Ah, candy. There's just something about peeling back the wrapper on your favorite kind and sinking your teeth in.

Of course, once the initial taste gets past your lips, it's kind of downhill from there. After all, no one ever finished eating a bunch of candy and then said, "Yeah! Now I feel great—plenty of energy for a fantastic workout!" So we set out to make a sweet treat that you can enjoy without the hangover.

These better-for-you nut butter cups are still candy, of course, so this isn't a license to scarf down the whole batch (sorry). But with very dark chocolate (and its attendant health benefits), almond butter, and a layer of caramel made from energy-boosting dates, they're certainly a better choice than the refined-sugar bombs sold in convenience stores.

The result: You get your candy fix without the post-treat crash #winwin!

Caramel-Almond Butter Cups

Yield: About 14

2 lightly packed cups pitted dates (about 20, 11 oz. total)

2 Tbsp. coconut oil

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Generous pinch of salt

8 oz. dark chocolate (at least 70%), chopped

1/3 cup almond butter

Coarse sea salt flakes, such as Maldon, optional

  1. Place dates, 1 Tbsp. coconut oil, vanilla, and pinch of salt in a food processor and pulse until blended and just some small pieces remain. With machine running, drizzle in 1 Tbsp. hot water. Continue to mix, adding more hot water if needed, until a smooth paste forms. Be careful not to add too much water; you want the caramel to be soft and supple but not too runny.
  2. In a double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate with remaining 1 Tbsp. coconut oil until smooth.
  3. Fill 14 cups of a mini muffin tin with paper or foil liners. Spoon 1 tsp. melted chocolate into a muffin cup, spread with a small brush or the back of a spoon so chocolate covers bottom and most of the sides. Repeat with remaining muffin liners. Refrigerate or freeze until chocolate is firm. Spoon 1 to 2 tsp. almond butter into each cup, followed by 1 tsp. date caramel. Use moistened finger to press caramel down to a flat layer. Freeze for 10 minutes.
  4. Top cups with remaining chocolate (start with 1 heaping tsp. per cup). Sprinkle each with a little bit of coarse sea salt flakes, if desired. Refrigerate or freeze until firm. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Note: These are homemade treats, so they tend not to behave like the store-bought kind. When you bite down on these cups, they smoosh a bit. If anyone complains, no more candy for them!