Monday, November 18, 2013

"Smitten Kitchen" Breakfast Bars

Granola bars, breakfast bars, and energy bars are perfect for today's "grab-n-go" lifestyle. But honestly, some of the ingredients in a typical storebought bar give me the creeps: Preservatives, artificial color, and guar gum? Ugh!

That's why I love "Smitten Kitchen" breakfast bars. Within minutes I can whip up a batch, and all week long I have a preservative-free, homemade alternative to those shiny-wrappered granola bars.

These babies are delicious and so easy to make. In a mixing bowl you combine dry ingredients, including rolled oats, chopped dates, sliced almonds, and a bit of wheat germ and cinnamon:

In a smaller bowl you stir together some almond (or peanut) butter, honey, almond extract, and--surprisingly--olive oil. Don't be tempted to substitute corn or canola oil. The olive oil lends a subtly sweet, almost floral note to the bars that is simply superb:

 Stir the contents of two bowls together:

Dump the mixture into a baking pan lined with parchment paper:

(Ack! Photos of my hands always look so weird.) Press the mixture down into a solid, flat mass:

It will look like this when it's ready to pop in the oven:

After the mixture has baked to a golden brown, remove the pan to a cooling rack until it reaches room temperature. Pop the still-uncut bars in the fridge; cut into squares when chilled. The hardest part of this recipe is waiting for the mixture to get cold enough to cut them:

Here's the recipe. Once you taste these, you may never go back to store-bought bars!

Almond Date Breakfast Bars from "Smitten Kitchen"
1 cup (150 grams) chopped dried pitted dates
1-1/4 cups (110 grams) quick rolled oats
3 tablespoons (22 grams) barley or wheat flour
1/3 cup (35 grams) wheat germ
1/2 cup (55 grams) thinly sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (65 grams) almond butter
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1/4 cup (85 grams) honey
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing the paper to go up the opposing sides. Do the same in the opposite direction. This parchment "sling" makes it easy to remove the bars from the pan in one piece.

Stir together the dates, oats, flour, wheat germ, almonds, salt, and cinnamon in the bottom of a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey, orange zest, and almond extract until smooth Pour the wet ingredients over the dry mixture, and stir them together until the dry ingredients are evenly coated. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, pressing the mixture firmly into the bottom, edges, and corners to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. I like to use a piece of plastic wrap to protect my hands as I do so.

Bake the bars for 20 to 25 minutes, until they're brown around the edges--don't be afraid to get a little color on the tops too. They'll still seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the center of the pan, but do not worry--they'll set once completely cool.

Cool the bars in their pan placed on a cooling rack or in the fridge. (Alternatively after about 20 minutes you can use your parchment "sling" to lift and remove the bars, and lace them in their paper on the rack to cool the rest of the way. This can speed the process up.)

Once they''re cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. If bars seem crumbly, chill them further in the fridge for 30 minutes, which will set the "glue," then cut them cold.

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