There are some things people just do not expect you to make at home. No one gives you funny looks when you bake a cake from scratch or make pizza at home, or even when you admit one day that you’ve taken to smoking your own salmon. Tell people that you’ve developed a keen interest in making your own granola bars, however, and all of a sudden you’re regarded as some sort of competitive cooking snob, someone who has crossed the line of cooking for pleasure and entered into the territory of cooking in order to prove something.
It’s tough to explain to people who do not regard cooking as a pastime, a hobby, or even a treat, that when I want to make something new—no matter how silly it might seem to make it at home—it is because I like the time it allows me to spend in the kitchen.
My husband and I are both really, really into skateboarding (one of the many reasons we are married—because there were no other rational, responsible adults around to tolerate our interests), and we often talk about the time, sweat, and agony it sometimes used to take to learn a new skate trick (I speak in the past tense here because, though we are still into skating, neither of us is in any sort of position in life to be spending hours a day on a skateboard trying to will our bodies to complete a new trick that some kid less than half our age just thought up). The focus you develop when you’ve just spent two solid days trying to land a fakie 360 flip (a trick that babies can now somehow learn straight from the womb, but back in the early ‘90s THAT TRICK WAS HARD) becomes almost maniacal, and two days start to seem like nothing if it begins to appear as though it might take another two days to finally land the trick without injuring yourself.
And this relates to making homemade granola bars how? Because it’s the same dedication, the same enjoyment, that makes me want to get something right in the kitchen. It may seem delusional to spend three days perfecting a granola bar recipe, but I swear to you, take one taste of these granola bars and you’ll immediately reverse that opinion. Big bursts of dried fruit play against the hearty crunch of crisp nuts and lightly sweetened oats, while the subtle spices tie everything together with a pleasant mellowness.
These are no store bought granola bars, overly sweetened and packed with mystery additives. These are a healthy, nutritious treat that belie the virtuousness of their ingredients by being utterly, fantastically delicious. Because of their belly-filling goodness, these granola bars would make a great fortifying snack to take along on a hike, or perhaps a long ride on your bike (because apparently I am now channeling Dr. Seuss—you can eat them as a snack, just pop one into your backpack). Right now, as I type this, I am eating one of these granola bars for lunch. When I am done with lunch and typing, I will probably take a tiny little break to watch this, because now that the granola bars have been conquered, I have a bit of time left to devote to my other interests.
Crisp and Hearty Homemade Granola Bars
1 3/4 cups rolled oats
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup graham flour (graham flour has a great nutty taste, but you could also use whole wheat pastry flour or another mild whole grain flour, e.g. not rye flour)
½ cup wheat germ
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dried fruit, chopped into a uniform size if pieces are large (apricots, apples, etc.)—I used dried cherries, dried cranberries, and raisins, so no chopping was required
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I used almonds, walnuts, and pecans)
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unfiltered apple cider
2 tablespoons honey, agave, or maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened almond butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8”x8” baking pan with a parchment paper sling (this can be accomplished by trimming your parchment paper into a long rectangle that will line neatly against the bottom of the pan and drape over the sides. In the pictures above, my parchment paper sling is not nearly wide enough, on account of the fact that I inconveniently ran out of parchment paper and was using the last 4 inches of the roll), then lightly grease both the pan and the parchment paper with vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, flour, wheat germ, sea salt, cinnamon, dried fruit, and nuts. Toss to combine. In a small bowl, combine the oil, apple cider, honey, vanilla, and almond butter. Whisk to combine. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients. Using your hands or a fork (but hands work best), thoroughly stir the ingredients together until it is uniformly wet and it wants to clump together.
Pour the granola mixture into the prepared pan. Using your hands, firmly press the mixture into the pan, flattening the top, the edges, and the corners (it helps to have slightly wet hands when doing this, as the mixture is quite sticky).
Bake on the center rack of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the edges are brown and the middle is golden.
Cool for at least 1 hour before attempting to cut. Remove granola bars from the pan by lifting them up using the parchment paper sling. A serrated knife works best to cut these, and I have found that popping the granola into the freezer for 15 minutes to slightly harden them before cutting makes the process even easier.
Makes 16 2-inch granola bars.