Monday, September 20, 2010

Granola Bars

There seem to be certain truisms of parenting an infant. Baby boys will pee on you about once a week. Finding the time to shower is shockingly difficult. And new nursing mothers crave nothing more than calorie-dense, healthy snacks that can be eaten with one hand.

I spent last weekend with my dear friend in Minneapolis, checking in on her and her adorable cooing baby boy. In addition to catching up, taking walks, and general infant detail, we cooked a staggering amount of food. Potato knishes (and their exciting cousins, broccoli cheddar potato knishes), red lentil soup, borscht, kreplach, chard and carrot salad, lentil walnut burgers, enchilada sauce, sloppy sauce, oatmeal raisin cookies, and some other things I’m probably forgetting. I’m surprised we were able to close the freezer. I can report that, based upon this small nonscientific sampling, any of the above would be happily received by a new mother. But these homemade granola bars might be our most exciting creation.

The majority of commercially-made granola bars are tooth-achingly sweet, more like a oaty alternative to a doughnut than an actual health food. Luckily Smitten Kitchen took on this quest for a delicious granola bar, and adapted a recipe from the venerable King Arthur Flour blog (the folks behind my favorite peanut butter chocolate cookies). I took this adaptation and tweaked it even further, cutting the sugar down yet again, swapping out honey for the corn syrup (or, as I believe it would like to be known, corn sugar), fussing with the spices, and replacing the butter with the oh-so-delicious coconut oil. This recipe is a lovely loose template, giving you a framework into which you can sneak any nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or other nubby goodness your pantry and heart steer you towards (we went with a pantry-cleaning mix of almonds, walnuts, pecans, sesame seeds, flax meal, coconut, dried cranberries and raisins). The bars are like your favorite granola, all toasty and nutty, pressed into a convenient hand-held cube. Irresistible. I doubled the recipe and left behind a lasagna pan’s-worth of bars behind me, but I doubt they’ll last the week.

Granola Bars

adapted from King Arthur Flour, via Smitten Kitchen
yields 1 8" square tray

Make sure you let these bars fully chill in the refrigerator before cutting. If you’re impatient and jump the gun (because, say, you needed to clear out the casserole dish in order to fill it with spanikopita), your bars may crumble a bit (in a related note, the crumbles are ridiculously delicious with yogurt). Chilling the bars fully sets them firmly, allowing you to neatly chop them into single servings.

1 2/3 cups rolled oats (aka oatmeal)
1/3 cup oat flour (if your pantry doesn’t contain this, just blitz oatmeal until it’s reduced to a floury powder)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
pinch cinnamon
pinch cardamom
pinch nutmeg
2-3 cups dried fruits, nuts, seeds or grains of your choosing (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, prunes, dried apricots, currants, flax seeds, ground flax meal, etc etc etc)
6 Tbsp coconut oil (substitute butter if desired)
1/3 cup almond butter (or peanut butter)
4-6 Tbsp honey (depending on your sweet tooth and honey availability)
1 Tbsp water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

If your nuts aren’t toasted, you can toast them in the oven while you’re assembling the other ingredients (this step may sound fussy, but the depth of flavor you get is totally worth it—just make sure you don’t forget and burn everything).

Mix together all of the dry ingredients (including sugar) in a large bowl, and set aside. Line an 8” square pan with parchment, if you have it, or just grease the pan well and hope for the best. Set aside.

Place the coconut oil in a saucepan, and warm over a low heat until it melts (this won’t take long). Add the almond butter, honey, and water, let sit for a moment to warm and loosen, and then mix until well combined. Pour this syrupy mixture over your dry ingredients, and stir until well combined. Pour the combined dough into your pan, and press it down firmly to compact it evenly. Place in the oven and bake ~30-45 minutes, until the edges and top are lightly browned (if you like your bars chewy take them out as soon as this browning happens, when the bars seem barely set; for crisper bars wait until they are well-browned). Let the pan of uncut bars cool to room temperature, then move them to the refrigerator until they are fully chilled (~45 minutes). Remove the bars from the pan, and cut them into shapes of your choosing. Store at room temperature in a covered container, or in the refrigerator if the weather’s hot and humid. They also freeze beautifully.


  1. Nice, Deena! I was just looking at the KAF blog's whopping 1 cup plus of sugar and thinking the same thing! What a lovely gift to you friend, as well- to help stock her freezer with all those wonderful things! I'm sure she will think of you each time a meal is already mostly made! (please note the use of 4 exclamation points!)

  2. Let me know how you like them! I found them ridiculously addictive -- we're definitely adding these to our standard new-parent-food-drop-package. And I have no idea how KAF could put in that much sugar. These are nicely sweet, esp. if you put in a hefty load of dried fruit.

  3. Deena,
    I just made these last night and the first words out of my husband's mouth were - these are amazing! And I have to agree. I hate buying granola bars at the store - so expensive and certainly less than optimal for nutrition! Thanks for adapting the recipe to be something we love so much! Oh by the way, our combination was raisins/dates and walnuts/almonds/pistachios.

  4. So glad you (and your husband) liked them! That combination sounds lovely. Now I'm wishing I had a batch here (and also not, since I would eat them all).

  5. Yum, I love homemade granola bars. And you are spot on, they are perfect for a new mom. If you want to be a little decadent, try using some cherries in the dried fruit mix, and replacing some of the almond butter with a chocolate hazelnut butter.
    And I can't wait to try the lentil walnut burgers!

  6. Trying this today, I'll let you know how they do in my novice hands.

    1. Plane snack on the way to NYC? Let me know how they turn out! And 'novice hands'? Really?

  7. Hi Deena,
    This is just the recipe I have been looking for! Made a batch of these this morning with toasted walnuts, flaxseed meal and unsweetened cherries and used peanut butter instead of almond butter. They taste so good!! Just one disappointment - I took them out of the oven after 30 minutes but they still turned out a bit dry and crumble somewhat when I cut them. Any advice on how to approach my next batch so that doesn't happen? Thank you!!

    1. Sorry for the crumbling! A few tweaks you can make: First off, you can decrease the amount of oats/stuff slightly. Also a shorter cooking time will give you a softer bar - ovens vary, so let the color be your guide. But even a perfect bar will crumble if you cut it too early - make sure the bars are totally chilled before you slice. Luckily, any crumbles are perfect stirred into some yogurt!