Thick, Chewy Granola Bars

This past Labor Day weekend, a group of friends and I travelled from far and wide to convene on a little patch of land, next to the Juniata River in Central Pennsylvania.  This was our third year participating and Dan and I consider it our last big exhale of the summer, where we can kick back, relax and just enjoy the warmth of the sun, laughs with friends, and nature.  It was especially important for us to really embrace the idea of relaxation because we knew the weeks to follow would be a bit of a roller coaster for us.  The month of September was a whirlwind of travel for a wedding, moving and all of the packing and unpacking that goes along with such things.  And because of that, I did not post one. single. time. in September.

This camping event has typically been a pot-luck sort of deal and it works quite well.  I signed up for salads and baked goods.  I tacked the baked goods onto my list because we had finally received our replacement oven weeks earlier after being without one for nearly six months. Oh, how I've longed to bake! But because our apartment was in a shamble sort-of-moving-limbo state, I didn't want to get in over my head by spending hours baking cookies or a cake or any other time intensive confection.  Instead, I opted for a practical, semi-healthy treat that would give all of us campers an easy snack on the run for our daily floats down the river.  I made these thick, chewy granola bars that I found on Smitten Kitchen.

They were so simple and delicious that I made them again the following night!  In the middle of packing for a camping trip and packing box upon box for an apartment move.  That good and that easy!  It basically comes down to gathering your necessities, which you most likely already have in your pantry: quick oats, cinnamon, honey, sugar and butter and then procuring your add-ins, such as raisins, currants, nuts, peanut butter, chocolate chips, flax seeds, coconut flakes, etc. etc.  The list goes on and on.  I made two different versions, each with similar ingredients but different amounts and pan sizes and both were delicious though very different in sweetness and texture.  

Below, I've shared Smitten Kitchen's version of the granola bar recipe that she adapted from the original King Arthur Flour version.

Thick, Chewy Granola Bars
1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
1/2 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar (use more if you prefer a sweeter bar, less if you prefer a not-so-sweet bar)
1.3 cup oat flour (or 1/3 cup oats, process till finely ground in a food processor or blender -or, in my case, a coffee bean grinder!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 or 3 cups dried fruits and nuts (total of 10 to 15 ounces)
1/3 cup peanut butter or another nut butter (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional- I used almond extract as I was out of vanilla extract)
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup honey, maple syrup or corn syrup
2 tablespoons of light corn syrup (see note above)
1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray. Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter or oil, liquid sweeteners and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry (and peanut butter, if you’re using it) until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. (Deb suggests using a piece of plastic wrap to help with this.)

Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges.  They may seem a little soft and under done, but will firm up once out of the oven.

Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack.

Once cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares or rectangles.  Be sure they are cool before cutting into them or you might end up with loose, crumbly granola fit for a bowl of yogurt.  I actually popped mine in the refrigerator once they cooled and then cut them the next day.

My add ins:
Bar No. 1- currants, wheat germ, peanut butter*, semi-sweet chocolate chips*, slivered almonds, shaved unsweetened coconut.  (*For this first batch, I added 1/3 cup of peanut butter and a lot of chocolate chips.  I weighed my measurements until I reached 10-15 ounces, as suggested.  So, I was sort of throwing things together.  This first batch- perhaps because of the combination of sweet currants, peanut butter and the chocolate chips- was very moist, and very sweet.  For the next batch, I reduced the amount of peanut butter, chocolate chips and sugar and ended up with a less-moist and not-so-sweet bar that was equally delicious.  I suggest playing around with the recipe, have fun and really make it your own!)

Bar No. 2- dried apricots, wheat germ, peanut butter, salted sunflower seeds*, almonds, semi-sweet chocolate chips, shaved unsweetened coconut.  (*Because the sunflower seeds were salted, I omitted the salt originally called for in the recipe.)  I baked these in a rectangular pan that had more surfae space than the 8"x8"x2" pan called for in the recipe and used with the first bars.  As expected, the bars were more thin, and I got more out of them.  They ended up having a drier, more crumbly texture.  This may have resulted from the combination of less peanut butter and a larger pan size.  Regardless, they were delicious and you should absolutely give them a try!