I am always on a quest for healthier snacks. I know, I know, fruit would be the healthiest, but it doesn’t always cut it for a snack. You can’t exactly grab a peach to eat in the car on your way to run errands. Granola bars are the perfect grab-and-go snack, but the commercial variety isn’t really all that healthy. And sometimes they taste a lot like the box, with a chocolate coating. So my answer is, as always, to make my own. I have been trying to make a chewy granola bar for years, but only trying periodically and then getting distracted by some other project after a few tries.
I found a recipe for chewy granola bars on the King Arthur Flour site. I made it pretty much as written for the first try; though I didn’t have the sticky bun sugar they called for, so I used their suggested substitute. The results were fabulous, though they were sticky, gooey granola bars instead of chewy. And the bars were tooth-achingly sweet and not even remotely health food given the amount of sugar, syrups and butter. I liked them so much I had to send them to Rich’s office to get them out of the house. He came home with an empty container the same day.
I tried again, after studying the recipe and doing an online search for chewy granola bar recipes, though none of them sounded as good as the King Arthur recipe I had already tried. Smitten Kitchen tinkered with the same recipe and I took note of her changes, along with variations some of her followers tried.
First I really thought about what I had done the first time, and realized that using the old-fashioned oats I had on hand instead of the quick oats called for probably contributed to the stickiness, since they were bigger pieces and couldn’t soak up the liquids as quickly. On the second try I ground them in the food processor until most of them were broken up a bit.
I reduced the sugar (and changed from granulated to brown) by a lot, though I kept the syrupy ingredients about the same so they would still be chewy bars. I reduced the butter a little and replaced it with applesauce. I wasn’t sure about doing this after having way too many weird results when trying to reduce the fat in recipes in the fat-free craze of the 90s. This time it worked.
The recipe gives you the option of a few cups of add-ins of your choice. I made these hoping Calvin would eat them, so that meant no raisins, dried cranberries or other fruit. Not a texture he enjoys. I used wheat germ, sunflower seeds, pecans and almonds. I know the large amount of nuts adds to the fat and calorie counts, but nuts are healthy fats, right? I ground all but the wheat germ in the food processor to make the nuts less likely to pose a texture issue with the picky eater. I sprinkled bittersweet chocolate chips on top during the last few minutes of baking. After they came out of the oven I spread the melted chips into a chocolate coating. When I made the first batch, I mixed the chips in, but they melted into the mix and weren’t prominent enough for me.
Resounding success! Not sure how healthy they are, but with the oats, wheat germ and nuts they can’t be all bad, right? They are certainly tasty, with less butter and sugar than a cookie and they pass the picky-eater test, so I am happy. Let me know what you think.
Chocolate Topped Chewy Granola Bars
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
By The Cook’s Life
Makes 24 bars
The ingredient list looks long, but you can pick up everything in one trip to the store. Trust me, it’s worth it when you compare the taste to commercial granola bars.
1 2/3 quick or old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup oat flour or an additional 1/3 cup oats (directions follow for making oat flour)
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
2-3 cups add-ins like nuts, dried fruit, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, coconut, etc.*
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted or ¼ cup oil (I used butter)
¼ cup maple syrup or honey (I used maple syrup)
3 tablespoons corn syrup (This is to help make the bars chewy. You can substitute honey or maple syrup, but they will contribute more flavor than corn syrup.)
2 tablespoons applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup bittersweet or dark chocolate chips
* I used 1 cup almonds, ½ cup pecans, ¼ cup sunflower seeds and ½ cup wheat germ. I ground the nuts and sunflower seeds in the food processor until finely chopped, but you could leave them whole or coarsely chopped for more texture.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 by 13 inch pan with parchment paper or lightly grease it.
If you are using old-fashioned oats, grind them briefly in a food processor or blender, until most of the flakes are broken up a little. Pour them into a large bowl. If you don’t have oat flour (I didn’t), grind the 1/3 cup oats in the food processor or blender until finely ground and add to the bowl. Add brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and your choice of mix-ins and stir well. Make sure the brown sugar is well mixed and there aren’t any clumps. Melt the butter and add the maple syrup or honey, corn syrup, applesauce and vanilla. Stir well and add to the oat mixture. Mix well, until all of the dry ingredients are wet. It won’t look like enough moisture at first, but keep mixing and it will come together.
Press firmly into your prepared pan. Use a piece of plastic wrap over the top, or grease your hand first and really press hard to get everything to stick together. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until firm when you press in the middle.
Sprinkle the top evenly with chocolate chips and return to the oven for 2-3 minutes, or until chips are glossy and soft.
Remove from oven and spread chips into a thin layer, or leave them as is. They will re-solidify, but they will be softer, and stick to the bars better than if they had not been melted.
Cool in pan on rack until completely cool. You might have to refrigerate the bars for 15 minutes or so to firm up the chocolate before cutting.
Cut into 24 bars. Store in an airtight container, with parchment or waxed paper between the layers to keep them from sticking to each other. These freeze well.