Energy bars, power bars, protein bars, granola bars. Whatever you call them, they’ve taken over entire aisles in supermarkets. When it comes to nutrition, some of them are little better for you than a store-bought cookie, with an ingredient list that would make a Keebler elf blanch. That’s changing, as more brands realize that plenty of consumers interested in grab-and-go snacking also want something more stripped-down. One manufacturer, That’s It, is selling bars made from just two dried fruits, nothing more.
Their ubiquity might make you forget one salient fact: It’s so easy to make these things at home, where you can control the ingredients, mix and match to your liking, and store them for a week, ready for whenever you have a hankering.
Just about every whole-foods-oriented cookbook I’ve seen in the past year or so has included a bar, so I’ve been trying recipes and returning to the best ones. In the process, I’ve settled on three standbys, each of which occupies a niche and satisfies a particular craving or need.
My favorite bars are variations on a common theme: grains, nuts and/or fruit bound together with something sticky, with minimal (if any) added sweetener. The most stripped-down of the ones I’ve loved are Susanna Booth’s Peanut Snack Bars in her book. They’re barely more than figs, nuts and seeds, with a little peanut butter and a little flour, and they come together as easily as a food-processor pie dough, albeit one that you cut into bars — and don’t bake. If this is what the raw-food movement is all about, I need to leave my oven off more often.
The Chewy Cranberry, Millet and Pistachio Bars in Emma Galloway’s book don’t see the heat of an oven, either. But you do quickly boil the liquid ingredients — brown rice syrup or honey, coconut oil and tahini — before pouring the combination over a bowl full of puffed millet, dried cranberries and pistachios. Puffed millet was a revelation: a health-food-store staple that turns a whole grain from something hearty into something light and crispy. Between the millet and the tahini, that Middle Eastern paste made from ground sesame seeds, these bars taste like an adult’s version of Rice Krispies treats.
Ella Woodward’s Banana Breakfast Bars are a little cakier, and prepared more conventionally: You mash up ripe bananas and mix them with oats, almond milk, a little cashew butter, honey and seasoning, then bake them briefly. They’re like a cross between a muffin and a granola bar, just the type of thing that you’d grab for a quick morning snack. Spread with more nut butter and some jam, eat with yogurt and fruit, and you’re on your way to a meal. You’d probably want to sit down for this one, but it’ll be worth it. Even a power-bar-maker deserves to power down now and again.
Banana Breakfast Bars
These somewhat-caky, somewhat-chewy bars have a subtle banana flavor that makes them perfect for a grab-and-go breakfast.
Make Ahead: The bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Coconut oil, for the baking dish (may substitute cooking oil spray)
2 large or 3 small very ripe bananas, sliced (about 1 cup)
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
Scant 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons cashew butter
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 9-by-6-inch baking dish with the oil.
Use a fork to mash the bananas in a mixing bowl until smooth. Stir in the rolled oats, almond milk, cashew butter, cinnamon, honey, vanilla extract and salt until well incorporated.
Spoon the mixture into the baking dish, flattening and smoothing the surface. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until evenly firm to the touch.
Cool in the baking dish completely before cutting into 10 bars of equal size.
Nutrition | Per bar: 130 calories, 3 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 55 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar
Peanut Snack Bars
These are trail mix in a bar: little more than nuts, seeds and dried fruit bound together with a little flour.
Make Ahead: The bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
7 ounces soft dried figs (about 1 cup packed)
Scant 1/2 cup unsweetened crunchy peanut butter
1/4 cup hulled, toasted or roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds
1/3 cup hulled, raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 teaspoons water
Discard the tough stem at the top of each dried fig. Place the fruit in a food processor along with the peanut butter, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flour, salt, sunflower oil and water; pulse long enough to create a mixture that has the texture of fine crumbs, which should hold together when firmly pressed.
Press or roll the mixture on a counter, between layers of parchment paper, to a thickness of about 1/2 inch: A rectangle about 7-by-6-inches is perfect. If there are cracks, press the dough more firmly. Cut into 12 equal slices.
Nutrition | Per bar: 180 calories, 5 g protein, 16 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugar
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