With final exams just around the corner and schedules kicking into (even higher) high gear, this is the perfect time to post my favorite “portable power” snack: Alton Brown’s homemade granola bars. My husband and I discovered these pocket sized treats while watching an old episode of “Good Eats” and we’ve been hooked ever since. The hearty, nutty flavor in these bars spiked with bits of dried fruit sweetness simply cannot be beat, nor can their ability to keep you feeling full for a surprisingly long time. As a graduate student who’s often forced to grab a quick snack on the go, I’ve sampled my fair share of commercial granola bars and the only thing that almost comes close to these bars in terms of taste and staying power are Kind Energy Bars. Yet, given a choice, I’d choose the homemade variety every time. It’s tough to beat do-it-yourself goodness.
This sort of food may seem like the result of modern, high-tech convenience, but “power bars” (or rather, power cakes) have been around since the Middle Ages. Back then soldiers carried a dense fruitcake called pan forte as their travel food of choice. Made with honey, grains, nuts and dried fruit, pan forte means “strong bread” and for good reason – not only was it flavored with intense spices but it was one of the highest calorie foods of the day, giving travelers the energy they needed to venture forth on… well, adventures. Another old time power food hails from the North American Cree Indians, who ground together buffalo meat, fat, bone marrow and dried fruits to create a portable food called pemmican. Stored in rawhide pouches, the nutritional wallop of this concoction gave American frontiersman Alexander MacKenzie the strength to become the first European to cross the North American continent in 1793. It may not sound appetizing but you have to admit, that’s a mighty impressive resume for ground buffalo.
Compared to commercially made energy bars the homespun variety excels in taste and wholesome value, forgoing all that yucky high fructose corn syrup, sodium and palm kernel oil that plagues many of the “convenience foods” you’ll find at the supermarket. If you ask me, there’s nothing convenient about consuming saturated fats, especially when you’re in a rush and your body needs the best fuel you can find. Next time you feel like experimenting in the kitchen give these a go. For hardly any effort you’ll be rewarded with a flavor-packed, power-punch of an energy bar!
Alton Brown’s Granola Bars
- 8 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats, approximately 2 cups
- 1 1/2 ounces raw sunflower seeds, approximately 1/2 cup
- 3 ounces sliced almonds, approximately 1 cup
- 1 1/2 ounces wheat germ, approximately 1/2 cup
- 6 ounces honey, approximately 1/2 cup
- 1 3/4 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1/4 cup packed
- 1-ounce unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 1/2 ounces chopped dried fruit, any combination of apricots, cherries or blueberries (or organic dried apples, which is what I used instead of cherries. You could also use dried strawberries, mango, whatever dried fruits you like really!)
Butter a 9 by 9-inch glass baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spread the oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, and wheat germ onto a half-sheet pan. Place in the oven and toast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In the meantime, combine the honey, brown sugar, butter, extract and salt in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook until the brown sugar has completely dissolved.
Once the oat mixture is done, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees F. Immediately add the oat mixture to the liquid mixture, add the dried fruit, and stir to combine. Turn mixture out into the prepared baking dish and press down, evenly distributing the mixture in the dish and place in the oven to bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container for up to a week.