Granola bars practically have their own aisle at the grocery store. I always wonder why nobody makes granola bars at home and why they’re never available fresh from the bakery. Oats are cheap. All the ingredients are readily available in my pantry. It was a mystery until I made my first 5 batches. That’s when I realized how dang temperamental they are for bakers but so easy for commercial food producers to master a certain formula and then turn a huge profit. There’s a temptation to make them “kitchen sink” granola bars since the permutations of delicious ingredients are so vast. It takes a bit of restraint to make the one or two star ingredients shine while adding a dash of healthy flax or wheat germ here and there. It’s also close to impossible to stick to the 1.5 cups of dried fruit since those tart, chewy bites are what make the bars so amazing. But restraint is necessary. Restraint is the number one ingredient. And this recipe is as formulaic as a cake recipe. Do not deviate (I learned the hard way).
These don’t taste like anything I’ve ever called granola. They’re crisp, crunchy, not too sweet and the fruit bits are chewy and delicious. This recipe is also really fun to execute because there’s clever use of one bowl, one pot, one measuring cup and one pan for different ingredients at different times. Sound like a lot of equipment? It is a mess (not to mention once you cut the bars and get crumbs of oats all over the kitchen) but trust me. It’s so worth it that I’m on my zillionth batch and we almost always have some on hand for breakfast and snacking.
Be sure to drain the fruit thoroughly. If it is too wet, the bars will be crumbly (and you’ll have granola instead of granola bars).
Finely chop the nuts if you don’t feel like lugging out the food processor.
Add up to ¾ cup of other yummy ingredients like sesame seed, ground flax, wheat germ, coconut, sunflower seeds. Avoid the kitchen sink.
adapted from Cooks Illustrated.
Cherry Ginger Granola Bars
6 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cups rice crispies
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 Cup dried cranberries
1/2 Cup dried cherries, chopped
1 Cup apple or orange juice (any juice will do, even a combo of juice and water)
1 ½ Cup whole almonds, pecans, or walnuts
¾ cup honey (or Grade B Maple syrup)
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground ginger
Set oven to 375 degrees.
Combine oats, oil, and salt in a large bowl until oats are evenly coated. Transfer mixture to a foil-lined 18 x 12 baking rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring every 10 minutes until pale gold, about 30 minutes.
Bring cranberries and juice to a simmer in a small saucepan and cook until very tender, about 10 minutes. After about 7 minutes, add chopped cherries and continue to cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, gently pushing on fruit to extract excess liquid. Cool. Remove oats from oven and lower temp to 300 degrees.
Place nuts in a food processor and process until coarsely chopped, about 10 pulses. Remove ¾ c to bowl and process the remaining nuts until finely ground, about 20-30 seconds. Add the rest of the nuts to the bowl.
Combine honey and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, and stir until sugar is fully dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir in vanilla and spices.
Combine rice crispies, oats, nuts, honey mixture in large bowl and stir until evenly coated. Add dried fruit and combine. Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Put a Ziploc bag over your hand and press the mixture into the pan. Spray the Ziploc with pam if the mixture is sticking. Bake 45 minutes.
Cool completely. After 10 minutes, pick up the edges of the foil and move to a cooling rack or cutting board. Make sure no foil sticks to the bottom of the bars.