I could do the cucaracha right now. Problem is, I don’t really know what the cucaracha is. But if I did, I’d clutch these granola bars in my hands and shake them like marakas.
You see, I’ve been wishin’ and hopin’ and dreamin’ about creating the perfect home-made baked granola bars: toasty brown on the outside but with just the right chew factor that (some of) the bought ones have. I’ve managed with the chewy ones and the rolled ones and the fudgy ones, but the good old fashioned baked version has eluded me.
Part of the problem is pickyness. I’ve tried over 15 recipes, tweaking and re-tweaking. I’ve meticulously recorded every substitution and result. Most of the bars have turned out quite edible — something to be proud of even. But there’s always been one tiny problem. Too sticky. Too crispy. Too crumbly.
To add to my dismay, I desperately wanted crispy rice cereal in these elusive bars. Just a wee bit of that airy crunch you can hear in the back of your head when you chew. Whenever I’d add the sticky ingredients, those rice puffs would soak it all in and mush up like an abandoned bowl of Cheerios. I wasn’t about to make Rice Krispy squares, laden with butter and melted marshmallows. I wanted something good.
Eventually I gave up and bought some, just like normal people do. But after the 18th disappointing, too-sweet bar with a novel-length ingredients list, I went back to my oats and my coconut. I begged them to co-operate. I needed them to get me through the last two weeks of school without putting up a fight.
I guess I did something right. Sometimes I think ingredients, like people, just need to be loved. People talk to plants, horses, babies — why not craisins and pumpkin seeds? As I wax poetic about something that was probably more luck than oat-whispering, I beseech you: Quaker and Kashi got nothing on homemade bars. Unless, of course, it takes you months to get them how you like them.
Good granola bars depend on the right proportion of ingredients, a sticky binder, and the right baking time and temperature. After many trials, I think I’ve found the right bar to usher me into a new season of triathlon training.
this basic recipe lends itself well to creativity. see variations that follow.
2 cups rolled oats (I like the old-fashioned, but quick would probably work)
½ cup oatbran or wheat bran
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup craisins
½ cup sliced dried apricots
1 cup mixed seeds (I used mostly pumpkin, with a bit of sesame)
sprinkle of ground flaxseed
1 14oz-can sweetened condensed milk (I used fat-free this time, but you could use any type)
½ tsp vanilla
3 cups crispy rice cereal
- Preheat oven to 250. In a toaster oven, toast the coconut and seeds until fragrant and just browned. Remove and set aside.
- Mix all dry together ingredients from oats to flaxseed, stirring to coat the dried fruit in powdery stuff.
- Warm the condensed milk and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until it’s nice and steamy. Stir into dry ingredients, mixing until very well incorporated.
- Let the milk soak into the dry ingredients for 5 minutes. This will prevent the rice crisps from absorbing the liquid.
- Gently fold in three cups of rice crisps.
- Spread and press into a greased cookie sheet (I know, the picture shows a 9×13, but I used a cookie sheet this time around and it yielded much flatter, bar-like bars). To get the bars the right thickness, I put a loaf pan at one end of the cookie sheet and pressed the mixture up against it to make a smaller surface area. If you take up the whole cookie sheet, your bars will be much flatter and crisper.
- Bake for 1 hour at 250 degrees. Cool for 15 minutes, cut, and wrap or store. Bars should be eaten in a week or refrigerated.
Zesty Orange Bars: add 1-2 tsp fresh orange zest to the sweetened condensed milk as it warms. Use candied ginger in place of half the dried apricots.
Nut-Butter Bars: swap out a third of the condensed milk and add ½ cup peanut butter. Omit the dried fruit, and instead of the 1 cup of seeds, use a mixture of your favorite nuts, finely chopped and toasted gently.
Oatmeal Cookie Bars: substitute raisins for both the craisins and apricots (1 and a third cup total)
Chocolate Chipper Bars: omit the dried fruit, and substitute 1 cup chocolate chips for the seeds.