Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Granola Bar Science

We've made a lot of changes in our diet lately. Between reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, watching FOOD, Inc., reading Anti Cancer, Righteous Porkchop, and wanting to lose extra weight and be more healthy -- wow! If you're interested and want to know more about these books or have already read them and want to share tips/tricks/or stories, email me!

One of the bigger changes has been to make as much as we can on our own. To that end, granola bars are such a great snack to have on hand and I'm loving being the one in control of what goes into them. They're also really easy to make.

I've tried 3 different recipes now (Kitchen Stewardship, Sisters Cafe, and my wonderful friend Heidi's).

This morning I decided to compare all three and see if I couldn't figure out the "science" behind what is required to make a granola bar. Here's what I came up with. Armed with these things, I think I'll be able to make any number of granola bar recipes, changing it up however I feel.

(for a regular size batch)

- 2 cups of oats. Maybe a 1/2 cup more in a doubled batch. Quick vs. rolled is really a matter of preference. I have yet to decide my preference...
- 1 C flour, whole wheat or all-purpose. No flour? Use an extra 1/2 C oats and 1/2 C rice krispies. Not as healthy, but really yummy. Using all-purpose but still wanting to be healthy? Add 1/2 C wheat germ. My double batch recipe calls for 1 cup flour, but another regular batch recipe I have ALSO calls for 1 cup I'm doing a regular batch and will use 1/2 cup flour unless it looks like it needs more.
- 1/2 tsp baking soda. Two of the recipes actually leave this out, but I think it helps the bars stay together better and be softer and chewier. Scientifically, I know that cream of tartar makes cookies softer and chewier and is an ingredient in baking powder. So maybe this is similar? As for why it helps them stay together better? Maybe something to do with the poofing/rising while they bake and then when they cool and fall they stick together better? Ideas anyone?
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/3 - 1/2 C Butter or oil, interchangeable in this recipe. That's not always the case with baking.
- 3/4 to 1 C sweetener, to taste.
1/2 C brown sugar + 1/4 - 1/2 C honey
1/2 C honey (as a general rule, if you want to use all honey and no sugar in a recipe that calls for only sugar, use half the amount called for. So 1 Cup sugar = 1/2 C honey)
- 1/2 tsp of extract of choice, or even a mixture of two. If you like almonds, try 1/4 tsp almond extract and 1/4 tsp vanilla. You can add up to 2 tsp extract in a batch if you feel like the flavor's not strong enough.
- Add an egg or two if it seems too dry. You're only likely to need this if you use all oil instead of butter.
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon is a really yummy addition.
- You can add 1/4 - 1/3 C powdered milk for added calcium.

- add by the 1/2 C
- if using peanut butter, cut the oil/butter to 1/4 - 1/3 C
- There are so many possibilities for add-ins. Try any of these: coconut, mini chocolate chips, dried cranberries (practically any dried fruit), nuts, or sunflower seeds.
- You can adjust the add-ins to taste if you really like a particular flavor, but be careful you don't add so much that it interferes with the oats and the "chewiness" factor.

Use your hands and jam it all into the pan. This keeps your bars from falling apart.

Use a lightly greased 9 x 13" pan. If you double the recipe, you can use the same size pan. Just two tips with a doubled batch:
- adjust your baking time, more on the 20 minute side
- cut them thinner and the top (looking into the pan) becomes the side of each granola bar. Make sense?

Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, checking at 12 minutes. You want it to be a little golden.

Cool at least 10 minutes before cutting.
Cool COMPLETELY in pan before removing and storing or serving.

They freeze well if wrapped individually.

Today I'm going to try two batches:
- peanut butter chocolate chip (an old favorite)
- and almond coconut with 1/4 tsp almond extract and 1/4 tsp vanilla (I think almond extract is pretty strong and add a little at a time tasting as I go. You may prefer to go all the way up to the 2 tsps with almond and vanilla. Last time I did that, I tasted a "tinglyness" in the bars directly from the almond extract. Weird huh?)

I'm also going to use oil instead of butter. Much cheaper. I've tried both and can't really tell a difference.

So today my recipes will look like this:

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 - 1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C honey
1/3 - 1/2 C oil
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 C coconut
1/2 C sliced almonds

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another. Combine. Spread in greased pan. Bake at 350 for 12-20 minutes. Cut. Cool completely. Remove from pan and store.

And then in the 2nd batch I'll do all vanilla extract, 1/2 C peanut butter (adjusting the oil as needed), and 1/2 C mini chocolate chips.

If you find a combination you love, let me know!


  1. Heidi said...
    Oh, the book that sealed the deal for me was The Face on Your Plate (let's see if italics worked on that, my first attempt.) I'll go look up the ones you mentioned I've not read yet...

    I'm excited to try your granola bar recipe, it's vegan!! So many have egg so I love trying new variations.
    Abby said...
    I'll have to look up The Face on Your Plate. I've never tried italics before either. Had to go look it up...

    I think the overall recipe is really similar to the one you sent me. :)

    I just pulled two batches out of the oven. The almond/coconut one needed an egg...I can tell it's because I'm using all oil instead of butter. I wonder if the flaxseed substitution would work well enough? The peanut butter/chocolate chip one didn't need an egg, thanks to the peanut butter.

    And one other thing I did, after I cut them, I pressed them down again to fix the bits that were coming up after cutting. I just used parchment paper between my hand and the bars.
    Jean said...
    Nice job!!! I've never heard of anyone making granola bars before, and they sound DEEEElish. I read Omnivore's Dilemma, and I LOVED it. (You should also read In Defense of Food, by the same author. Similar theme, but less background and more what-to-do.) I still need to watch Food Inc!!
    Abby said...
    Jean, I want to read In Defense of Food! I actually started it before I even read The Omnivore's Dilemma. But I was reading so slow, taking it in little bits and really wanting to absorb the advice, that I had to return it to the library before I finished. As soon as I finish Righteous Porkchop (which you should never read while eating!), I think I'll pick up In Defense again...

    Isn't it amazing how much we haven't known about our food and what is done to it before we get it? And how the animals are treated? It's so crazy.
    Heidi said...
    The author who did Omnivore's and In Defense wrote a summary that's super short - it's just "the rules" for food and an elaboration on his theme (eat real food, not too much, mostly plants) with a paragraph or two on each rule. I posted the rules on my blog so I could remember them, I think the book is called Food Rules but it's worth reading In Defense of Food if you have time for the more in depth stuff. Here's the rules summary I did:

    Have you watched Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution" show? It's available online and very eye opening, too. The chicken nugget experiment made me gag, and that's a clip (among others) I let C watch - he was fascinated and I think it was good for him to see.
    Abby said...
    Heidi, I knew about Food Rules but I haven't read it. I've heard from a few different people that it mostly reiterates what he says in In Defense and Omnivore's Dilemma. I really like him though and it's fun to see him speak here and there in FOOD, Inc.

    I really like Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution! I've watched the episodes where he's working with a high school somewhere in the midwest. I think what he's doing is great and sorely needed. I've never looked him up online though and I'd love to show Autumn some of his stuff. She really gets into everything we do. She's learning a lot about food right alongside us. (And I'm sure the others are too, she's just more vocal about it!)
    Heidi said... and Hulu have clips of Food Revolution, I don't know if they still have full episodes up but the clips are great length for kids.

    Food Rules is a summary of the rules of other books - the author said doctors asked him to write a briefer "pamphlet" they could suggest to patients that may not be willing to read a lengthy explanation and so it's just the bottom line. Good if you're short on time!

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