Most of you are probably unaware, but I have been obsessively making various kinds of granola and protein bars for months. I have a serious addiction to NuGo Organic Double Dark Chocolate protein bars, which I have been trying to break for ages. Not only are they expensive and loaded with sugar, but I hate eating so much processed soy, and the ingredient list, despite being organic, is a mile long. But after searching and searching, and trying recipe after recipe, I could not find a single one worthy of sharing. It has been a frustrating endeavor to say the least! The problem, I think, is that I have an unrealistic set of expectations here – I am looking for a bar that tastes good, isn’t too annoying to make, includes lots of wholesome ingredients, and isn’t too high in sugar. And did I mention I’m not a fan of the fruit and nut style bar (like Lara bars), and that I don’t really like nut butters either? This is a problem in bar making because apparently the most popular binders are some form of sugar in large quantities (brown rice syrup, honey, etc), peanut butter, and dates, all of which I’ve pretty much eliminated. I started thinking that my perfect home made replacement was a pipe dream, unless, of course, I relaxed my standards a bit!
In a stroke of good luck, just as I was finishing the last NuGo bar in the box I swore was going to be the last, Martha Rose Shulman posted some recipes in the NY Times on healthy snacks for teenagers. Among them was a coconut granola bar recipe that actually had what I’d consider a reasonable amount of sugar for a bar! Unfortunately it requires a lot of steps, but in the interest of being open-minded, I decided to give it a try to see if the effort was even worth it. As it turns out, these are the best bars I have made yet! They do not crumble, aren’t bland, don’t have a weird taste from a weird ingredient (black bean chocolate protein bars anyone??), and even resemble real granola bars! In fact, they taste just like the Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey bars – crunchy, toasty, and sweet. I’d love to reduce the sugar a bit, but I think they probably won’t hang together. In the mean time, they are a nice afternoon treat when I am wanting something sweet that also has some wholesome ingredients to tide me over until my next meal!
adapted from NY Times
1/4 cup canola oil, plus additional for the pan and for your hands
2 cups rolled oats
1 heaping cup flaked coconut
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup lightly toasted walnuts (or nut of your choice), coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the oats in a bowl and toss with the oil until thoroughly coated. Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment and spread the oats in an even layer on the parchment. Place in the oven and toast for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the grains are lightly toasted.
While the oats are toasting, add the coconut, spices, salt and nuts to the bowl. Add the oats when they are done and mix. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees.
Place the honey and vanilla in a saucepan that can accommodate at least three times the volume of the honey, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour over the oat mixture. Stir until the oat mixture is evenly coated with honey.
Oil a 9×13 pan, line with parchment so that parchment sticks up on the sides, and then oil the parchment. Scrape the granola mixture into the pan and spread in an even layer, using a piece of parchment to spread it out. Place in the oven for 25 minutes, until just golden. Do not allow to become too brown, or the bars will be too hard. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 10-15 minutes, until still warm but set enough not to crumble when you pick them up on the parchment. Place on a cutting board and cut into your desired shape, and then allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days, or freeze.