If you're trying to stay away from pre-processed, packaged foods and you're a fan of granola bars (and let's face it, who isn't?) you have got to try this homemade version! They're easy to throw together and so chock full of fruity, nutty, chewy natural goodness that I guarantee you won't be able to stay away from these and really, there's no need to (unless you find yourself eating say, 6 or 7 per day and then, well, let's just say, you may need help!)
Years ago, it was only health-food nuts and athletes who ate granola bars, but today we Americans spend over $6 billion dollars a year on granola and other cereal and nutrition bars! And I totally get it--with our busy, busy lives, tossing a conveniently pre-made, sweet-tasting bar into a soccer bag, lunchbox or handbag, sometimes feels like all we can handle. But most store-bought granola bars are loaded down with preservatives and other ingredients we shouldn't be eating, are pretty high in sugar and calories and pretty costly too, considering the size of the bar. So what's a busy person to do? MAKE THESE--They only take about 15 minutes to put together are loaded down with delicious, natural ingredients and, according to my mom, who walked in after I'd just cut these up for our weekly supply, "the best thing you've ever made!"
There's really not much to do here--in a large bowl you mix together all of the dry ingredients, including the nuts and dried fruit. Here I used cashews, dried apricots, dried cranberries and prunes, but you could use any nut or dried fruit you prefer--you could also add some chocolate chips but weird as this may sound, I don't think you really need them here.
After you've mixed the wet ingredients with the dry, you spread the mixture out in a 9x13 baking pan--
While these bake, your house will smell fantastic and when you pull the pan out of the oven, it'll be all golden brown and molten looking with a cool bee-hive sort of pattern on top.
The bars are delightfully chewy and light, almost caramel-y and addictively satisfying. Each bite is full of the crunch of cashews, the toasted earthiness of the oats and the sweet/tartness of the dried fruits. People love them and will immediately ask you for the recipe. And there's just no way you can compare them with any store bought brand. Try them and you'll see what I mean--I'm sure you'll be a convert from your first bite on!
Fruity, Nutty Chewy Granola Bars
Makes 24 small bars
Prep Time: 15 minutes; Bake Time: 25-30 minutes
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats (don't use old-fashioned--they don't work well here)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup almond flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup cashews, roughly chopped or use pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted cashews)
1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup prunes, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries or blueberries or any dried fruit you prefer
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons water
1. Make sure rack is in center of oven and preheat to 350ºF. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper so that there's a nice overhang on both ends and spray the parchment with vegetable cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Mix together well the oats, sugar, flour, cinnamon, cashews and dried fruits in a large bowl and set aside.
3. Pour the melted butter, vanilla, maple syrup and water into a small bowl and whisk thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the large bowl of dry ingredients and mix everything together very well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and spread it out evenly.
4. Bake for 25-30 minutes, turning the pan around in the oven, halfway through the baking time so that it cooks evenly. When edges and top are golden, remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely. These are hard to cut evenly when soft, so I like to place them into the fridge or freezer for 15-20 minutes before I try to cut them. When ready to cut, peel off the parchment paper and transfer to a cutting board. Use a sharp heavy knife to cut into 24 small bars.
5. Granola bars will last up to two weeks at room temperature stored in an airtight container or individually wrapped. They're great cold too and they last for weeks that way--just pop the container in your refrigerator.
Note: Recipe adapted from The Back In the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day. I omitted 1/4 teaspoon mace from the dry ingredients and added the step of spraying the parchment paper because mine have a tendency to stick to the paper without it. I also subbed craisins for the dried blueberries.