Have you ever taken the time and looked at the ingredient list of store bought granola bars? I have, and I was truly appalled to find so many strange ingredients listed in the nutritional info of several well known brands. Shouldn't something so wholesome be well, wholesome? Shouldn't you be able to feel good if you are packing them for your kids lunch or as a snack? I certainly thought so, and after seeing quite a few fantastic looking granola bars pop up on some of the blogs I read, I set out to find a version my family would love.
I didn't have to look further than Foodnetwork.com which had a basic granola bar recipe from the incomparable Ina Garten. I figured it was a great starting point. I loved the simplicity of her ingredients in the bars and only added a few of my own touches to end up with something that my kids think is "sell-worthy", but then again, they are kind of biased
and I pay them to say things like that.
I used the recipe as more of a guideline and encourage you to do the same. The sky is the limit as far as flavor combinations are concerned. There are truly so many options when it comes to this recipe. You can chose any nut (I used almonds) but anything from pecans, to walnuts or pistachios would be wonderful. The dried fruit part is equally adjustable to your taste preferences. I used dried cranberries, but again anything from raisins to dried apricots or cherries would be lovely. I do think a couple of things are key though. Use only high quality ingredients in this recipe, they are a must for flavor. Also, watch the oats and nuts along with the coconut closely while toasting in the oven, you definitely don't want to burn it. The recipe calls for toasted wheat germ, I just toasted it on top of the stove in a dry pan but it also requires a watchful eye. There is not much difference in the time between a perfectly toasted batch and burned wheat germ, sometimes that means only a matter of seconds. Last but not least, I rounded out my granola bars with semi-sweet chocolate chips and some roasted sunflower kernels.
These bars are wonderful! Once baked and cooled they can be stored in an air-tight container for at least a week, that is, if they last that long. This is going in my recipe file and I will be making them many more times. The best compliment was probably from my husband though, who is not a granola bar eater like the rest of us, but who fell in love with them and has been eating one every day for his breakfast. I definitely know they are good when that happens.
Homemade Chewy Granola Bars
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut, loosely packed
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
3/4 cup sunflower kernels, roasted
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish and line with parchment paper.
Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the toasted wheat germ and sunflower kernels.
Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.
Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the cranberries and stir well. Let the mixture cool for about 5 minutes then stir in the chocolate chips. If you do this any earlier they will just melt.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into rectangles or squares. Serve at room temperature.
Adapted from: Ina Garten