By Kresha Faber, Contributing Writer
I absolutely love granola bars. They’ve been a favorite snack since I was a kid.
Whether it’s a road trip, camping, hiking, a toddler snack in the diaper bag, or just to have something on hand for a mid-afternoon energy slump, granola bars always seem to fit the bill. They’re that lovely combination of protein from the nuts, quick sugar from the maple syrup and dried fruit, and long-lasting energy from the oats.
I also happen to love peanut butter, so lately I’ve been making these peanut bars whenever I get a chance. They’re based on the basic granola bar recipe found in my latest book, The DIY Pantry, with a simple peanut butter substitution.
I call them “Perfect” Granola Bars not because I desire to be arrogant in any way (there are lots of really fabulous granola bar recipes out there), but this one is “perfect” because it’s a very basic recipe that can be customized to nearly anyone’s favorite flavor and texture. I’ve made it dozens and dozens of times with varying ingredients and varying textures and I haven’t had a failed batch yet.
The beauty of this recipe lies in the basic science of sugar and how sugars harden as they cool. You can adjust the final texture just by adjusting how long you leave them in the oven.
If you like them soft and chewy, for example, take them out of the oven a bit early. If, like me, you like them a bit crunchy, then leave them in a few extra minutes until the edges are really starting to brown. Don’t skimp on letting them cool completely before you enjoy them, though, or they won’t set properly. (Ask me how I know – we usually down about half the batch before they’re cool and I’m left with a kitchen full of crumbs from a snack that hadn’t yet melded!)
And as for the sugars in the recipe, the sugars are all naturally-occurring and minimally-refined, such as maple syrup, honey, brown rice syrup, and evaporated cane crystals, so you’ve got the sweetness of the sugar with some of the natural minerals still intact. If your peanut butter is sweetened, you may want to cut back on the honey just slightly.
Oh, and a last note – I call for barley malt syrup in this recipe. I can find that easily at health food stores in my area, but I know for some, it’s a difficult to find item, so feel free to use any other minimally-refined liquid sugar in its place (e.g. maple syrup, honey, etc). I call for barley malt syrup because of the nutty flavor it gives that replicates store-bought brands. Personally, it reminds me of the nuttiness of Grape-Nuts. If you use other syrups, just know that other syrups will make the bars a bit sweeter, so cut back if desired. And of course, you can buy it online if you can’t find it in your area.
Enjoy – and may you have great joy wherever your journeys take you this summer!
Homemade Peanut Butter Granola Bars
Makes approximately 24 3″ x 2″ bars
4 cups rolled oats, divided
4 cups add-ins (sunflower seeds, flax meal, chopped nuts, flaked coconut, etc.)
1/3 cup maple syrup or honey
1/3 cup barley malt syrup (you may substitute more maple syrup or honey, if necessary)
1/3 cup unrefined cane sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 cups peanut butter, preferably creamy (see how to make super creamy homemade peanut butter)
Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, pour in 3 cups of the oats. Add the other 1 cup of oats to a blender and pulse for about 60 seconds, until the oats have been pulverized into flour. Add the oat flour to the large mixing bowl. Mix in whichever nuts, seeds, or add-ins you desire.
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the maple syrup, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, salt, and peanut butter over medium heat, just until the sugar is completely dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes.
Pour the syrup mixture over the oat mixture and stir to coat completely.
Using a well-oiled spatula, scrape the oat mixture onto the prepared parchment paper and press the oats down as compactly as possible, preferably until about 1/4″ thick.
Bake for 35 minutes, until a deep golden, or 25 to 30 minutes, if you like softer bars.
Cool the mixture for about 10 minutes and then cut it into 24 bars without removing from the baking sheet. Let the bars sit for 1 hour. Once set, cut them again with a sharp knife and lift them off the pan.
Store in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.