Soft, Thick & Chewy Granola Bars
I kind of have these ideas in my head of the type of kitchen-life I will lead when I grow up. The specifics change all the time, but the basic structure of it goes something like this:
(You are warned now that this is highly imaginary and most likely unrealistic. This is how I work.)
Each day of the week is designated as a specific day for prepping or accomplishing some major food thing. For example, we could say Monday is designated as “stock day,” and it’s when I use up all the extra vegetables, meat and bones (because obviously I’m going to be cooking up roast chicken at least once a week, right?), and churn out the highest quality stock to be used for soups and sauces throughout the week. Tuesday could be the day where I make creme anglais and maybe some fruit coulis, if some fresh fruit is available, to be used to top ice cream or any cakes. Wednesday could be for making some sandwich bread, or maybe batches of flatbread dough to be cooked up when the occasion demands. Each day of the week would have some culinary purpose. You get the idea? This all sounds incredibly fun if it were possible to play out in real life, but of course as is always the case in this sad life, you and I both know it’ll never actually happen. Nonetheless, still fun to imagine.
Anyway, in these idealistic visions in my head, one of the days of the week is always specified for breakfast-y things. I would make big batches of granola, bake up some healthy fruit and nut muffins, maybe even make some sausage egg breakfast burritos to keep in the fridge throughout the week. (Let’s ignore the fact that I have yet to even make this so-called breakfast burrito in my life. It’ll happen.) As of now, add these granola bars to that list. They’d be individually wrapped up in wax paper, just waiting to be snagged in the morning to eat as a quick breakfast or snack throughout the day. It would be perfect. Or should I say it will be perfect?
Of course, this is how the actual process of making these bars went: The morning after arriving home for my spring break, I mixed up all the ingredients, enough for a double batch, while my mom cleaned up the disaster-mess I was making as I went. Said double batch of granola bars exceeded the 8 x 11 glass dish I was putting them into and I had to divvy it up in another pan. Said double batch of granola bars was of course annihilated by my six-person family that seems to always compete for treats around the house when they are around. The leftover granola bars that weren’t eaten in the first two hours of their existence (of said double batch) were packed up to send off to my spring-break-ending brother and sister in Seattle. There were none left for individual wax paper wrappings. None are sitting in the cupboards waiting for an early morning to-go breakfast.
So whatever to my so-called perfect plans for my future in the kitchen. I kind of have an inkling of a feeling that how the process of these granola bars went this time is probably how it will always go. But you know, I think I’m okay with that. Because after all, the whole objective of all this baking-prepping-cooking is met—and that’s to make nice things that make people happy. A little vague and wishy-washy maybe, but at least that part is true and real.
A note about these granola bars, though: I’m going to be straight-forward with you and tell you that these were pretty awesome. I do realize that most people say that when they present you with a recipe, so I’m going to be a little more specific: if you want granola bars that taste like healthy, (far) less sugary and fatty versions of soft and chewy oatmeal cookies, these are it. They have a chew to them, and the pockets of nuts and dried fruit keep you always biting for more. These are not, however, crunchy or crispy, so if that’s what makes you happy when it comes to breakfast bars, these probably aren’t for you.
A few things — As mentioned above, I doubled the batch. However, due to the quirkiness of fitting it into baking sheets, as well as the honestly crazy amount of granola bars it made, I’m posting the single-batch version below. Also, the recipe calls for quick rolled oats, and I ended up just using the regular rolled oats. It was fine, but I think using the quick-version of the oats will lend to more cohesive bars with less tendency to crumble or break apart.
In terms of what to compose your granola bars of, this is really flexible. I’m posting below the combination of nuts and fruits that I used, but feel free to substitute any of them–the key is to try to get within 2-3 cups, or 10-15 ounces worth of goodies to add in. Other ideas than the combination below: dried cranberries, blueberries, apricots, almonds, seeds, chocolate chips, rice cereal, et cetera.
1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
1/3 cup oat flour (or 1/3 cup oats, processed till finely ground in a food processor or blender)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (if using less dried fruit, add up to 1/4 cup more)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 to 3 cups dried fruits and nuts (total of 10 to 15 ounces), I used:
3/4 cup (3.2ish ounces) dried cherries
1/3 cup (1.5 ounces) golden raisins
1/3 cup (1.5 ounces) pecans
1/2 cup (1.75 ounces) walnuts
1/2 cup (1.5 ounces) unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8 x 8 pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides in order to create a “sling” that will make it easy to get the bars out. Lightly butter the parchment paper and the exposed pan.
If your combination of fruits and nuts is pretty chunky, like mine were, pulse in a food processor a couple of times to break them down a little bit, or roughly chop to get the same effect. Combine the dry ingredients all together, including the oats, oat flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and dried fruits and nuts. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter or oil, and liquid sweeteners until smooth. Toss with the dry until the mixture is evenly crumbly and coated. In the now empty bowl of what held the wet ingredients, whisk together the egg and water until even, and add to the oat-sweetner mixture to coat. I found this part necessary to encourage the mixture being moist enough and to make it more glued together. Spread mixture in the prepared pan, pressing in firmly.
Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges and a little golden on top.
Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. Once cool, lift up the “sling” to take the bars out of the pan, and using a serrated knife, cut the bars into squares. Store bars, at room temperature, or in the fridge if it’s humid.