I'm not sure what's come over me exactly
Other than somewhere in the nostalgic depths of my mind ..
there's an image of an aproned mother wearing lipstick and pearls pulling a pan of freshly-baked, perfectly browned, incredible-smelling granola bars out of the oven
My mother didn't bake granola bars
I don't even think her mother baked granola bars
Still, this weekend, after a long night of being on-call, I found myself up at the crack of dawn with a mixing bowl on the kitchen counter, searching for dried cranberries, almond butter, and an assortment of nuts
It's November, and we've got Bing Crosby on already, and I don't know, it just felt right
How could something so good have fallen out of the rotation?
I re-discovered them last week, as I searched through old family recipes with a notebook in hand, wishing I could call my grandmother, and hoping for Thanksgiving inspiration. In between the memories of kringla, oatmeal raisin cookies, oyster soup, and lefsa ..
I also pulled out a few to send to the kids. A couple of their favorites that I'd made for them over the years
The granola bars are based on a King Arthur recipe, which really and truly is as simple as it sounds. Put the fruit, nuts, along with the other dry ingredients in a bowl, add the wet. Share a spoonful of nut butter with the lazy dog at your feet. Mix the whole lot of it with a spoon or your hands, and maneuver them into your pan
If you'd like to make them into more of a time investment, chopping the fruit and nuts will pay off handsomely with flavors distributed throughout your bars. (Introvert alert: Congrats! You've just discovered a new excuse for staying in this morning)
With your hands, you'll shape your blend imperfectly into the pan, just as your husband wanders into the kitchen to start his coffee. “You know there's a food processor in the corner cupboard?” he'll say, upon seeing remnants of the botched attempt at dried fruit chopping
And you won't have known that, nor will you have cared. It's nostalgia you're after .. no machines allowed
You will set the timer and settle in on the sofa with your favorite blanket. He will pour you a cup of hot tea.
You will thumb through your latest cooking magazines with a kitty purring quietly on your lap. Everyone in the house (you included) will sneak in a nap, rising just as the timer dings .. to a house that smells warm, bright, and beloved
You will wait not-so-patiently as they cool on the stovetop. Twenty minutes later, the waiting gets the better of you and you will lift out the first crispy end. You will knife salted butter atop, marveling at how dense, chewy, and addictive they truly are
Maybe next time you'll add butterscotch chips or a handful of puffed rice cereal. Deliver a batch or two to the neighbors, keeping one for yourself. Realize the aproned mother from the depths of your mind is you .. sans apron, sans pearls, sans lipstick, but every bit as lovely in her ponytail and nut butter smeared pajamas
I was drawn to these granola bars, back when the kids were in school and we needed a grab and go idea for breakfast
After leading me to the best whole wheat muffin I've ever eaten .. I've trusted their recipes and this one didn't disappoint. With a few tweaks, ie: reducing the sugar significantly and putting them in a smaller pan to make them as thick as those from Whole Foods .. these were exactly what I'd been pining for
This is one of the most flexible recipes there is. When it comes to granola bars, what you're looking for is a basic proportion of chunky (nuts, dried fruit) to sticky (honey, nut butter, regular butter, or oils). From there, it's all in your hands
The vanilla is optional. The cinnamon is optional. In your two to three cups chunky blend, you can use no dried fruit or you can use all dried fruit. You can toss in things like nuts, puffed rice cereal, coconut, flax seeds, or wheat germ. The possibilities are endless
A few suggestions? Dried cranberries, apricots, pecans, sunflower seeds, coconut, walnuts, sesame seeds, pepitas, dried apples or even chocolate chips.
My mix as of late: 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup walnuts, 1/2 cup pecans, 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, and 1/2 cup wheat germ. Because my pieces are all pretty coarse, I like to pulse them in the food processor, though this isn’t necessary if you don’t mind yours with bigger chunks
They're the best granola bars I've ever eaten
A few additional notes:
The original calls for sticky bun sugar which will give the bars a lovely crisp edge and chewy center. I like to use natural sugar
On the King Arthur's site, there is quite a bit of discussion around the possibility of the bars turning out crumbly. This has happened to me on occasion. The best way, I've found, to assure they stay together is to press them firmly into the pan (you can use a piece of plastic wrap to help with this) .. bake them five or so minutes longer (mine were quite brown around the edges and slightly beige on top) .. and make sure they are 100% cool before cutting into them.
In addition to letting them cool completely, I like to put mine in the fridge for 30 to 45 minutes. Any longer and they'll be too firm. This amount of time seems just right to allow them set, so there's no chance they'll come apart. Afterward, you can store them outside of the fridge and they'll still stay together
~ Adapted from King Arthur Flour
- 1⅔ cup rolled oats
- ½ to ¾ cup Natural sugar (ie: Sugar in the Raw or turbinado. Use more for a sweetness akin to most purchased bars; use less for a mildly sweet bar)
- ⅓ cup oat flour (or ⅓ cup oats, processed till finely ground in a food processor or blender)
- ½ tsp fine grain sea salt
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 - 3 cups dried fruits and nuts (** see notes above)
- ⅓ cup nut butter, optional (I like almond butter)
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 6 Tbsp butter, melted but not hot
- ¼ cup + 2 Tbsp honey or maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon water
- Preheat the oven to 350 deg 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
- If you'd like smaller pieces of fruit and nuts throughout the bars, chop them by hand or pulse a few times in the food processor.
- Add them, along with the dry ingredients, to a bowl and combine
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter, liquid sweetener, nut butter, and water.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine (the mix will be evenly crumbly)
- Spread into the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. (Pressing down on the back of a piece of plastic wrap can help with this)
- Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. (It's ok to have a little color on the tops as well)
- When you take them out of the oven, they'll seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the center of the pan, but never fear, they'll set completely once they've cooled. (**see note above)
- Allow the bars cool completely before putting them in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes to fully set.
- Cut them with a serrated knife into squares
- 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.