Daily Archives: October 4, 2009
I have been trying to come up with the Perfect Homemade (non peanut butter–my daughter’s at a nut-free school) Granola Bar recipe for months. The first batch were spurned by the children (and went to a soccer game as post-game snacks, thereby cementing my reputation early in the season as being literally a Granola Mom), the second batch the kids also didn’t like but my husband did, so he’s taking them to work. (My husband, I should point out, also likes Grape Nuts cereal. He’s a big twigs and berries kind of guy, when he’s not eating Italian beef sandwiches.)
The basic problem seemed to be that they all tasted nice enough but seemed to get this sort of cardboard-y texture once baked. Sort of thick and hard to chew, even if the flavor was wonderful. At some point it occurred to me when I hit a couple of recipes with toasted oats that one of granola’s hallmarks is that the oatmeal is toasted and not just plain oat-y, you know? So I tried a new recipe, my own tweaky little variation on this one I found on The Daily Green. I naturally messed with it a bit–I wanted the oats toasted more than the original recipe did, and mine needed more oats and Other Stuff than the original recipe called for or it would be floating in its sugar-egg syrup. And I’d promised my kids that the next batch we tried could have chocolate chips, which is why the entirely non-healthy substitution of chocolate chips for the dried cranberries. Actually, it would be fun to play with different dried fruits in this–chopped dried apricots, for example, or cherries with a few chocolate chips and maybe almonds instead of pecans…and if they sell very well around the house, I’ll make some with no nuts that my daughter can take to her (nut-free) school. So here goes:
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1.5 tablespoon canola oil
1+ teaspoon cinnamon (other spices–nutmeg, ginger, allspice, etc.–to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups oats
2/3 cup mini chocolate chips (or dried fruit–cranberries, cherries, raisins, whatever)
1/2 cup pecans or other nut, chopped (leave out if you have to worry about nut allergies!)
1 tbs flour, plus up to 1/4 cup combined oat bran and/or flaxseed meal (opt)
1. Preheat oven to 350degrees F. Spread oats and nuts (if using) on a foil-lined 11×16-ish baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, for 15-ish minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. (Be careful not to let them burn) (A baking sheet with a slight “lip” works best for this recipe.)
2. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
3. While the oats are toasting: In a large bowl, whisk eggs, brown sugar, oil, cinnamon, salt and vanilla extract. Wash a few dishes and wait for the oats to finish. Stir in toasted oats, nuts if using, flour, and flax/oat bran if using. Stir in dried fruit and/or chocolate chips. (If you’re using chips, make sure the mixture is cool enough when you add them to not melt them!)
4. Lightly oil the foil-covered baking sheet you used to toast the oats, or spray with cooking spray.
5. Spread the oat mixture in the prepared baking sheet (you may need to oil your hands for this part). If you’re not afraid of the raw egg thing, lick the stuff that stuck on them anyway off your hands. Swoon a little and contemplate not even baking them until you remember the raw egg thing. The layer in the pan should be fairly thin–about a third of an inch thick, but make sure you can’t see foil through any of it.
5. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool about 5 minutes. While still warm, with a sharp knife, make cuts in the shape and size of the bars you want but do not remove from pan/foil. Once they are cool, separate and remove bars.
A couple of caveats: It really is helpful for these bars that you find a baking sheet with sides, sort of like a jelly roll pan, that will fit all of the oat mixture–I tried just pressing a layer into a cookie sheet, and it was hard to make nice square edges, and those edges were very crumbly; a cookie sheet works fine as long as it’s the kind with a lip; these did beautifully. Also, if you try to cut them while they’re too hot they will crumble apart; but wait till they’re completely cool and you’ll have very little luck and likely have to settle for random shaped “granola bar brittle.” (Ask me how I know this.) Scoring the bar shape after a few minutes of cooling seems to work best. And don’t even think of trying this without lining the pan with foil and oiling it. You’ll be attacking the pan with a chisel.
Using dried fruit means that within a day or so of storage these bars will be less crispy, as they pick up moisture from the fruit. The ones with chocolate chips only stayed very crisp.
VERDICT: These bars were, in a word, AMAZING. Like, OMG give me more the batch won’t last till tomorrow amazing. (Okay, that’s the ones with chocolate chips. The cherry-almond ones were merely Seriously Really Good.) And I’m fairly sure it was toasting the oats that made the difference. Toasting the oats makes them crunchier and gives them a nice nutty flavor that none of the other bars I’ve made managed, and I suspect it also helps prevent the liquid from soaking into the oats themselves, so it can better do its job of holding the bars together. My son uses his hushed and reserved-only-for-great-stuff “AWESOME!” voice to speak of these bars. (My daughter doesn’t care for them. I think. If you’ve noticed my daughter’s reviews don’t get included in my posts very often, it’s because she’s wildly inconsistent and can love something one day and despise it the next, or she says things like “It’s delicious! I love it! And I’m hungry! But I’m not going to eat it.” So I’ve given up on trying to figure her out.)
These bars are the crispy-crunchy kind–more like the old Nature Valley granola bars we all ate before there were seven thousand kinds on the market (remember those? I haven’t had them since I was a kid.) than the chewier ones we’re more accustomed to now. Health-wise–well, there’s a lot of sugar, but not a lot of oil. The interplay of eggs and sugar is what binds it all together, so I’m not sure how much leeway there is in messing with the proportions. I’m sure I’ll futz with reducing the amount of sweetener, but for the moment these proportions seem to work.