Sunday, January 27, 2013

Granola Bars

There are countless good commercial granola bars out there (Kashi, Clif, Luna, Cascadian Farms, Nature Valley, etc.), but nothing quite compares to the homemade variety. In the same way that the chocolate chip cookie just out of the oven is always going to be best, a fresh, homemade granola bar is going to blow the commercial variety out of the water. Most granola bars are constructed from a combination of oats, seeds or nuts, and dried fruit, and these granola bars strike a particularly good balance of all those elements. The layered sweetness comes from a combination of light honey and deep dark brown sugar, each contributing nuanced flavor in addition along with the requisite sugar content. The pairs of grains (oats and wheat germ), seeds and nuts (sunflower seeds and almonds), and dried fruit (cranberries and raisins, as I made them), make each bite unique so there's no danger you'll get sick of them before the batch disappears. Striking a nice balance between crunchy and chewy, any extras can be frozen without too much loss of texture upon thawing. Simple, healthy, and delicious, if you've got the time for a little culinary project, these are certainly worth the effort.

Granola Bars
adapted from Alton Brown
makes 16 (2-inch) squares

8 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats, approximately 2 cups
1 1/2 ounces raw sunflower seeds, approximately 1/2 cup
3 ounces sliced or slivered almonds, approximately 1 cup
1 1/2 ounces wheat germ, approximately 1/2 cup
6 ounces honey, approximately 1/2 cup
1 3/4 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1/4 cup packed
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
6 1/2 ounces chopped dried fruit, any combination of cranberries, raisins, apricots, cherries, or blueberries

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 by 9-inch glass or metal baking dish with a foil sling. Coat with butter or spray with cooking spray and set aside.

2. Spread the oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, and wheat germ onto a half-sheet pan. Place in the oven and toast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. In the meantime, combine the honey, brown sugar, butter, extract and salt in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook until the brown sugar has completely dissolved.

4. Once the oat mixture is done, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees F. Immediately add the oat mixture to the liquid mixture, add the dried fruit, and stir to combine. Turn mixture out into the prepared baking dish and press down, evenly distributing the mixture in the dish and place in the oven to bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

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