Don’t you hate it when you have the best idea and it completely falls flat? Oh, don’t worry, I’m not talking about the granola bars. Those are spectacular—and I’ll get to them. But first, the falling flat thing. I had the fantastic (if I do say so myself) idea to send two recently-engaged friends homemade engagement gifts a couple weeks back. A little treat to say congratulations. After much thought, I settled on what I thought would be the perfect treat: caramels. And, for those that have followed this blog for a bit will know, my first attempt at caramels did not work. Period.
My second go-round at caramels, thankfully, was a success. So, I gleefully wrapped the caramels in their parchment squares, taking particular pleasure in twisting off the ends to seal the caramels. I then did my best Martha and packaged them up in glassine bags with pretty bows. I shipped them off to my friends, one in New York and the other in California, relieved that I could finally show my friends how excited I was for them.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
Unfortunately, this saga does not end there. I quickly got word from the East Coast that my package had arrived and the caramels were being enjoyed by their recipients. From the West Coast, however, there was … silence. An ominous silence. Knowing my friend as I do, I knew they hadn’t arrived. This suspicion was confirmed when the package was returned to me, squashed and flattened and nearly in shreds, caramel practically oozing out of its pores.
Needless to say, I’ve had it with caramel. Fool me once, shame on you, caramel. Fool me twice, though, it’s shame on me. I was not embarking on another ill-fated caramel endeavor. It was back to the drawing board to come up with a different congratulatory treat. To complicate matters, our newly betrothed friends in California are in the final throes of training for a marathon. It just didn’t feel right to send a big box of truffles or decadent brownies to people running close to 20 miles a day. Thus, these granola bars were born.
I absolutely adore granola and I think a bag or jar of it would make a wonderful out-of-the-blue treat to mail across the country to a friend. But, for this occasion, I wanted something a little more special. So I tinkered around with my granola recipe to come up with these beauties, which I think are infinitely better than any store-bought granola bar I’ve tried. They maintain all my favorite components of my granola—pepitas, dried cranberries, flax and sesame seeds—but they’re in (totally adorable) bar form. I even cut a couple in bite-sized pieces, which worked well. I’d love to tell you more, but there are two pretty bags of granola bars waiting for me on the counter. If they don’t reach their marathon-running, wedding-planning recipients, I just might have to give up.
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup pepitas
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 cup whole almonds (or other nut)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup honey*
1/4 cup natural peanut butter*
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)
Preheat the oven to 325. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Next, line a square baking pan (8 or 9 inches) with two perpendicular sheets of parchment paper that are long enough to leave an overhang. The sheets will form a “basket” for you to lift out the sheet of granola, before you cut it into bars.
Combine the oats, coconut, seeds and nuts; spread out evenly on the rimmed baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes. When the oat mixture has been toasting for about 10 minutes, combine the honey, peanut butter, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and vanilla in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. If the sugar dissolves before the oat mixture is done toasting, reduce the heat to low.
When the oat mixture is done toasting, transfer it to a large bowl and add the honey mixture and fruit; stir to incorporate. Spread the mixture in the prepared square pan, using the back of a wooden spoon or bottom of a measuring cup to press the mixture into the pan and create a smooth, even surface. Bake the granola mixture for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
Using your parchment “handles,” lift the granola sheet out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Using a large sharp knife, Cut the sheet into one-inch wide bars. Next, cut the series of bars in half, lengthwise. Store in an airtight container.
*Update: I originally advocated a higher amount of honey and peanut butter for those wanting a chewier bar. People seemed to have problems when they increased the amounts of honey and peanut butter, though. So, I’m now only comfortable listing the amounts that I’ve tried with success (i.e. the amounts used for the bars in these photos). I can’t stress strongly enough the need to let the bars cool completely before cutting them with a very sharp knife.