Friday, April 5, 2013

Chewy Coconut Raisin Honey Granola Bars


Somebody please tell me HOW is it April? Please don't go on to explain how time is a continuous and intangible phenomenon that always moves forward regardless of what is happening around us.

Please just don't tell me that because I know. I know it just moves. Time keeps moving even if I decide not too.

It's just so hard to believe that 2013 is already more than 3 months old. It already grew out of its new year resolutions and never wants to sleep!

The only occasion when I think time actually stands still for just a little bit is when I'm baking. Or maybe it's just that my brain slows down. It's therapy, but it's edible, which makes it twicely therapeutic. 

Being in the kitchen with a big mixing bowl, a wooden spoon and a warm oven is like an off-switch for my brain. The only things I see are chocolate bits floating through the skies and brown sugar clouds. It's my happy place.

Something I make nearly every week is a batch of granola bars. They are simple and quick to make and so satisfying as a snack anytime of day.

There are a few things that can take the "bar" away from your granola bars. A major issue with making these guys at home is that they tend not to hold together without buckets of sugar. Everything may look nice and solid in the pan, but as soon as you take your knife to the block it can just crumble down into rubble. Still a very delicious snack, but not the bars that we are after.

Here are a few thing you need to know:

1. Stick to the recipe if you want your bars to stick! Having the right proportion of sugar/honey to dry ingredients is essential. 

2. Use the right type of oats. Recipes that use a proportion of quick-cooking or ground oats use them for a reason. Broken down oats will take up moisture readily and have their binding power exposed. The soluble fibers and proteins within oats are powerful binding agents that help to hold the mixture together.

3. Pack it in. Really use all your might to get the sticky granola mixture packed very tightly in the pan before baking it. This will help the oats stick together well. Halfway during baking, and even after it is fully baked, I like to press firmly on the mixture with the back of a spatula to pack it down again in case it has puffed up a bit. 

4. Give it enough heat. Make sure to bake your granola mixture thoroughly to help the binding compounds release and then reset.

5. Cool completely before slicing. When the granola slab is still warm, molecules are still moving and full of energy just like a warm roast beef. You need to let it rest so that the juices don't leak out. In the case of these granola bars, you need to let them cool completely to let the starches gelatinize and set up firmly (like letting the glue dry). Even refrigerating for and hour will help to get clean slices.

So if you too get lost in time when you're baking in a quiet kitchen.... I have a plan. Maybe if we bake every other day we can actually stop enough time to add a few years to our lives... or maybe we'll just add a few pounds to our thighs...

Either way, I still think it's a brilliant idea.

Chewy Coconut Raisin Honey Granola Bars
Makes 10-12 bars

1 ½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup quick-cooking or minute oats
1 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ cup raisins
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup honey
60 g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tsp milk
¼ tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.  Line an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together both oats, coconut and cinnamon. Add raisins and pumpkin seeds and toss to combine; set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, stir together honey, brown sugar, butter and milk until butter is completely melted and mixture is smooth. Increase heat and bring mixture to a boil. Cook at a boil for one minute and then pour over the oat mixture. Stir everything together until all of the dry ingredients are well coated with the honey mixture. It will be sticky. Sprinkle salt over mixture while stirring so that it is evenly distributed.

Dump oat mixture into the prepared baking dish. With clean, slightly oiled hands (or the back of a spatula or bottom of a mug), press the oat mixture very firmly into the pan until it is tight. Bak for 35 to 40 minutes, or until evenly browned. The baked granola will still feel very slightly soft in the center even after it is baked, but will harden as it cools.

Transfer pan to a wire rack to cook completely and then refrigerate for about 30 minutes before slicing. 

Use the overhang parchment paper to remove the granola slab and use a very sharp knife to cut it into bars.  Store in an air tight container.

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