Acrobatic Granola Bars

limber granola bar

At batch 25, I discovered what I wanted a granola bar to be able to do for me: a backbend. No, no — it’s not just that I’m overcome with Olympic spirit and am counting the seconds till I see tumblers spinning across my tv. Well, that too, but it’s mostly that I’ve realized that a granola bar that can hold a backbend without falling apart has just the chew I like.

Over the past few months, many experimentations with various recipes have led to the below formula, which yields a chewy, not-too-sweet bar that can be stored at room temperature in ziplock bags (in contrast to some bars, which require refrigeration to maintain their shape.) During this granola bar-making journey, I’ve gathered elements from many recipes along the way but from three in particular: Sara’s granola bars on Food52 inspired the use of almond butter, which doesn’t dominate in flavor the way peanut butter does; the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe inspired the base mixture of oats, coconut, and sliced almonds in nearly the same ratio as her granola recipe, which is my favorite; and an All Recipes’ recipe inspired the ratio of the “glue” that binds the bars together.

These bars are nearly perfect for me, but that’s not to say they’ll be perfect for you. The “best” granola bar is kind of a personal thing, and if you care to start experimenting, I have one little tip that might help you out: commit to a base mixture and make a big batch of it. As soon as I resolved that oats, almonds and coconut would be my base, I mixed up a big batch and stored it in a ziplock bag. With this base on hand, whipping up new variations of the bars became effortless.

One final note: I am loath to admit that the “glue” in these bars contains corn syrup. Obviously you don’t have to use it if you are opposed. The corn syrup can be replaced with honey, which I can promise will produce just as delicious a granola bar. I just can’t promise it will produce any backbends. It’s your call.

cut granola bars

granola bar mix with blueberries and cashews

almond butter

baking pan

ready for the oven

cut granola bars

cut granola bars

oats, coconut and almonds

Note: I have supplied a “recipe” for a big batch of the granola bar mix, which I have been keeping on hand to facilitate easy experimentation. I use two cups of the mix per batch of granola bars, but if you don’t feel like making a big bag of mix, I have provided the smaller quantities that comprise the two cups in the recipe below.

Chewy Granola Bars
yield = 18 per batch; granola bar mix yields 4 batches

Granola Bar Mix:

4 cups rolled oats
2 cups sliced almonds
2 cups sweetened coconut

1. Combine all in a bowl. Place in a ziplock bag until ready to make the granola bars. (As noted above, this bag will yield 4 batches of granola bars.)

Granola Bars

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
6 tablespoons brown sugar (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons)
1/3 cup almond butter or peanut butter (I prefer almond butter. PB definitely dominates.)
1/4 cup corn syrup (or honey, just know that the honey might not provide as chewy a texture as you might like)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups of the above mix (or use 1 cup of rolled oats + 1/2 cup slivered almonds + 1/2 cup sweetened coconut)
3 tablespoons wheat germ (toasted or untoasted)
3/4 or 1 teaspoon kosher salt (I use 1 teaspoon, but if you are sensitive to salt, perhaps start with 3/4)
1/2 cup chopped cashews* (I used toasted and unsalted)
1/4 cup dried fruit**

* Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios — pick your favorite
** In the photos, I used dried blueberries, which I thought I was going to love, but which I found to be a little too overpowering. I prefer dried cranberries and raisins, but imagine cherries, apricots, dates and figs would work nicely, too.

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lay a piece of parchment paper over a 9×9-inch baking pan so that it will cover the bottom as well as the sides of the pan. Press the paper into the pan to line it. (If you can secure the parchment paper to the pan with clips, it will help when you are spreading the batter into the pan.)

2. Melt the butter (if you haven’t already), then add it to a small mixing bowl along with the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and vanilla.

3. In a large mixing bowl, add the granola bar mix (or the noted smaller quantities of oats, almonds and coconut) along with the wheat germ, salt, cashews and dried fruit. Toss with your hands to combine. UPDATE: I just made a batch this morning (7-17-2012), and this time I pulsed all of these dried ingredients (cashews and dried cranberries included) in the food processor. I like the texture of the baked bar when the ingredients have been pulsed briefly. It’s your call. You lose a bit of the chunky texture, so if you like that, maybe try one batch with the dry ingredients pulsed and another batch with them not pulsed. Also, you don’t want to purée the ingredients so that they start clumping together. The nuts and dried berries should still be in coarse pieces. (See photo below.)

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula until nicely combined. Spread into prepared pan and flatten. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned on top. (The longer you bake it, the firmer the final bar will be. It might take a batch or two for you to realize what texture you prefer.) Remove from oven and let cool on rack for 25 minutes. Pull up on the parchment paper and remove the block from the pan. Lay it on a cutting board and cut the bar into pieces. Let cool completely before storing.

Update 7-17-12: In the batch I made this morning, I pulsed the ingredients briefly in the food processor. I like the texture of the baked bar when the ingredients have been pulsed briefly and will be doing this from here on out.
pulsed granola mix

granola mix

cut granola bars

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.
olympic granola bar


15. July 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Breakfast, Vegetarian | 42 comments


Comments (42)

  1. I think you are right about the backbends – that is the texture I prefer for a muesli bar too!

  2. Ha – a leotard-clad granola bar. Too funny! Ali, these look great. I’ve made one version of granola bars that I like (http://iowagirleats.com/2012/03/20/homemade-chewy-granola-bars/) but I can’t wait to try yours. And I love this idea of keeping granola bar mix around – I’d also use it as a base for my granola. Great idea.

  3. haha i laughed at the first backbend, but really giggled with the outfit
    these look great
    i have been looking for a recipe with the right texture and i think these will fit the bill
    i will let you know how they turn out

  4. You are a genius. These are better than the Barefoot Contessa’s The best texture ever and while healthy, they don’t have that weird health food store flavor. Thank you as always.

  5. I spent a good part of the afternoon scooping peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon and then dipping that same spoon in the jar of granola; I think it might be time to make some granola bars. These look delicious. And I think I’d like these chewy ones, although I’m also a lover of crunchie ones, like the Nature’s Valley bars that come in twos in those green sleeves. Love the olympic bar !!!

    • Talley — You are funny. If you are a lover of crunchy bars, then I think you are safe to use honey. I wish you had been around during my trial phase. I think you might have been happy with one or two of the batches that I loved in the flavor department but not so much in the texture department.

  6. I’ve been following David Lebovitz who has humorously shared his attempts for the “perfect” granola bar. He has since given up. Maybe he ought to try this one. It looks very promising. I’ll give it a try when I feel like turning on the oven again.

    Also noticed the clips you are using to hold the parchment paper in place. Oven safe???

    • Carmen — thanks so much for letting me know about DL attempts at the perfect granola bar. I am going to have to check out his trials. Why are granola bars so tricky?! They shouldn’t be this hard. And the clips seem to be oven safe. I discovered by accident — I left them on while baking a batch of brownies. Truthfully, you don’t really need them to be oven safe because they are most helpful while you are scooping batter into the pan. Once the batter is in the pan, the weight of the batter holds the parchment paper in place. I just don’t want to misadvise you about the properties of these clips! I threw away the package, but just looked online at the product description, and because it’s not mentioned, I imagine they are not meant to be oven safe: http://www.surlatable.com/product/PRO-8021/Everything-Clips Side note: I absolutely love these clips. I use them for everything.

  7. Just tried to make these… the taste is wonderful, but they don’t old together and here is no stickiness to the glue. I did use honey instead if corn syrup – but that can’t be the reason. I backed them for over 20 minutes and the tops were still not golden (as in the pictures here). Any advice/ suggestions on what I am doing wrong? Thanks so much!

    • Alice — I am stumped. I have made this recipe with honey, and the opposite happened — they held together too much for my liking. In all the batches I tried with honey, the final product was just a little too hard. If you feel like giving corn syrup a go, that would be my first suggestion. I have sometimes had to bake the bars for 25 minutes, but during those attempts my oven thermometer was reading 325º. I have found that when I bake the bars for over 25 minutes, they too are too hard in the end. I have a couple of questions. Did you allow the the 25 minutes before cutting? That is key, and you don’t want to let them cool completely before cutting because they’ll be too hard. Is your oven temperature reliable? If it’s off by a few degrees, I wouldn’t worry — you should be able to judge the doneness by the color on top and if that takes 25 minutes or longer, that is OK. I’m not sure how else to advise. The corn syrup does seem to have a magical ability to hold the bars together in the perfect sort of way. I know it’s a horrid ingredient so I don’t blame you for using honey, but it might be worth a shot.

  8. 24 iterations?! That is commitment…and now granola bar perfection apparently too.
    :-) Great photos to boot!

    • Shut up & cook — I am spent! I did not realize how challenging granola bars were until I started this little journey several months ago. I honestly gifted a rock hard batch to a friend and said, “hope you have a microwave!” She did, fortunately, and she said the microwave was just the trick to make them edible.

  9. very cute! .. what is sweetened coconut? In Australia I think we are limited to dessicated or flaked /shredded.

    • Sandy — sweetened coconut (I’m guessing) is the flaked/shredded coconut you can find with the addition of sugar. I have a hard time finding the desiccated coconut that you can find, but that might be preferable in some ways. If you use the unsweetened coconut, you might have to increase the amount of brown sugar a tad. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup in fact, so you might try that and then after you’ve made one batch, adjust as you see fit. Good luck with it!

  10. Can’t wait to make these next weekend. Heading to the beach and these look perfect as a snack.

  11. Alexandra…how timely! I was just looking for a granola bar recipe to try! And I love the
    idea of keeping a lot of the base mixture on hand. Bravo!

  12. I am sure you already know that corn syrup available in groceries is not the same as HFCS used in processed foods. Though of course not great for you, the domestic CS is markedly “less bad” than the commercial. Here is what “Fine Cooking” says http://www.finecooking.com/item/24865/corn-syrup-vs-high-fructose-corn-syrup. I say go for it, in moderation, just like any other food.

    (Love the blog. Was initially introduced by Mark Bittman’s plug.)

    • Hi Shannon, Thank you for passing along this link! I did in fact know that corn syrup is not the same as HFCS (thanks to Wikipedia), but this article clarified some things a bit. And I am definitely with you — everything in moderation. When I started researching the ingredient, I decided to actually take a look at the label and read the ingredients. I expected to see a laundry list of ingredients that I wouldn’t be able to pronounce, but the ingredients are just corn syrup, vanilla and salt. So it’s unfortunate that it’s more “processed” than sugar or honey, but it doesn’t seem to be too bad of an ingredient overall. And back to the moderation idea, I suppose all sugars should be used sparingly. In my attempts to avoid using the ingredient, I bought some blue agave syrup and some golden syrup, and then I researched those ingredients, and they seem to be villainized as well. Anyway, thanks again so much for sending along that link. It was written in a way that didn’t make my brain start hurting.

  13. Alexandra – thanks for the suggestions. I’m definitely going to try again. Even though the bars are falling apart, they are mighty tasty.

    • Alice, I’m glad to hear that you haven’t given up on the recipe! I almost made another batch tonight employing some of the techniques from the recipe link Darcy passed along. I am intrigued by coconut oil — I keep seeing it everywhere — and I am wondering how it might affect the texture. And I have been contemplating puréeing the dry ingredients in the food processor for some time now. I’m wondering if the puréed dried ingredients might help hold your bars together? I’ll report back if I make any discoveries.

      • Alice — Just made another batch this morning. My oven was at 350ºF, and I baked them for 20 minutes — 15 minutes would not have been enough — and I think they almost could have used a few more minutes so I’ve updated the instructions with a 20 to 25 minute range. I think that’s more accurate. I also pulsed the ingredients briefly in the food processor (updated the instructions as well), and I really like what this does to the texture of the final bar. I think it’s even chewier. I’m still curious about substituting coconut oil in somewhere, but I didn’t want to change two variables this morning. Hope that helps.

  14. I need to make a batch of granola bars for our cycling trip this summer, and chewy sounds great to me, so I think I’ll give these a try. Thanks for experimenting.

  15. Thank you for the recipe! I tried the granola bars and like Alice use honey. Some of them fell apart and others didn’t. They are still good.I will try the corn syrup and see if that makes a difference. Also I may let them set overnight before cutting- just to see if that makes any difference.

    • Lulynn — Definitely try the corn syrup. I think it will make a difference. Also, I noted this in the recipe, but I made another batch this morning in which I pulsed the ingredients briefly. I added a photo for reference, too. I think this helps create a really nice texture.

  16. Thank you! I will definetly try the pulsing and the corn syrup!

  17. Tried them again… same result. Very delicious, but falling apart. Once we move, I will get some corn syrup and see if I can make any improvements. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • Alice — bummer! Definitely try the corn syrup if you are up for another go. I’ve made two batches since we last emailed (both with the dry ingredients slightly pulsed), and they were a huge hit with the fam I had in town. If those don’t stay together for you, I will be at a total loss! Thanks again for reporting back.

  18. I am so excited to try this recipe. My kids all love granola bars, and my friend made this recipe and they were great! The only changes I will have to make are to make it gluten and corn free. I will be using Gluten free rolled oats and flaxseed (ground) instead of wheat germ. I am also planning on using Brown rice syrup (which is not as cost effective as honey) instead of the corn syrup since my son has a corn allergy. Hopefully they turn out as good. I am wondering if the wheat germ is super important or if I could just leave it out? Thanks :)

    • Tawnya — I will be so curious as to how they turn out gluten free. It’s always nice to have these variations on hand. I think you could certainly leave out the wheat germ. It’s one of those ingredients you barely taste, but it’s so healthy, so it’s easy to throw in. Nobody will miss it!

  19. Light corn syrup or dark?

  20. Thanks for this fabulous recipe! I substituted maple syrup for the corn syrup and this is now going to become a staple around my house!

  21. I just have to say You sharing your recipe was truely a God sent for Me!!! I’m telling You I made two batches last night. I made both with the corn syrup. One I made one with cranberry, dried pineapple, and You know the cashews. I made the other batch with cranberry, apricot, and cashews. THEY WERE DELICIOUS:-) I was so proud of myself when both batches past the “backbend” test! Lol:-)) I did cook one batch for 25min and one for 20min,and I noticed the batch that cooked for 25min had just a little crunch to them around the edges but they were STILL chewy! I think It’s genius-and I thank You-coming up with making a big batch of the Mix up and keeping it ziplocked for whenever ya need it! You are Amazing, these bars are amazing! I love them, my daughter loves them and We both say THANK YOU:-)

    • Natalie — I am SO happy to hear this. I love your variations — I am definitely going to try the dried pineapple. I have been on a dried mango binge recently — not in the granola bars just in life — and I feel like both would be nice additions to the granola bars. Of course, nothing makes me happier to hear that they passed the backbend test!! ha ha, I love it. Thank you so much for writing in!

  22. I made these this morning and am VERY pleased with the result. I didn’t feel like buying extra mix-ins, so I made them with what I had on hand: rolled oats, dried apples, golden raisins, crunchy peanut butter, brown rice syrup. They’re delicious! My husband requested “chewy granola bars” as a treat this week, and these definitely hit his craving. Thanks!

    • Evelyn — so happy to hear this! I haven’t tried brown rice syrup with these yet, but have been dying to as a substitute for the corn syrup. I might have to make a batch this weekend. Thanks for reporting in!

  23. Just have to share that I am still making these in batches and freezing them…esp as my second baby is due next month and I know i’ll want something yummy and nutritious to grab! they are my very fave! I couldn’t get wheat germ in my grocery store and used whole ground flax seed instead. great! thanks, Ali!!!

    • Oh, Kendra! It’s so great to hear from you; it’s so great to hear you are still liking/making these bars; and it’s so exciting to hear that baby will be here so soon! I love the idea of adding flax seed to these bars. Have you ever used chia seed? Amanda gave me a bag before she left for Minnesota — she was cleaning out her pantry — and I have been throwing in a handful of seeds here and there to these sorts of things. Will be thinking of you! So exciting. xoxo

  24. Challenge for you. I have a daughter with a severe cashew/pistachio allergy. After a recent exposure sent her to the hospital we need to eliminate all tree nuts from her diet. It may seem a little overly cautious but because there is so much cross contamination in the manufacturing process of nuts it’s our safest option. So, any advice on how to make granola bars without nuts? We can use peanuts, which as you know aren’t really a nut. She loves dried apricots, blueberries and cherries. Is there a simple substitution you can recommend for the above recipe. I’d appreciate any advice.

    BTW – love your no need bread recipe. Then again, I always love all your recipes.
    Shelly

    • Oh, Shelly, I’m so sorry to hear this. I am sure figuring out what to eat/what not to eat has become more of a process. I am up for the challenge! OK, so is peanut butter safe to use in the bars then? I think I could replace the almond butter with peanut butter here, omit the almonds (and coconut?), add some more dried fruit and maybe some chia seed? Can your daughter eat sunflower butter?

      It would be amazing to come up with a nut-free granola bar because then I would have something to pack in my childrens’ lunches for school. We are expecting a ton of snow starting at midnight. Maybe tomorrow I will start experimenting. I will keep you posted! So happy you like the bread!

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