Simple Homemade Granola Bars

Jeremy really loves granola bars, and sometimes he even eats them as part of his lunch.  Full of savory-sweet morsels, nuts, oats, and a little something sweet,t what’s not to love, right?  Well, recently we’ve both become more aware about how much sugar is in the average American diet, and as we started reading labels, the sugar counts on the store-bought granola bars that we often considered to be “healthy” snack choices were rather surprising. Looking for an alternative, we began to hunt around for a great homemade granola bar recipe, and Jeremy found one on the lovely blog The Minimalist Baker.  (We also bought their e-cookbook, which has yummy meal plans and plenty of fun recipes to break the monotony in the kitchen.) Their Five-Ingredient Granola Bar recipe was just what we were looking for!
IMG_3242a One of the best parts of this recipe is that it suggests toasting the oats before you mix them into your bars – this is such a great idea. Toasted oats are where it’s at, guys.  My new favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe – courtesy of Two Peas and Their Pod – uses toasted oats, and they add so much flavor to the recipe.  Don’t skip this step – it’s worth it, we promise.IMG_3142aThe first time we made these granola bars, they came out beautifully and we gobbled them up within a few days.  They were dense, delicious, and filling – and the sweetness came from healthy, natural sources like honey and dates.  All you have to do is chop up some dates in your food processor and you have a natural sweetener that helps “glue” the bars together.  If you don’t like dates, never fear – their flavor is masked by all the other ingredients.IMG_3171aSoon after we first made these bars, we made them again, and we noticed that the consistency was definitely different than the first time we’d attempted the recipe.  I remember frowning at Jeremy as we warmed the almond butter and honey over the burner and asking, “didn’t we use a lot more almond butter last time?”IMG_3180a The answer was yes – I had misread the recipe, and I’m pretty sure that I put a whole CUP of almond butter into the granola bars instead of the quarter-cup the recipe suggested.  No wonder they were so dense and delicious!  I remember thinking, jeez, these are kind of expensive to make.  Well, yeah – a whole cup of almond butter in ten granola bars will get ya.IMG_3182aThe truth is, though, I really liked the consistency of the bars when we accidentally added too much nut butter.  They stayed together better and they were less crumbly when we ate them.  So today I’m offering an adapted version of this recipe, with more nut butter to keep the bars tightly packed, but not quite so much that you use all of your precious almond butter stash.  I can’t say I’ve made many changes to this recipe otherwise, because they really nailed it.  Credit where credit is due.IMG_3205aOne other change we made was the addition of chocolate chips – so I guess these are SIX-ingredient granola bars, really.  The chocolate chips make the bars less healthy, but I think they’re worth the extra calories!  The original recipe offers them as an additional add-in option, and if you’re really intent on keeping your calorie count low, maybe leave them out.  But if you don’t mind the chocolate, be sure to add them in.  We’ve really enjoyed the chocolatey almond flavor of our adapted version.IMG_3234aOne word of caution, though – the chocolate chips may melt and smear if the mixture is too warm when you add them in.  Working with the mixture while it’s slightly warm makes it easier to press the bars into the baking dish, but the chips ended up looking a little less “pretty.”  I was certainly worried about this as we ran through the recipe this afternoon, but Jeremy insisted it would be fine.  And, as usual when I’m stressing about something small and he’s telling me not to worry, he was right.  You’ll notice a few chocolatey smears in our pictures here, and you might be able to avoid them if you let the mixture cool more before you mix them in.  But there are still fabulous chocolate chunks in these bars, and the chocolate adds a nice smoothness that balances out the big almond chunks. IMG_3267a Don’t they look magnificent? They’re so easy and so worth the effort of making them yourself.  I can generally take or leave store-bought granola bars, but during the school year, I would find myself looking forward to the end of the day when I’d get a chance to eat one of these bars before I went running.  De-lish.  Full of hearty nuts, oats, and nut butter, with the perfect amount of sweetness, these granola bars won’t disappoint. One last note – thanks to my wonderful husband for the lovely photos on this post! Believe it or not, I took a few of them myself too.  I’m learning – and being creative.  And that’s what this blog is all about. Simple Granola Bars – adapted from The Minimalist Baker Prep Time: 30 minutes “Cook” (chill) Time: 20 minutes Yields: 10 bars You’ll Need:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups oats (we used old-fashioned)
  • 8 oz (about one cup) deglet nour dates
  • 2/3 cup fresh-ground almond butter (we grind our own at our local Hy-Vee)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup roasted, unsalted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Step-by-Step: 1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the oats evenly on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for about 12-13 minutes, or until they are golden brown and smell nutty and delicious. 2.  Chop the dates in a food processor until they form a sticky and fairly smooth consistency.  The dates should stick together like a ball of cookie dough.  If you don’t have a food processor, you could technically use a blender instead – we attempted this the first time we made this recipe, and ended up buying a food processor specifically to make these bars again.  The blender was a little challenging and I was worried we would burn out the motor.  Those dates are sticky! 3.  In a medium or large bowl, mix together the toasted oats, chopped almonds, and chopped dates.  Don’t overwork them so much so that you crush the oats, but blend the ingredients a bit. 4.  In a small saucepan, warm the almond butter and honey over low heat. Stir until the butter and honey are smooth and well-blended, then pour into the bowl with the dates, nuts, and oats.  Using a spoon and then your (clean) hands, incorporate the ingredients togethers thoroughly.  It will be sticky, but that’s what makes it fun! 5.  Set the mixture aside for about five minutes or so to let it cool.  Once it’s cool enough that the chocolate chips won’t totally melt (feel free to test a few), mix in the chocolate chips. 6.  Line a baking dish with parchment paper, with the paper sticking up over the edge of the dish so it is easy to lift out.  You can use an 8×8 dish – we used a smaller rectangular dish that’s about 10×7.  Press the bar mixture into the pan until it’s tight and compact. 7.  Cover the top of the mixture with more parchment paper or wax paper and refrigerate the bars for about 20 minutes. 8. After the bars have set, use a knife or pizza cutter to slice the bars into 10 squares.  Store them in an air-tight container on the counter, or store them in the freezer to keep them extra fresh. These granola bars are the perfect homemade snack.  Enjoy!

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