramel sauce: I just recently read that a little addition of baking soda (like 1/4 teaspoon into the hot mixture and then cook for 1-2 minutes) stops the sugar to recristalize. Well it was about sugar what I read, but maybe this helps with your Swerve stuff too?
    I actually tried this with real brown sugar (on my caramel maple bacon cupcakes on my page) and i had no problems – the texture was very creamy, I was even able to beat it to a mousse-ey kind of texture with my handmixer!
    So maybe you could try this on your next caramel sauce test? :D
    ~ Kathrin

  14. You may not have it exactly like you want, but it certainly looks fabulous!!

  15. You’ve outdone yourself again Carolyn! These look fabulous – the caramel sauce does sound very tricky to do without sugar.

  16. I understand your comment “it is just another thing to buy.” I also understand how much you love just the RIGHT caramel sauce — and I wonder if the following information from the USDA could help. Xylitol has 60% of the metabolic effect that sugar has; sorbitol has 65%. Xylitol has 100% the sweetness of sugar; sorbitol has 80%. This certainly argues for the preference of xylitol over sorbitol — except for this ONE quality: sorbitol is anti-crystallizing. PERHAPS using a bit of sorbitol with xylitol and erythritol will counteract the crystallizing tendencies of erythritol.
    I usually can find erythritol, sorbitol, and xylitol in bulk at health food stores or vitamin/supplement shops.
    Incidentally, I thought you’d also like to know that according to the USDA, erythritol is 75% as sweet as sugar, and has 0.05% the metabolic effect of sugar. LOVE THAT!

  17. When you say to cook the caramel sauce 7-9 minutes, it is supposed to continue to boil? I’m assuming I should keep the heat at medium and let it keep boiling, but I wanted to double check before I tried. These look great!

  18. I tried this recipe and the result was delicious, though I ran in to some issues. I guess the biggest problem was that I followed the recipe but didn’t have nearly enough dough for two layers of a 9 x 13 pan. I covered the bottom of the pan ok, but had to just top the caramel with some crumbled up dough because there wasn’t nearly enough to actually cover the bars

    I also had some trouble with the caramel, but in the end I got it to work and I’m just so happy to have low-carb caramel that I won’t complain about having to work to get the caramel right.

    Additionally, is 12 tbs of butter right for the dough? I stopped at 8 tbs because by that point I had a thick dough that I could have rolled out and I had passed the crumbly texture your describe. Still though…….OMG delicious! Thank you for your wonderful recipes!

    • Hmmm, not sure what happened here. Can I ask what kind of almond flour you were using? If the 12 tbsp butter didn’t combine properly it makes me wonder if you were using almond meal instead of almond flour. I’ve checked my recipe notes and some of the recipes I was working from when I had this in mind, and it all seems to jive.
      What did you have to do to get the caramel right?

      • I use the Honeyville almond meal flour. I really don’t know why there wasn’t enough dough to cover the bars.

        As for the caramel….after more than 15 minutes of boiling, it never started to turn brown. I added in the rest of the ingredients, and then boiled again to thicken and it turned out quite nice in the end. I was just starting to think it was never going to brown but I knew it would thicken up once I added in the cream and such and boiled a second time

        I’m not that surprised about the caramel since I knew it would be a challenge to get a sugar-free caramel. Also, I use erythritol with powdered stevia which may make a difference

        • I am totally stumped on the crumb crust. But I do think the kind of erythritol can affect the caramelization process. I’ve had good luck with Swerve and with ZSweet but I can’t speak for other varieties. Glad they were tasty, though!

  19. I had the same issue as Alyson with the crust. It wasn’t nearly enough for top and bottom layers in a 9×13 pan. It worked well in an 8×8 for me. Also, my food processor went straight to dough, no crumbs so I just pressed it in as well as I could into the pan.

    My caramel never did thicken so it sort of seeped into the bottom layer, which was still delicious. However, next time I’ll keep boiling, I think I gave up too soon.

    These were RICH and SWEET. Next time I’ll halve the recipe or even quarter it. No one eats this stuff but me and I don’t know if these bars will freeze well. I do think with a second attempt I can overcome the issues I had and make them more like they’re supposed to look and taste. Thanks so much for your dedication Carolyn.

    • Monica, that’s exactly what happened to me. My food processor went right to dough which I pressed into the pan and then sort of crumbled on top. And it was plenty buttery with 8 tbs of butter.

      I’ll definitely make this again, but either with more crust, or in an 8 x 8 pan

    • I may have to try these again, just to see if I can sort out the issue…not that I will really have a problem making them again! :) They were really popular in my house. But it’s very strange because I first started mine in an 8×8 pan and thought it was too much dough so switched to the 9×13!

      • I’m going to try again this weekend. You know, for science!

        For the crust, I’m going old school with a pastry cutter to keep it crumbly, which I think might enable the larger pan size to work. Then I’ll be more patient with the caramel sauce and wait for it to thicken. By the way, does it thicken in the pot while boiling or afterward while cooling?

        Thanks!

        • If you need to, add another 1/2 cup of almond flour if there seems to be too much butter. The caramel sauce will thicken as it cools, after you put the xanthan gum in. To get it right, make sure it is smoking for a bit when it’s cooking, before you add in all the ingredients.

          • Heather from Canada says:

            Hi Carolyn, do you happen to know the grams for the butter? I ended up with shortbread, not crumbs, even though I cut back on the butter after I saw what was happening in my food processor. I ended up making millionaire’s shortbread instead, which is shortbread base, caramel, and chocolate topping. I added chopped pecans to the caramel layer and made the chocolate topping from your chocolate peanut butter tart. Delish! It’s my husband’s favorite dessert, I’m so happy to have made a grain free, low carb version as he is now switching to my diet. I baked mine considerably longer to firm up the caramel more, I am wondering if the xanthan gum I’m using doesn’t thicken as much as other brands… Thanks again, another great one!

          • Carolyn says:

            It is strange since this has happened to some other people but not everyone. I wonder if maybe it has to do with the brand of coconut flour? Glad you were able to save them anyway!

          • Heather from Canada says:

            Hi Carolyn, how cold was the butter? Mine was closer to frozen so I have a feeling that’s why it ended up the way it did. I ended up picking chunks of butter out…

          • Carolyn says:

            Just refrigerator chilled for that recipe.

  20. My family really enjoyed this recipe. I used a 9 x 13 pan and had enough for the base and top. I weighed out the dough before hand which was 550 grams. So i used 275 grams for the base. It takes a little patience to spread, but a 9 x 13 pan is the correct sizs pan for this recipe. A offset spatula comes in handy for spreading out the base. Thanks Carolyn!

  21. Hi,
    Can I pay you to make these for me and ship them to me!! I do not have all the I ingredients and the recipe seems so overwhelming!! I’m dead serious!! I have been on a low carb diet and I think I would kill for these!!!! PLEASE!! My email is Billysgirl6905@aol.com
    Thanks
    Julia

  22. Deborah says:

    Oh my god those look unbelievably delicious. Am going to have to try making them. One question – is it salted or unsalted butter in the recipe? I only have salted…

    • Carolyn says:

      I always use salted, personally! One word of advice…some people have found that the crumb mixture gets too buttery. It may have something to do with brand of almond and/or coconut flour. Add another 1/4 cup almond and maybe a tbsp more coconut flour, if you find yours isn’t creating a coarse, crumb-like texture.

  23. Deborah says:

    ok, so i am an idiot who doesn’t read recipes. i left out a step and didn’t bake the bottom crust first. so although everything tastes pretty good, the bottom does taste a bit raw. can i put the whole thing back in the oven for another ten minutes and that will fix it, or would that burn the top/not do what i need it to do so it’s pointless?

    thanks!

    deborah

    • Hmmmm…I think it’s worth a try but your caramel may cook more and harden more afterwards. Which wouldn’t necessarily be bad, but more like toffee than caramel.

  24. Hey, C – Well, biggest mess EVER here on this recipe! Very warm day here, crumb way too sticky, so used an 8″ square glass pan, drowned it in the caramel sauce (probably should have used a lot less, but might not have mattered since the top crust was inadequate to the task of covering it anyway. Trying to leave it in a while, hoping it will settle down, but it’s still sloshy. I imagine, worst case scenario (including I hot up my house on a hot day) is we can try eating it in bowls, with spoons. Yikes. Some days I really should avoid the kitchen!

    • Not sure it’s just the heat. Other people have had trouble with this one too and I don’t know why. I need to test it out again, but that crumb base has been used in a few of my recipes and works, so I am not quite sure what the issue is. Sorry about that.

  25. I tried making these and I have no idea what went wrong but my caramel sauce was a watery mess. I followed the instructions to the letter and it never thickened at all. Such a shame, I was so excited for them!

  26. Wow, I really appreciate this post, Carolyn, and your fearless pursuit of a “safe” caramel.

    I recently took on the task of making low-carb butterscotch fudge and found that there was conflicting information online about whether it is possible to carmelize sugar alcohols. I could never get Truvia to turn any color besides clear no matter how long I boiled it. So I turned to the idea of carmelizing cream instead.

    It’s not true carmelization, as that word pertains only to sugar, but it is a similar reaction. A pint of heavy cream reduced after an hour is pretty thick, and not at all sticky, but it has a nice taste to it and there’s definitely no problem with re-crystalization of the sweetener. I was thinking that adding whey protein to butter, heating both for a nice long time to induce the reaction, and then adding a small bit of cream plus xanthan gum to thicken it a bit could merit further exploration.

  27. Man, when I tried these, I was so happy I practically squealed with glee. THEY ARE AWESOME. I am holding on to this recipe for dear life! Thanks, Carolyn!!

  28. I made these this weekend and thought I’d comment. I had no issues with the caramel part but had the same issue as others with the crumbs. I was using a kitchenaid mixer and it was going okay til I bumped up the speed and bam, dough, not crumbs. I tried adding more almond flour but it didn’t help. I used Bob’s coconut flour and Honeyville almond flour for reference, my butter was fresh from the fridge. I also didn’t think it looked like a 9×13 so instead went with 8×8. The other issue I had was the crust/topping didn’t really get done. I baked the bottom as indicated and thought it was still pretty raw but I wasn’t sure if that mattered at the point I was at so I continued on. But, after the top went on and I baked for the time indicated It was still very raw looking and to the touch so I kept baking in 3 minute increments. I added at least another 9 minutes (might have been 12) and it still looked kind of raw but I was finally seeing some browning so I removed it and let it cool. When I ate it later it did seem a little on the raw side. Overall it was tasty though but if I do it again I might try baking at a slightly higher temp.

  29. Hi Carolyn, just a quick question….are these kind of like carmelitas? I’m trying to recreate a low carb carmelita recipe per my son’s request.

    • Yes, they are a little like carmelitas. People have had trouble with this recipe a bit and many found they needed more crumb mixture. I keep intending to revisit it and see if I can identify the problem but just be aware of that.

  30. Made these this morning. I had PLENTY of crumb mixture for the base and the top. One needs to pulse this mixture in a FOOD PROCESSOR not a stand mixer in order to achieve crumbs. COLD butter is the 2nd “key”. I did have an issue with the caramel darkening, I had plenty of smoke but it would not turn darker then all of a sudden – dark! It’s a “little” burned but I went ahead and made the bars. I can taste the Caramel flavor, and will attempt these again in the future. Probably the brand of sweetener (I did not use swerve).

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