I am a big fan of making things myself. Not only does it provide new kitchen challenges and a feeling of "hey, I can do this myself," it also provides you complete control over the ingredients in your food. Case in point, the granola bar. These are a very popular snack, yet even the presumed healthy, all-natural, or organic ones have a lot more ingredients than really need to be in them, most of them processed in some way. Making your own helps you avoid these icky additives and stick to what is tasty about a granola bar.
I've been wanting to make my own granola bars for some time now, and after picking up Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce, I gave her recipe a try. It contained rolled oats, flax, raisins, and a brown sugar syrup mixture. While I enjoyed it, I decided I would much prefer to have a refined sugar-free recipe, and try to stick to all-natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup for my next round of granola bars. I also wanted to diversify the ingredients, which is very easy to do with the recipe below should you not like the combination I've put together (or not have access to these ingredients).
I found this mission for the great granola bar a perfect way for me to experiment with new and interesting grains, something else I have been trying to do in my cooking. I picked up some rolled rye, rolled barley, and quinoa flakes from my local co-op. Rolled rye and rolled barley look very similar to rolled oats, and quinoa flakes look similar to instant oatmeal, but are much lighter in weight and texture. If you don't have access to these ingredients, or don't like them, just replace them with organic rolled oats. (Note: if you just use oats, use 2 cups of oats and 1/2 cup of flax seed meal or wheat germ.)
I also chose to replace the raisins with organic dried blueberries and organic dried cherries for a flavor (and antioxidant) boost. Adding flax seed meal to these dried fruits is essential because it prevents them from clumping when you mix them, and ensures that you'll get a good even mixture for fruit in every bite. If you don't have access to flax seed meal (or if you don't like it), you can use wheat germ instead. The flax (or wheat germ) also gives the bars a nutritional boost. If you're weirded out by either of these ingredients, I recommend trying them in this recipe, since you won't taste them at all but will still get the nutritional benefit.
These granola bars are a perfect quick breakfast or a good pick-me-up snack in the afternoon. And best of all, you know everything that's in them. :)
Homemade Granola Bars
Makes 9 square bars or eight long bars
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter, plus more for your hands and for the baking pan
1 c rolled rye
1 c rolled barley
3/4 c quinoa flakes
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c honey
1/4 c molasses
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c dried cherries, chopped
1/4 c dried blueberries
1 tbsp flax seed meal (golden or brown is fine)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Generously butter an 8x8 or 9x9 pan.
Melt the butter in a large heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat. Add the rye, barley, and quinoa and toast for about 6 minutes, stirring every minute or so. The mixture should be about two shades lighter than when you started, so keep the ingredients next to you to compare the shades. Transfer the toasted ingredients to a large bowl. Add the cinnamon and toss to combine.
Combine the honey and the molasses in a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds to make a syrup. Add the salt and stir to combine. Pour this mixture into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until evenly boiling, about 6 minutes. Resist the temptation to remove from heat early; boiling is what will make the bars chewy.
While the syrup is cooking, put the dried cherries, blueberries, and flax seed meal in a small bowl. Stir to coat all the dried fruit with the flax meal; as you stir the pieces they should separate as they are coated with the flax. Add this mixture to the rye, barley, and quinoa mixture; stir to combine.
Pour the syrup over the rye, barley, quinoa, and dried fruit mixture. Stir until everything is coated with the syrup. Pour into the prepared pan and, with butter fingers or the back of a silicone spatula, press the mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating halfway through baking. The outer edges will be darker and the bars should have a nice sheen to them. When baking is complete, remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Cut into bars and remove from pan. Cool completely before eating (cooling will help solidify the bars, as they may appear flaky or crumbly when you first take them out).
These bars are best the day they are baked, but will keep for up to a week in an airtight container. If they get stuck together, a quick run in the microwave (10 seconds or less) will soften and detach them quite easily.
Adapted from Granola Bars, p. 128, from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce