Friday, September 23, 2011

Homemade granola bars that don't fall apart!

I have been trying to make "perfect" granola bars for weeks, and I finally succeeded!  I plan to send these to Bean's preschool for snack when it's our turn.  His school is nut-free this year, so I've been trying to think of a variety of snacks to send (I've sent peanut butter as a dip in the past).

I started with a recipe from Kitchen Stewardship, and they were so tasty...but they crumbled like crazy.  I couldn't conceive of sending them to school.  I could hardly give a piece to Bean to try without it crumbling.  It didn't stop me from eating most of the 20 bars mounds of crumble it produced, but I wanted to do better.

The following week, I tried adding more honey.  They were no longer crumbly, but they also weren't sturdy.  They were almost soggy.  They bent/sagged when I picked them up.  Still not acceptable.

So I got to thinking about what I could use as a binder, and thought of the fruity "Lära" bars that use dates...could it work in granola bars?

I looked around on various websites, and most of them were suggesting you heat the honey and butter on the stove and add it to already-toasted granola.  Then you let it cool.  Cooking two things separately sounded like a lot of work and a lot of dishes. 

Last night I tried out the dates...and it worked!  The Beast took two bars to work today for snacks, and I lost count of how many I ate.  I think I had two for breakfast...  They are so tasty, and I think they're going to be really great for throwing in the diaper bag, taking on hikes, and helping The Beast stay well-fed at work (the man probably eats 3000-3500 calories a day...). 

And they are easy!  Heck, I forgot to butter the pan but they still came out alright (the fact that it's a non-stick pan probably saved my oats...).  I forgot to add the chocolate chips and just poured them on top when it came out of the oven.  It worked out just fine!

So here it is!  My granola bar recipe.

1/2 c. dried deglet dates
1/2 c. butter, softened (you can microwave it for 30 seconds to soften it plenty)
1c. honey (I originally was going to use 1/2 c. but the mixture looked too dry)
4 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup flour of any sort
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
2 tablespoons of chia seeds (these are optional, but they do make for a better texture)
Add-ins I've tried: 
  • 1c. mini-chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter - add this with the butter, honey, and dates.  Peanut butter and chocolate chips are The Beast's favorites.
  • 1/2 c. each of dried cranberries and diced dried apricots
  • Chocolate (with no processed sugar!) - replace 1/4c. flour with cocoa powder
  • The pumpkin variation.

-Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

-Butter a 9x13 pan (straight edges/corners work best)

-Process the dates in your food processor or blender.  Add to a large mixing bowl with the butter and honey.  Use a hand mixer to blend thoroughly.

-Add everything else but the add-ins and beat until well-combined.

-Stir in your add-ins.

-Transfer mixture to the pan.  With slightly wet fingers, firmly press the mixture into the pan.

-Bake for 15-20 minutes (my oven runs a little hot, so 15 minutes is plenty).

-Allow to cool for 10+ minutes (I did dishes and started dinner) before cutting into bars.  I used a pastry cutter/scraper because it has a straight and fairly sharp edge.  A sharp knife would work, too.  I made 20 bars from the 9x13 pan.

-Once they're cut, refrigerate overnight (or so).  Then remove the bars from the pan and store in layers, with a piece of wax paper between.  The Beast took his to work in a container, but you could package them any way you like.

Other thoughts, tips, and ideas

-For maximum efficiency of dishes producing lots of food for the week, I first made a double batch of granola. I put half of it on a cookie sheet and half of it in the 9x13 pan.  The granola in the pan took a little longer to toast, but not by much.  While that was going, I washed dishes and prepared the granola bar mixture in the same bowl I'd used for the granola (will have to make nut-free granola to be extra safe for preschool).  I let the granola cool and stored it before buttering the pan and loading it up.  Then, while the granola bars cooked, I did some more dishes to clear some space.  While they cooled, I made the fruity ("Lära") bars - and I made them into heart shapes, per a request from Bean.  They are cute!

-Choose your knife/cutting implement carefully.  You want something you can press down into the bars with and not have to saw/drag back and forth.  You could try a pizza wheel, a large chef's knife, etc.

-One recipe I was looking at had a great allergy tip:  you can easily make these gluten-free by grinding a cup of oats in your blender or food processor and using that oat flour.

-If you really want great-looking bars, you could line your pan with parchment paper, chill the whole thing, turn out the entire pan, and cut the bars outside the pan.  Then you're not dealing with getting the bars out of the pan, and they separate when cut so they don't get smushed.  I'd rather not deal with the parchment paper, and I don't mind if my bars are slightly irregular, so I didn't do that.

Update 12/2/12
PHOTOS of the bars in progress.  I had some questions about what the batter should look like.  Here are some pictures that will hopefully help!

Dates processed into oblivion.  I always think they look a bit like frosting.
Honey, butter, and dates:  you can see flecks of dates, but everything is well-mixed.
The final batter (before add-ins).  It should clump, but it won't be stuck together until you've pressed it into the pan and baked it.
Close-up of the batter without add-ins.
cranberry-apricot bars ready to go in the oven
Chocolate and cranberry-apricot bars ready to go in the fridge or freezer.  NOM!
Chocolate granola bar, ready to go in my belly!
Cranberry-apricot bars, stacked as artfully as I do...

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