Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chewy Peanut Butter Granola Bars

After how much I enjoyed Crunchy Peanut Butter Granola Bars from America's Test Kitchen, I felt it only natural to try out the chewy version. While this recipe requires a bit more finesse because you're making a caramel to bind the bars together, it is most assuredly worth the effort. A candy thermometer makes the process a lot easier, but I still think it's best to judge when the caramel is done by smell and appearance. Caramel can go from beautifully caramelized to irrecoverably burnt in just a moment, so it's critical to pay close attention, especially in the final stages. But if you trust yourself and have enough patience, you'll be rewarded with a big pan of chewy, sweet, salty, and healthy granola bars. I've been happily munching away on these for a few weeks now, and even though the extras I froze don't have quite as delightful texture as freshly prepared ones, all the flavor is still there. If you've got a bit of extra time this weekend, I hope you'll take the opportunity to whip up a big batch of these delicious granola bars for healthy snacks at your fingertips any time.

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

2/3 cup unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts, 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
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter

1. Line a 13 by 9-inch baking pan with an aluminum foil sling and coat lightly with vegetable oil spray. Toast the peanuts and pumpkin seeds in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant and golgen 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 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 throroughly.

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 and peanut butter.

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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