Sunday, February 21, 2010

thick, chewy granola bars

thick, chewy granola bars

I know, I know, I just talked up granola bars last September. Waxing on about granola bars twice in six months is just weird, right? I can’t help it, I honestly don’t remember last September. I was 37 weeks pregnant. I was as big as a house. I had a baby two weeks later, which I barely remember either, though that’s probably for the best. I forgot about the granola bars in my freezer too, until at least December and when I unearthed them they were so crisp I had to crumble them over yogurt. With a mallet. Then two weeks ago I bought a house-made granola bar at Whole Foods, sunk my teeth into it’s thicky, chewy, ingredient-laden madness and was consumed with envy; why haven’t I made granola bars that taste like that? (Minus about half the sugar; they’re crazy sweet. )

oatsbig, flaky coconutpecans, walnuts, wheat germ, cherriesmelted butter is always the answer

So I got back to the drawing board which quickly led me to a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website. I’ve been warm to their recipes since they led me to the best whole wheat muffin I’ve ever eaten and this one did not disappoint. With a few tweaks — reducing the sugar significantly and putting it in a smaller pan in an attempt to make them as thick as those from Whole Foods — these were exactly what I had been pining for.

(And seriously, can you imagine a better food gift to bring to new parents? Trust me, few things are more welcome than delicious nutrient-rich food in compact/one-hand-eating-friendly packages.)

granola "batter", to be baked

Mostly, however, I’m hoping these will fill a void in my own diet these days: breakfast. Ever since we brought in a lovely lady to watch Jacob in the mornings so I could get some of this wild thing called “work” done, I’ve discovered what a mean boss I am. To me, that is! I mean to me! (The only thing the nanny has to suffer through is all of the cooking samples she wants to take home, lingering stenches of bubbling cheese and toasting granola and wiping the drool off this gummy grin.) I cannot bring myself to spend a second of this precious work time to eat breakfast. Time is money, Deb! And by the time she leaves, I am so hungry I am forced to eat the baby. Again. If these granola bars don’t become part of my morning routine, quickly, the poor kid is only going to have one arm and half a cheek by the time he starts preschool. And I’ll have so much explaining to do.

Fortunately for Jacob’s remaining cheek, these granola bars have so far exceeded our expectations that the hardest thing will be getting them to last until Monday morning’s breakfast.

granola bars

One year ago: Thick, Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (apparently, mid-February gets thick and chewy on my brain)
Two years ago: Escarole and Orzo Soup with Meatballs
Three years ago: Vegetable Dumplings

Thick, Chewy Granola Bars
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

This is probably the most flexible recipe I’ve posted. When it comes to granola, what you’re looking for is a basic proportion of chunky (nuts, dried fruit) to sticky (syrups, sugar, butter or oils) and from there, you can really go to town. The vanilla is optional. The cinnamon is optional. You can use no dried fruit or you can use all dried fruit in your 2 to 3 cup mix. You can toss in things like puffed rice cereal or flax seeds. In the comments, I’d love to hear what mix you came up with and how you liked it. I can only imagine the possibilities.

Of note: The original recipe calls for something called “sticky bun sugar” which can be made at home with sugar, butter and corn syrup. It is for this reason that corn syrup is listed within one ingredient but also separately, and I used all butter rather than two different fats. Whether the corn syrup can be entirely replaced with honey or maple syrup or the butter can be entirely replaced with a healthier oil is worth auditioning, I just didn’t. Yet. I can tell you this: as is, this is the best granola bar I’ve ever eaten.

1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats (if gluten-free, be sure to use gluten-free oats)
1/2 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar (use more for a sweetness akin to most purchased bars; use less for a mildly sweet bar)
1/3 cup oat flour (or 1/3 cup oats, processed till finely ground in a food processor or blender)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 to 3 cups dried fruits and nuts (total of 10 to 15 ounces)*
1/3 cup peanut butter or another nut butter (I used almond butter) (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional, namely because I was not convinced that the flavor came through)
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup honey, maple syrup or corn syrup
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (see Note above)
1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. 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 or oil, liquid sweeteners and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry (and peanut butter, if you’re using it) 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. (A piece of plastic wrap can help with this, as you press down on the back of it.)

Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges — don’t be afraid to get a little color on the tops too. They’ll still seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the center of the pan but do not worry, they’ll set completely once completely cool.

Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. (Alternately, 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 cool, a serrated knife (or bench knife) to cut the bars into squares. [Updating to note, as many had crumbling issues:] If bars seem crumbly, chill the pan of them further in the fridge for 30 minutes which will fully set the “glue”, then cut them cold. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container. In humid weather, it’s best to store bars in the refrigerator. They also freeze well.

*Suggestions: Dried cranberries, apricots, pecans, sunflower seeds, coconut, walnuts, sesame seeds, pepitas, dried pples or even chocolate chips. My mix: 1/2 cup wheat germ, 1 cup dried cherries, 1 cup walnuts, 1/2 cup pecans and 1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut flakes. Because my pieces were all pretty coarse, I pulsed them in the food processor a few times to break it up a little, though this isn’t necessary if you don’t mind yours chunkier.


Comment

[New here? You might want to check out the Comment Guidelines before chiming in.]