It’s a classic part of a lunchbox: the granola bar. I’ve made many recipes over the years, because I love the nutrition it packs in a little item, and I appreciate how they can work for breakfast, snacks or dessert.
One of my favourites for years has been the Almond-Date Breakfast Bars from Smitten Kitchen’s first cookbook; I wrote about those in this post. I made these vegan, no-bake bars last winter; this summer, I also tried these chocolate-cherry coconut bars. All were delicious, and all full of almonds or nut butters. Now that both of my kids are in school, I’ve been hunting for a nut-free bar for their lunchboxes. Back in July, I began this quest by making this recipe from the Smitten Kitchen website, which is not only nut-free but gluten-free and dairy-free also. Throwing in chocolate (in chunk or chip form) takes it out of the breakfast category for us, but ups the excitement factor for lunchboxes, so that’s a change I felt made sense. Here’s that recipe, tucked into a day camp box - it uses uncooked quinoa for crunch and protein, which I liked.
However, as you can sort-of tell from the photo, the bars were very crumbly. Not ideal for a lunchbox, where you want to be able to pick up your snack without it breaking into little pieces. The two things that I almost always find disappointing about commercial granola bars is that they are A) too sweet and B) too dry. I decided to look for a recipe that put some gluten back in (dairy optional), to keep it a chewier texture.
I found the answer on the super website Food 52. The recipe employed several smart techniques for keeping the bars totally chewy. Included in the dry ingredients (glass bowl above) were chia seeds and ground flax seeds, both of which are binders. That’s light spelt flour you see, which can be more easily digestible than wheat and provides the stretchy gluten-y element (I use it in the Almond-Date bars, too). The bars are baked thin, in a wide shallow pan. But the biggest factor in keeping these bars chewy and not dry, I think, it that the wet ingredients (on wooden board above) are pureed in a blender! Including the dried fruit! I think it makes all the difference.
Above you see my two versions of these bars. The original was delicious, but I thought it could be even better. For me it was too apple-y and cinnamon-y and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) not sweet enough! (The kids, however, really liked them. Chalk that one up to pregnancy taste buds.) So I switched the applesauce to pureed fresh nectarine, reduced the cinnamon from 2 tsp to 1 and used dried unsulphured apricots instead of dates. I love unsulphured apricots for iron and tastiness and was thrilled to find them at Costco; the flavour reminds me of caramel! l eliminated the pumpkin seeds at my daughter’s request (fiiiiiine), and used maple syrup instead of honey (for pregnant mamas, for whom honey isn’t recommended). For extra sweetness and depth I doubled the chocolate chips (but I use mini so they blend in well and are harder to pick out!), and added 1/4 cup coconut flakes.
Here’s the original recipe, if you’d like to try it.
Bite-Sized Kitchen’s Chewy and Fulfilling Granola Bars
adapted from Food 52
Makes 20-25 lunchbox-friendly bars (see them packed up this week, in pics below)
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup spelt flour, light or whole
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup coconut flakes, unsweetened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried unsulphured apricots (about 16)
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
1/4 cup pureed fresh soft fruit (nectarine is good - use two small ones, pitted and diced)
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 350F and line a 9x13 baking sheet or pyrex dish with parchment paper.
Mix the oats, flour, flax, chia, cinnamon, cranberries, chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, coconut flakes and salt in a large bowl.
In a high speed blender or food processor, blend the apricots, maple syrup or honey, fresh fruit, coconut oil, and vanilla until it becomes a thick puree.
Add the puree to the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon. The mixture will be quite sticky and stiff. Wet a silicone spatula and use it to flatten the mixture evenly on to the lined baking sheet or dish - you could also use wet hands for this step. Bake for 20-23 minutes, or until the edges are slightly browned. Do not overbake it, or it will be dry!
Let the sheet cool on a rack for ten minutes before lifting the granola bars out.