Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fig and Raisin Granola Bars

I'm sure I'm not the only one around here who had their fair share of favorite school lunch snacks.  I know that my personal favorite, ultimate, best-school-lunch-ever snack was a bag of Entenmann's Little Bites blueberry muffins.  Their brownies, chocolate chip, and banana muffins ranked pretty high on the best snack ever list, but the blueberry muffins simply couldn't be beat.  I have no idea why they were my favorite, but I do remember feeling a slightly irrational sense of happiness whenever I opened my lunchbox and saw that my mom had packed me some blueberry muffins.  Other favorite lunch box snacks included Rice Krispy treats, strawberries, the occasional chocolate chip cookie, and granola bars.  Chewy bars, to be exact.  You know, the ones that are loaded with sugar, chocolate chips, and other unnecessary sweeteners?  To be fair, the lunches my mom packed weren't all that bad.  They typically consisted of a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread (I was the sad kid in elementary school without a Wonder Bread sandwich, but in retrospect, I'm eternally grateful for that), a small juice box, a fruit, and one of the previously mentioned sugary snacks.  After elementary school, I guess I outgrew Rice Krispy treats and Chewy Bars, and chocolate chip cookies, muffins, and brownies became treats to enjoy only on very sporadic or special occasions.  After a very long time without having a Chewy bar, I happened to come across one during my senior year in college, and I decided to eat it, for old time's sake.  

Let me tell you.  That was a huge mistake. Ok, maybe not huge, but it was nevertheless, a mistake.   

I legitimately wasn't able to finish the Chewy Bar.  I got maybe about halfway through it before I had to get rid of it.  I was in shock at how overwhelmingly sweet it was, and I felt my throat and chest hurting with every bit that I managed to swallow.  I couldn't believe I actually used to like them when I was younger.  My taste buds have obviously matured from when I was 8 years old, and I find most of my favorite childhood snacks to be staggeringly sweet.  I really just happen to find most things to be too sweet in general.  I'm constantly watering down juices, adding less sugar to almost every recipe I try out, and using very skimpy amounts of frosting when I frost a cupcake for myself.  But, I digress.  The point is, that Chewy Bar left such a bad taste in my mouth (literally), that I got an urge to make myself a granola bar that I would actually want to eat.  I really love granola, and since it's so simple to make, I knew I had to come up with a batch of perfect granola bars. It took me longer than I thought to get around to making them, but I figured they would be the perfect snack to bring along for the long car ride up to New Hampshire when we helped my sister move into school. These granola bars feature a healthy helping of dried figs and raisins, and are sweetened with honey and applesauce.  Chopped walnuts provide a little bit of crunch here and there, and they are such an improvement over the granola bars I used to eat when I was younger.  These are thick, chewy, a little crunchy, and loaded with dried fruit in every bite.  Homemade granola bars are really infinitely better than any granola bar from a package.   

I'm a big, big, big fan of figs.  I love them fresh, I love them dried, I love them pureed into fig butter, and I'll basically eat them in any way that I can get my hands on them.  Fresh figs are probably my favorite way of eating them though.  They just have this intense sweetness that always makes me feel as though I'm eating a piece of candy.  Any fruit that can trick me into thinking it's candy is a fruit worth eating a lot of.  Aside from the candy factor, fresh figs are just beautiful little fruits.  I love that they have such a deceptive, somewhat unattractive exterior appearance, but once you open them, you have a beautiful fruit sitting before you.  The contrast between their dark purple skin, their white and deep pink flesh, and the tiny jewel-like seeds is so perfect, and I can't get enough of it.  I love dried figs almost as much, as fresh figs, which is saying a lot, considering that once I eat my first dried fig I have a hard time stopping myself from eating all the figs in front of me.  Raisins are a similar story. I can never seem to get enough, and I love eating them straight out of the box or cooked into foods where they get plumped and even more delicious.  Figs and raisins are my among my favorite dried fruits, and the fact that they were conveniently located in my kitchen cabinet on the day that I decided to make granola bars was a lucky coincidence.  I didn't have to think twice about which fruits I wanted to use!

I selected the remaining ingredients for these granola bars based on the "use up what's in my cabinets" theme.  I only had quick oats, rather than old fashioned rolled oats, but I figured quick oats would work out just fine (and I was right!).  I wanted to use almonds, but I only had about a 1/3 of a cup on hand, but I got lucky and spotted a whole bag of walnuts, ready to be chopped up and mixed into my granola bars.  I always have applesauce on hand, so that was a no-brainer.  The dried fruit decided itself, so that was also taken care of.  I had a choice between using honey or maple syrup to sweeten up the bars, but decided to use honey.  I'm sure that maple syrup would be a really delicious option, but it has a very distinct flavor, and my goal for these bars was to really be able to taste the figs and raisins, so I thought a mild honey would be a better choice, in this case at least.  In a matter of about five minutes, I had my granola all mixed up and spread in my baking pan, and before I knew it, they had been baked and were cooling in the freezer.  I actually let my pan cool for a couple of minutes on a wire rack before placing it in the freezer, but do not skip the freezer step!  Chilling the baked granola in the freezer will allow you to get perfectly sliced bars; in fact, I'll usually like to stick a pan of brownies or bar cookies in general in the freezer for a few minutes as well, just to ensure that I get perfect edges when I cut them into squares.  

What's nice about this granola recipe is that it is infinitely adaptable.  You can use your favorite sweeteners, dried fruits, and nuts to make so many different and unique flavor combinations, and because they take so little effort and time to make, you can have the perfect batch of homemade granola bars to satisfy your exact cravings.  These granola bars are a great solution for quick breakfasts on the go, school lunch boxes, getting over that mid afternoon slump at work, after school snacks, curbing your appetite before dinner...basically, these granola bars will work wonders no matter when you chose to enjoy them. Below, I've given two versions of the recipe.  The first is the generic granola bar formula, which you can customize to your liking based on the measurements given.  The second recipe is the version I came up with, using quick oats, apple sauce, honey, walnuts, figs, and raisins. 

General Granola Bar Formula
formula from Good Life Eats


Oatmeal works perfectly here.  The original recipe suggests not to use quick oats, but I only had quick oats on hand when I made these granola bars, and I thought they tasted just fine.  Other suggestions include barley and rye flakes.


I used walnuts because I had them on hand, but any nut you like would be delicious.  I really want to try a version with chopped pistachios!  Feel free to use whichever spices you like to create your own unique flavor combinations, using as much or as little as you like.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ground ginger are all good options. 


Use honey, agave, molasses, or maple syrup to give your granola bars some added sweetness, moisture, and to help them stick together.  You can use a combination of different sweeteners, or use the full amount of just one sweetener.  I'm thinking that using a fruit-flavored simple syrup could yield some interesting results.  You can adjust the amount of sweetener to taste; I personally found the bars to be a little on the sweet side (no surprise there), and I think will only add 1/3 cup of sweetener next time I make a batch of granola bars. 


The sky is the limit here.  Experiment with the dried fruits you have on hand or make your favorite fruit combinations.  This is the easiest way to change the flavor of the granola bars. I happen to love dried figs and raisins, and I know that my next batch of granola bars will definitely have some dried apricots.  I love those too!


This is what will keep your bars from falling apart, and what will help them stay nice and chewy.  I chose to use applesauce because it has a mild flavor, but feel free to use other fruit purees or even nut butters. Anything that is relatively thick and has moisture will work.

Fig and Raisin Granola Bars
recipe adapted from Good Life Eats


2 1/2 cups quick oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 + 1/4 cup honey 
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1/2 cup raisins 


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and line an 8x8-inch baking pan with nonstick baking spray and wax paper, leaving a two-inch overhang on all sides. 

Whisk together the oats and the ground cinnamon.  In a bowl, combine the honey, applesauce, and vanilla extract.  Stir in the oats, making sure that they are evenly mixed and coated.  Stir in the walnuts, figs, and raisins, mixing until evenly distributed.

Pour the mixture into the baking pan, and press it into the pan, making sure you have an even layer (I used a small offset spatula for this).  Make sure the granola is tightly packed.

Bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven and place the baking pan in the freezer, and chill until the bars are firm, at least an hour.  Remove the granola from the pan using the paper overhangs, and cut into bars with a sharp knife.  Store the bars in an airtight container, and enjoy!

Makes 12 bars


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