Unfortunately, commercial granola bars are both expensive and, as Linus Van Pelt* would say, "full of ingredients!" So I started at allrecipes.com and scoured the internet, determined to make my own.
The internet largely failed me. Most of the recipes I found were really more like dessert bars: full of sugar, chocolate, corn syrup... fine if you're having dessert but not so fine if you're just having a midday hunger attack and need something to tide you over.
I tried a few recipes. One (baked) fell apart, another (no-bake) still wasn't healthy enough to warrant all the many steps involved...and then there was this one. It still wasn't perfect, but I think it was as perfect as the original recipe writer could have made it, seeing as she's dealing with several different food allergies in her family. Here are the changes I made:
- First of all, I felt that 1 cup of honey was a LOT for any recipe. Yes, I know, it's the "healthy" sugar -- but folks, let's be honest: the glycemic indices are about the same.
- Secondly, 5T of Crisco isn't a huge amount, but I felt it was an unnecessary ingredient for granola bars, of all things. (And then I realized that, for the original poster preparing food for someone with a dairy allergy, it was a good solution!)
**UPDATE 5/1/12: I have a new post with a few suggestions that have been born out of my making these so often. They're very helpful and will make for even better granola bars.**
homemade granola bars
- 3 cups oatmeal
- 1 1/2 cups pecans (I wouldn't hesitate to substitute other nuts -- I'm currently out of pecans, so my next batch will be made with sliced almonds... in fact, you could judiciously substitute a number of these ingredients)
- 1 cup shredded coconut, optional (come on... you know you wanna!)
- 3/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
- 5 T. butter or margarine
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 T. vanilla
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup (or so) chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350F. Toss oatmeal, nuts, and coconut together and spread out on a sheet pan. Bake 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add sunflower seeds.
- Meanwhile, bring butter, honey, peanut butter, brown sugar, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then add vanilla.
- Pour honey mixture over toasted oatmeal mixture and mix well. And I mean well. Any dry stuff that isn't coated with some wet stuff is prone to fall off during the cutting of the bars.
- Then mix in the raisins. (Honestly, I think you could do this before step 3. Don't know why not.)
- At this point, take a look at your mixture and decide what size pan you need. If you've followed the recipe closely, use a 9x13 pan. I tend to have a pretty heavy hand with the oatmeal and raisins, and last time with the coconut since I was at the end of a bag, so an 11x15 was warranted. Sometimes I think a 9x13 makes for a difficult-to-manage thickness. Either way, line your pan with parchment paper.**
- Sprinkle the parchment paper with chocolate chips, to your liking. If you want a full coating of chocolate, you'll need more than 1 cup, but I think that amount adds a nice bit of chocolate without making this into a fudge bar.
- Spread the granola mixture over the chocolate chips, and press it down well. If it's cool enough, it doesn't hurt to use your clean hands to press and make sure everything is sticking together -- again, you want to avoid the mixture just falling apart when you cut the bars. If it's still pretty hot, just use a rubber spatula.
- Bake 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. (The original recipe says to turn the oven down to 300F, but I don't think I've ever done that. Oops. They've turned out fine, but I suppose next time I'll try to remember to lower the heat and see if they magically become even more awesome.)
- Cool completely, at least 2-3 hours (I usually make these at night, cover, and cool overnight). When cool, carefully lift out using the parchment paper, and set on a cutting board. I recommend using the longest chef's knife you have to cut into bars. It's a pretty solid mixture and requires some force, so be careful.
Last time I made these, I used plastic wrap on the individual bars. I highly recommend this because 1) that makes them far more portable, 2) they are less likely to dry out if individually wrapped, and 3) it is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too easy to just snatch a bite/bar here and there, and if you have to unwrap the plastic, it keeps that grazing temptation somewhat at bay. (I can hold an infant in one arm and grab a granola bite. It's more difficult to hold an infant and unwrap said granola bite, at least without getting crumbs all over the place.)
Just to clarify: I'm not pretending these are low-fat. "Healthy" doesn't always mean low-fat, though. Sometimes it means "enough delicious fiber and protein to stave off the hunger without making you feel completely deprived." The nuts contain the good fats, I promise!
I hope you enjoy these! Please make them... your family will thank you, and so will your tummy. (Please forgive me for not having awesome step-by-step photos of the baking process. I'm just not that kind of blog... at least, not yet. Feel free to enjoy the photos at the link in paragraph 4!)
*I'm really sad that I can't find this particular strip online. But I assure you, Linus did not care for the fact that whatever food he was looking into was full of "ingredients."
**I have made these without using parchment paper, and they baked up just fine. They didn't even stick to the pan, at least not badly. HOWEVER. Using parchment paper means you can lift the whole baked batch out of the pan (once cool) and cut into bars without fighting with the restraints of a pan. It is much easier if you use parchment paper, and you'll lose less of the mixture that way since you won't be wiggling a spatula underneath the bar to coax it out of the pan. I am so cheap that I cringe at using parchment paper (seems so wasteful!) and avoid it whenever I can... but sometimes it's just that important. This is one of those times.