I’m getting tired of the buying breakfast bars or granola bars or protein bars that satisfy only for so long. I get sort of bored with the flavors after a while. Ironically I often buy mediocre flavors in favor of the texture of the bar. I think that’s ironic. if I’m using the word correctly. It’s a bit odd anyway.
So I decided to make some breakfast bars that use oatmeal, since I have had some in a large container for a few months. I’m not big on oatmeal, but sometimes a hot bowl of cereal is good, and this oatmeal retains its texture and shape, if I cook it a minute less than required. It doesn’t really get mushy, which is the problem I find with oatmeal.
I usually use the individual packets, but I had purchased the larger container along with natural (meaning no sugar, oil-to-the-top) peanut butter for a couple of pastries my daughter asked me to make for a bake sale at my granddaughter’s school.
My daughter doesn’t bake. And I love to so it works out.
I digress. I had these leftovers along with some walnuts from Christmas baking. So those were my main ingredients. Loosely following the directions for Granola Bars from the Flour bakery cookbook by Joanne Chang who owns a bakery of the same name in Boston, I made my version.
The Flour recipe has oatmeal, walnuts, flour, butter, brown sugar, coconut, and honey as a base, with some salt and cinnamon thrown in. Two thirds of the mix goes into a pan to bake, then a homemade fruit confit is spread over, sprinkled with the remainder of the oatmeal mix to which is added flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and millet seeds.
I had none of those “extras”, and I was looking for a basic, somewhat crunchy granola bar.
A recipe I picked up on-line included prunes, pistachios, dried figs, and orange peel and juice along with the oats. I had none of those either. A run to the store was not on my agenda at the time (although cranberries and pistachios with a little orange flavor added sounds pretty good). So I made do with the items I had.
The same recipe had instructions to toast the oats in some coconut oil, so I tried that. It worked nicely.
Meanwhile, the walnuts were toasting in the oven at 350℉, per the instructions in Flour.
I mixed the amounts according to the ingredients so far as I had them from the Flour granola bar recipe, substituting peanut butter for half of the butter. My food processor is a small 5-cup model (I don’t use it much except at holidays) so I processed the ingredients in batches: first the flour, sugar and salt which I emptied out into a large bowl. Next I processed the oats and walnuts with a handful or so of the already processed flour mix until they were less chunky. I tossed it all together so everything was evenly mixed. Then I added the peanut butter and stick of butter, mixing with my hands until it was well incorporated and an even mass.
I thought a couple more tablespoons of honey than was called for in the recipe would help keep the flavor balanced since the peanut butter had no sweetener and it’s a pretty distinct flavor. Had I used all butter, it wouldn’t have mattered. I didn’t have enough honey for the 1/2 cup I intended to use so I filled the remainder with dark molasses.
The granola bars turned out tasty, but I baked them too long. They got darker than I wanted (I should have checked the last 5 minutes but I didn’t) and the edges have an almost burnt taste. 25 minutes didn’t seem like too long, but the mixture wasn’t moist as it would have been with the jam, and I also spread it in a quarter sheet pan rather than a cake pan. So it baked in a thinner sheet with lower edges.
As the granola bars cooled they got much crisper than desired. But all in all the flavor is pretty good. The peanut butter flavor is really mild, which I prefer.
I will definitely make them again, reducing the baking time, and maybe at a lower temperature since there is so little moisture. Possibly spreading with jam—maybe making my own version of that too.
Here’s what I used:
About 3/4 cup walnut pieces
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 1/2 old fashioned rolled oats
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter*, at room temperature
1/2 cup Adams natural peanut butter *
5 tablespoons honey**
3 tablespoons dark molasses**
Here’s how I made them:
- Preheat oven to 350℉ (176°C). Grease with coconut oil or baking spray a 9-inch cake pan, or for thinner bars, a 13x9x2-inch pan. Line with parchment paper, with a one-inch overhang at the edges for easy removal.
- Spread walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 7-10 minutes. Stir a couple of times as necessary. Remove to plate to cool.
- Heat coconut oil in medium skillet; add oats when heated. Toast***, stirring frequently, until golden. They’ll have just a little color on them. Remove to cool to room temperature.
- Place flour, brown sugar, salt, cooled walnuts, and oats with butter and peanut butter into food processor. Pulse about 15 times until it comes together in a soft mass. Remove to a bowl.
- Stir in honey/ molasses mixture with hands if necessary to mix thoroughly and make sure everything is coated. Spread into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, testing doneness and texture desired. If the bars seem to be baking too fast, reduce temperature to 325℉ (162°C).
- Remove to a baking rack and let cool in pan 20 minutes. Remove from pan by using overhang to lift the bars out of the pan onto the rack. Let cool completely.
- Cut into bars in any size desired. Store in air-tight container.
Chips:*Peanut butter can be replaced by another 1/2 cup unsalted butter, or all peanut butter can possibly be used. I have not tried that. I would increase the amount of sweetener if using all peanut butter — even the brown sugar instead of the honey if desired—by an additional 2 tablespoons.
**Any combination of molasses and honey can be used or use only honey or only molasses as desired. If not using peanut butter, 6 tablespoons total.
***The oatmeal can be toasted without using oil in the skillet. It can probably be toasted in the oven as well, but needs to be watched carefully. Like coconut, it can burn easily.
Some suggested additions: Coconut (as in the original Flour recipe), pistachios, almonds, and/or other nuts; dried cranberries, cherries, blueberries; other dried fruit cut into small pieces; cinnamon (also in the original recipe) or other spices; orange zest; seeds or grains. Make certain that the granola mix will sustain the quantity of additions, or the bars might fall apart due to dryness. A little orange juice or other moisture can be added.