Born out of the days of free love and food coops, granola bars are, in a way, a quintessential health food for the modern era. The concept is simple: mix some whole grain goodness with nuts and dried fruit and smoosh it all together in a portable little package. However, commercial granola bars are often loaded with sugar and additives, making them a far cry from the guitar-playing, unshaven, sticky oat squares we expect. And when all you have to do it combine a few pantry ingredients and toss them in the oven, why not make your own?
For these coconut date granola bars, I use a combination of two natural sweeteners: honey and barley malt. Barley malt is an ultra-sticky syrup made from (duh) barley that’s predominantly maltose, giving it a distinct malty/Whopper flavor. While there is debate about how different sugars affect health and particularly blood sugar, I think the main reason for using them over refined sugars is that they get your body accustomed to a “less sweet” sweet, and, in these bars, the gentle sweetness allows you taste the almonds, coconut and spices. Don’t worry if you don’t have barley malt; just use the equivalent amount of honey. Packed with protein from the nuts, fiber from the oats and dates, and good-for-you Omega 3 fats from the flax seeds and wheat germ, this is an elegant update that will boost your energy while satisfying your sweet tooth.
These granola bars make great gifts, particularly for friends who like to work out. You’ll soon be just as popular as your baker friends.
Coconut Date Granola Bars
yield: 16 bars
1 cup blanched almonds, chopped (or any other nut)
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons barley malt (or same amount extra honey if you don’t have barley malt)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter
pinch of salt
1 cup Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and edges of a 9×12 baking dish.
2. On a large sheet pan toss together the chopped almonds, oats, dried coconut and wheat germ. Toast in oven, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. The mixture should be slightly golden and fragrant. Remove from the oven and place in a large bowl and add the flax seeds.
3. In a small pot, heat the honey, barley malt, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla extract, butter and salt. Let the mixture come to a boil, turn off the heat, and pour it into the bowl with the oat mixture. Add the chopped dates, breaking apart any clumps, and stir to combine.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and form a smooth, even layer, using a moistened spatula or your fingers. Make sure the mixture is packed down, then bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove and let cool for several hours before slicing into bars or squares. Wrap individually in plastic wrap to keep your homemade granola bars fresh all week.