February 10, 2010

Crispy Peanut Butter Granola Bars

Sometimes when I'm at work I don't have much time to eat, or I don't have the opportunity to take a break when I'm hungry.  I'm not the kind of person who can go without food for too long and keep a smile on my face, so having something quick, nutritious, and easy to sneak a bite of when no one's looking has become key.

I used to be kind of a bar-junkie.  I'd tried a good amount of the bars you see at Whole Foods and other grocery stores.  From Odwalla bars to Lara bars to Pure bars to Luna bars to Raw Revolution bars, you name it, I've probably tried it.  While I still enjoy trying new products and buying some old favorites, it can get kind of expensive, especially with some of the newest bars running $2.99 each (Amazing Grass bars ::cough:: cough::).

Since I love baking, I thought making my own granola bars would be the perfect solution; I could tailor them to my tastes, know exactly what was in them, and save some money in the process.  The only problem was that a lot of "granola bar" recipes I've seen are laden with sugar and fat-- more like bar cookies than satisfying, energy-sustaining, granola bars.

So I set out to make up my own.  It took a couple of tries but I think the recipe below is nearly perfect.  The syrup that binds the bars is made from natural sugars (dates and brown rice syrup) and protein (peanut butter), but neither in copious amounts so the end result isn't too calorie heavy or sugary.

I'm sure you could play with the ratios a bit after trying the original recipe.  As usual, what's so great about these is that they can be catered to your tastes.  The recipe for my first batch is below but in the second batch, I made a chocolate granola bar with almond butter, pistachios (a great addition) and coconut.  As long as you keep the general amount of dry ingredients similar to the original recipe, you should have no problem with the bars holding together.

Let me know if you try any good combinations.  I'm think a cinnamon raisin almond butter variety will be next for me!

Crispy Peanut Butter Granola Bars
Ingredients

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup crisp brown rice cereal
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup raw almonds, chopped
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup dried fruit of choice [I used a mix of cherries and raisins]
5 dates
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
scant 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 tablespoon coconut oil (unrefined and virgin is best)

Preparation
Line an 8x8 brownie pan with parchment paper.  Make sure to leave some hanging over the side so you can easily pull out the bars.

In a large bowl, mix oats, cereal, sunflower seeds, almonds, coconut and dried fruit.  Set aside.

Add the dates to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they form a nearly smooth paste.  Add the peanut butter, brown rice syrup, and coconut oil to the food processor and pulse until the mixture is uniform.

Scrape the syrup mixture into a small saucepan and heat over medium-low until it is slightly more liquidy.

Pour warm syrup over the dry ingredients and mix until combined (this will not be easy because the syrup is so thick but it will happen).  Once everything is combined pour the mixture into prepared brownie pan and press down very firmly and evenly until the whole pan is coated.

Place pan in the refrigerator for at least 40 minutes until the bars are cold and hardened (alternatively, you could place them in the freezer for a shorter amount of time but I haven't tried this).  Pull the bars out of the pan using the sides of the parchment and transfer to a cutting board.  Using a VERY sharp knife, cut into 10 granola bars.

Wrap each bar in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to eat. (They hold up fine out of the fridge, but the cold helps them stay slightly more solid.)