This incredibly simple recipe for no bake chocolate chip cookie dough bars is flourless and egg-free but still tastes like you're indulging in raw cookie dough.
What makes these cookie dough bars special?
Even though these bars have no flour in the filling at all, they have plenty to sink your teeth into, mostly because of the soaked raw cashews. The molasses in the brown sugar and the vanilla together give the bars that classic cookie dough taste and aroma. And the miniature chocolate chips complete the flavor profile.
Edible cookie dough is a stroke of genius, according to me, my kids, and pretty much everyone I have ever met. I have been working on all sorts of recipes based on that concept (cookie dough dip, cookie dough ice cream) for a long, long time.
I've also been working on a vegan cheesecake recipe for what seems like a lifetime—without success. So far, nothing (and I do mean nothing) tastes like dairy cream cheese to me. These cookie dough bars are a happy accident that I stumbled upon when testing yet another way to use a common vegan base (raw cashews) for anything creamy (like my friend Alisa's vegan alfredo sauce).
How to soak cashews
If you're worried about soaking cashews, don't! The idea behind soaking raw cashew nuts is simply to ensure that they blend completely smooth. There are few ways to soak cashews, and if you have a super high-speed blender like a Vitamix or Blendtec, you can probably just skip the soaking entirely.
Soak them overnight
First, it's important to understand that the ingredient measurement for the cashews is for the unsoaked cashews. Once you soak the cashews, they'll take up more space (volume), and they'll also retain some moisture (so they'll weigh more).
The first, and frankly easiest way to soak cashews is to place them in a bowl, add enough tap water to cover the nuts completely, cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator to soak overnight. The next morning, they'll be ready to drain and use in the recipe.
If you haven't planned ahead and you still want to make this recipe right away, you can effectively do a quick soak of your cashews. Simply place them in a heat-safe bowl, cover them with hot water (near boiling, but not quite), cover the bowl and allow the nuts to sit in the hot water for 15 minutes.
Then, drain the nuts and continue with the recipe as written. The nuts won't be quite as soft this way, so you might have to blend the filling mixture a bit longer to ensure that everything is completely smooth.
There's a vegan option!
This recipe is made creamy and rich with soaked cashews, which is a great way to replace dairy in certain recipes. So you might wonder why it isn't vegan.
I love using coconut cream to make dairy-free recipes like my no churn dairy-free ice cream. But coconut cream will taste like coconut. I love the flavor of coconut, but I prefer it in recipes like coconut cupcakes or coconut cream pie, where it's intended to shine.
If you would like to make these cookie dough bars vegan, though, you can replace all of the dairy relatively easily. As explained in detail in the Ingredients and Substitutions below, you can replace the butter in the crust with coconut oil or shortening and the heavy whipping cream with coconut cream.
If you make those quick substitutions and ensure that your chocolate chips are vegan, these bars are deliciously vegan. If the coconut flavor of the coconut cream bothers you, try using more vanilla extract or even some almond extract as well, which tends to have a stronger flavor and aroma.
Ingredients and substitutions
Dairy-free: The dairy in this recipe comes in two forms: the butter in the (optional) crust, and the cream in the filling. The butter in the crust can easily be replaced with an equal amount, by weight, of virgin coconut oil or Spectrum nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening.
Be mindful that your cookie crumbs are dairy-free. The cream can be replaced with an equal amount of coconut cream. If you're concerned about coconut flavor in the bars, use triple-filtered virgin coconut oil, which has no coconut scent or flavor. I buy mine at my local Trader Joe's.
The coconut cream will have a faint coconut flavor, but it's mostly obscured by the taste of the vanilla and the brown sugar. Try adding some additional vanilla extract or even some almond extract to the bars to overpower any coconuttiness. ?
Brown sugar: If you'd like to try to make the filling recipe without refined sugar, you can try replacing the brown sugar with an equal amount, by weight, of coconut palm sugar. I recommend blending it separately before adding it to the other ingredients in the blender, as it has a coarse grind.
If you'd like to try making the recipe sugar-free, you can try replacing the brown sugar with Swerve brand brown sugar replacement. The molasses flavor in the brown sugar is largely responsible for making these bars taste like cookie dough, so a granulated sugar replacement isn't a good choice.
I haven't tried either of these substitutions, but since the sugar doesn't melt but is simply blended into the filling, I think either substitution should work. You'll either have to eliminate the crust or find a cookie to crumble that meets your sugar requirements as well. You can also try using sugar-free chocolate chips like Lily's brand (although I don't think Lily's has a mini chip variety).
Cashews: If you can't have nuts, I'm afraid you'll have to skip this recipe and turn to this edible cookie dough recipe instead. I don't believe that there is another nut that has the same neutral flavor and unique consistency of cashews.
If you're put off by the expense of raw cashews, please be sure to buy cashew pieces, which are significantly cheaper than whole raw cashews. We'll take their odds and ends since we're just going to blend them up anyway!
No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars
For the (optional) crust
8 ounces cookie crumbs (I used crushed gluten free graham crackers)
5 tablespoons (70 g) unsalted butter, melted
For the cookie dough filling
2 cups (240 g) raw cashews (pieces are fine)
Water for soaking
1 cup (8 fluid ounces) heavy whipping cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (112 g) virgin coconut oil, melted
2/3 cup (145 g) packed light brown sugar
4 ounces miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
Line a standard 8-inch square baking pan. For the (optional) crust, in a medium-sized bowl, combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter, and mix to combine well. Transfer the wet mixture to the prepared baking pan and press into an even layer on the bottom of the pan, using a moistened spoon or offset spatula. Place the pan in the refrigerator to chill.
For the cookie dough filling, you’ll need to soak the raw cashews. If you can plan in advance, place the cashew pieces in a medium-sized bowl, cover them with room temperature water, cover the bowl tightly and place in the refrigerator to chill overnight. If you haven’t planned in advance, place the cashew pieces in a medium-sized bowl, cover them with hot (but not boiling) water, cover the bowl, and allow the cashews to soak for 15 minutes. Drain the cashews of the soaking liquid, and discard the liquid.
In a blender, place the soaked and drained cashews, cream, vanilla, salt, coconut oil, and brown sugar. Stir a bit to combine, then blend on high speed until very smooth. The mixture will be thick. Place the filling in the refrigerator to chill for about 10 minutes or until no longer warm to the touch (otherwise the filling will melt the chips after you add them). The filling will thicken as it sits, but will still be stirrable.
Add about 3 ounces of the miniature chips into the cooled filling mixture and stir to combine. Remove the baking pan from the refrigerator and transfer the filling to the pan. Shake the filling into an even layer, and top evenly with the remaining miniature chocolate chips. Place the pan in the freezer to chill until very firm (about 4 hours). Remove from the pan, then slice into 9 square bars and serve chilled.
Adapted from Amy Le Creations.