Granola Bars – nutty or not so nutty

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We’re big fans of granola bars in our house and I’m constantly searching for good options. By my definition, good bars are low in sugar other than what’s derived from dried fruit, absent of ingredients I know nothing about (words that end in –ose for example), and relatively inexpensive. If you’ve shopped for granola bars in the store, you’d know that I’ve basically excluded most brands. When I started researching recipes for making my own bars I was surprised by the vast array of sworn-by recipes. Like everything on Soy Sugar Sherry, I was searching to find the right technique and then planned to tweak it and make it my own.

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I’ve now explored a dozen or so different recipes and it’s clear that successful granola bars require two components: a binder and a sweetener. From nut butters to regular butter, granulated sugar to honey, the sources are endless. You just have to find your preferred combination. I got the idea for this recipe from one I found on Ambitious Kitchen. I was immediately drawn to two elements, its use of quinoa in addition to oats, and smashed banana as a sweetener. I loved the idea of boosting the bar’s protein with quinoa and with my own adaptation of toasting it in advance with the oats and using a red variety, the bars taste nuttier and have great texture. I also love the idea of using less honey and more fruit, particularly overripe bananas which we’d otherwise throw in the freezer for smoothies. Each time I make these bars I use different nuts and fruit but keep the core technique of toasted oats, quinoa, honey, nut butter and smashed banana the same.

The recipe I’ve provided here is my own adaptation of nut free bars. Adeline’s preschool is peanut and tree nut free and I needed a good option for her lunch. These are always a hit and also work well for after school picnics. Plus they last for at least a week on the counter under plastic, if you can even keep them that long.

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Tips and Tricks:

  • I’ve found that toasting the oats and quinoa ahead of time is a great way to guarantee that your bars are soft without overcooking them. I also think that pre-toasting brings out a more nutty flavor. I do the same with granola and muesli. At 350 degrees for 10 or 15 minutes, it’s a simple technique.
  • These bars store great in the fridge or countertop but either way should be wrapped in plastic or put into a container to preserve their moist texture. I haven’t tried freezing them but I’m sure that would work too.
  • While your temptation will be to dive right into these the minute they come out of the oven, it’s best to wait until they are fully cooled before cutting them. Particularly if you’re aiming to cut them into actual bars, you’ll want them to fully set before having at them.
  • To prevent sticking, line the bottom of your baking dish with parchment paper. You can trace the bottom of your pan with a pencil and cut out a piece that fits perfectly at the bottom. Using something to grease the pan like butter or oil would probably work too, but I’ve tried to leave those ingredients out of these bars for health reasons and wouldn’t want them to feel greasy.
  • I would really encourage you to use a fruit and nut mixture that meets your taste preferences and budgetary constraints. Buying nuts, dried fruit and almond or sun butter can get expensive. Especially if you’re making these to save money, keep them simple with raisins and peanut butter. Another great combo is coconut, apricots, and walnuts. Make what you like, just stick to the technique.

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Nut-free granola bars

Time to prepare: 45 minutes, 10 active minutes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup quinoa, any color

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 ripe bananas, mashed (about 3/4 cup)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup sunflower seeds, or sunflower and pumpkin

1/3 cup dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, chopped apricots, coconut)

1/4 cup sunflower butter

2 tablespoons honey or pure maple syrup

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dump your oats and quinoa onto a cookie sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Line an 8×8 inch baking pan with parchment paper. In a small bowl mash two very ripe bananas until they form a slimy texture. Using a fork works very well. In a separate large bowl, combine oats and quinoa, salt and cinnamon. Stir in mashed banana and vanilla. Fold in sunflower seeds and dried fruit.

Place a small saucepan over low heat; add in sun butter and honey or maple syrup and stir until warm and the sun butter has melted. I’ve done this in the microwave as well and while it worked ok, the sauce pan was more successful. Just watch it carefully to prevent it from drying out or burning. Fold into granola bar mixture until well combined. Don’t be afraid to use your hands!

Pour into prepared pan and press down firmly with hands or with a measuring cup to help bars stay intact. Bake for 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Allow to cool completely before cutting.  Store pre-cut in a container or covered in plastic in a baking dish.

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