Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chewy Harvest Fruit Granola Bars

Happy Easter! While you may be up early indulging in a little pre-breakfast candy, it might also be a good idea to sneak a few healthy snacks in there as well (tomorrow, at least). These delicious granola bars from the paragon of precision cooking, America's Test Kitchen, have enough sweetness to satisfy your sweet tooth, blended with plenty of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and whole grains. Although the peanut butter version of this recipe is also delicious, I prefer the diverse collection of flavors in this versatile recipe. Better than any granola bars you'll find at the grocery store, a big batch of these healthy and tasty snacks can be whipped up in short order. If your overindulge on candy today, rest assured you can make up a little nutritional ground with these granola bars tomorrow.

Chewy Harvest Fruit Granola Bars
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook
makes 16 bars

1/3 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup unsalted cashews, chopped coarse
1/4 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups (6 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups Multigrain Cheerios
1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped coarse
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Line a 13 by 9-inch baking pan with an aluminum foil sling and coat lightly with vegetable oil spray. Toast the almonds, cashews and pumpkin seeds in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant and golgdn brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the toasted nuts and seeds to a large bowl.

2. Add the butter to the skillet and melt over medium heat. Stir in the oats and cook, stirring often, until golden and fragrant, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the toasted oats to the bowl with the toasted nuts and seeds and stir in the Cheerios, dried fruit, and salt.

3. Pour the water into a clean heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Pour the sugar into the center of the pan (don't let it hit the pan sides) and gently stir with a clean heatproof spatula to wet it thoroughly.

4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved completely and the caramel has a faint golden color (about 300 degrees on a candy thermometer), 4 to 8 minutes.

5. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring only as needed, until the caramel has a dark amber color (about 350 degrees on a candy thermometer), 1 to 3 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the half-and-half (the caramel with steam and bubble vigorously) until smooth and just barely bubbling, 30 to 60 seconds. Whisk in the vanilla.

6. Working quickly, stir the hot caramel into the nut-oat mixture until thoroughly combined. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking pan and pack very firmly into an even layer. Let the granola cool completely, about 30 minutes. Remove the granola from the pan using the foil, cut into 16 bars, and serve.

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