Since I am a person who likes a little something with my tea in the afternoons, and since I am also a person who goes to the gym after that, I'm always looking for afternoon snack options that are reasonably healthy and reasonably filling and also, of course, more than reasonably tasty. These granola bars absolutely fit the bill. The beauty of the original recipe is that it is incredibly flexible and adaptable. I am writing about it now because I wanted to write about one particular combination.
Last year, during the May blogathon, I wrote about my favorite granola recipe, one full of coconut and wheat germ, sesame and sunflower seeds, slivered almonds and raw cashews, raisins and dried cranberries. Since I started making it, seven or so years ago, I have not strayed. I figured that since the granola was so delicious, the granola bar version of it must be equally delicious. And, I have to say, I was right. Not only that, but the bar version is almost more delicious thanks to the addition of peanut butter, which is obviously a bit tricky to add to granola but ideal in granola bars that you want to stick together. All of my testers approved heartily, and the granola bars were gone within just a few days.
I tried again a week later, this time adding chocolate chips. I am sad to say that it didn't work. It's not that the granola bars were inedible or anything--they tasted fine. But somehow the chocolate didn't mesh with the rest of the ingredients the way I hoped it would. I am going to go back to the original recipe and try a different combination that might work better with the chocolate--no sesame or sunflower seeds, for one thing, and perhaps peanuts or more almonds for the nuts. I will report back if I come up with anything particularly good.
A few notes: I took Deb's advice to make these in an 8" x 8" square pan (though mine is actually 9" x 9") rather than a 9" x 13" pan--this is how they get their thickness, but you do need to be press them firmly into the pan so that they stick together. I use a stainless steel measuring cup to assist with this. The thickness means that they're dense. Deb says she cuts hers into 16 pieces and eats them for breakfast. Since I mostly eat mine as a snack, I've been cutting them into 25 pieces, meaning they are small but still potent.
I usually don't cook with corn syrup, but it helps with the sticking together. Please note that light corn syrup is not the same as the high fructose corn syrup that is so evil.
As you might guess, the sticking together can be an issue. If you read through the 400+ comments on Smitten Kitchen, you'll see that it comes up frequently. (It's also fascinating to read the different combinations people have come up with.) Letting them cool completely before you cut them helps (though it takes some self control). Some time in the fridge helps. I also found that after a night in an airtight container, they held together pretty well. Also be aware that these keep very nicely. I didn't bother individually wrapping them--I just put the squares into a container, and they were fine. Several people mentioned making a double batch and baking it in a 9" x 13" pan, which I might try if I make these for an occasion or if I want to be generous and share while still having plenty for myself. That's the thing about these granola bars--they make you (me) a little bit greedy. But when it comes to granola bars, that might not be such a bad thing.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen/King Arthur Flour
1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar (This makes a not overly sweet bar, but you could cut down or eliminate if you wanted them even less sweet)
1/3 cup oat flour (or 1/3 cup oats, processed till finely ground in a food processor or blender)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup dried coconut
1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup slivered almonds (I used toasted ones, though raw would be fine.)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray.
Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter and oil, honey, corn syrup and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry along with the peanut butter until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. (I used a stainless steel measuring cup to help with this.)
Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. (I find that 35 minutes works well--the edges are dark brown, the center light brown and a bit soft. They will firm up as they cool)
Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. (Alternately, according to Deb, after about 20 minutes you can use your parchment “sling” to lift and remove the bars, and place them in their paper on the rack to cool the rest of the way. This can speed the process up.)
Once they're cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy.