This is a bit of an unusual post for me, because this is far from the first time I’ve made these granola bars. In fact, I eat at least one every day, so trust me when I say I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about them…
The reason I eat so many granola bars is that I have a serious hangry problem. My day can be going along fine, then suddenly my blood sugar drops and within 30 minutes I’m irritable and nauseated. As a result, I carry snacks everywhere, and these are my reliable favorites. I prefer them over store-bought granola bars because commercial bars are so expensive, and they often contain chocolate or some mysterious sticky binding agent, neither of which I enjoy. When I make my own granola bars, I can use big pieces of fruit and nuts, and I get exactly what I want. This particular recipe is so easy: just one bowl, one 13×9 pan, and they make enough for a few weeks. Making your own granola bars is something I recommend to everyone. Once you go homemade, you won’t go back.
This recipe is heavily based on one by Smitten Kitchen, which is one of my favorite recipe websites. Therefore it is a perfect example of my tenet ADAPT – the original Smitten Kitchen recipe is very solid, and I’m just tweaking it to my tastes. Over the years I’ve made so many versions of these bars and I’ve learned that there are a ton of different modifications that you can make, as long as you stay CONFINED within the categories and RATIOS below. Recently I’ve been wishing they were more chewy, so that’s the direction I’ve been modifying in.
Oats – 2 cups non-negotiable. I’ve never made them with anything other than rolled oats,
which has the texture that I like, but let me know if you try a different type! I’ve occasionally replaced some of the oat volume with corn flakes, which actually comes out really good and increases the ability of the bars to stick together.
Nuts – 1 cup total. You could use any type of nuts here. I think almonds go very well with cranberries, but I’ve used walnuts, pecans, pistachios, and hazelnuts. I’ve also replaced some of the nut volume with seeds – I especially like the flavor added by pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. I never find big pieces of nuts to be a problem, and they’re nice to bite into.
Coconut – 1 cup. I really like coconut, especially when toasted, so this is a must for me. If you don’t like coconut, you could try replacing some of the volume with oats and some with nuts. I prefer flaked unsweetened coconut because the pieces are big and I don’t need the added sugar.
Toasted wheat germ – To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what this provides. I’d like it to help hold the bars together, but I’m not sure it’s successful at that. I’ve replaced some of this with ground flax before and it works just as well.
Dried fruit – 1.5 cups total. This is where a lot of the flavor profile of the bars comes
from. Below I use finely chopped dates to try to stick the bars together, so the cranberries give most of the flavor. I’ve also used chopped apricots, dried blueberries, and raisins. Cut any dried fruit to the size of a raisin or smaller, so it doesn’t affect the texture.
Spices – I pretty much always give my bars a “pumpkin pie” spice combo, but you could really add anything powdered as long as it’s <2 tsp volume. I could imagine adding cocoa powder or a garam masala spice mix could be interesting here. Once I accidentally used my pickling spice mix instead of pumpkin pie spice mix, and they were still good!
Sticky/sugar – 2/3 cup. Because there are no commercial binders in these, the only thing
holding them together is the sticky ingredients, in this case primarily sugar. In the past I have used all honey, or half honey and half maple syrup. Recently I have been replacing some of the sugar with peanut butter, which doesn’t get so hard and caramelized during the second bake.
Cranberry Nut Granola Bars
Makes 20 bars
- 2 cups old fashioned (not instant) rolled oats
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup walnuts, unchopped (I like the big pieces)
- 1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut (or shredded sweetened, if you prefer)
- 1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
- 1 cup finely chopped dates
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 cup honey
- 8 tsp melted peanut butter
- 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350°F
- Line a 13×9 pan with parchment paper
- In a large bowl, mix the oats, nuts, coconut
- Pour into the pan and bake 10-20 min, until the coconut is toasted, stirring occasionally for even browning
- Meanwhile in the large bowl combine the wheat germ, salt, spices, and dried fruit
- Mix in the toasted nuts and oats by hand, separating the dried fruit pieces
- Pour in the honey, peanut butter, and vanilla and mix thoroughly to combine
- Pour back into the lined pan and press HARD with a spatula (sprayed with cooking spray) to compact so the bars won’t fall apart – you cannot press too hard at this point
- Bake 10-15 min until light golden brown
- Cool completely and refrigerate before cutting
- Cut in quarters and then cut each quarter into fifths. NOTE: Save those crumbles that fall off the bars during cutting to put on yogurt!
- Wrap individually and store in the freezer
These granola bars are a years-long work in progress. I like them a lot, but the part that has always bugged me is the texture. Without the unusual binders of the store-bought bars, it’s very difficult to get these to taste toasty and still hold together as a bar. For a long time I just accepted that they would be crumbly (more like a nature valley bar), but recently I’ve been trying to improve that with the addition of peanut butter and reducing the second baking time. It has definitely helped with the texture, but now they taste a little limp. I will start increasing the baking time again and see how that works.