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Monday
Jan022012

sweet & salty granola bars

This is one killer granola bar.

It's chewy, bound together with caramel and tastes like a buttered Rice Krispies treat all grown-up with toasted nuts and oats and a little kick of salt.

And it's only 120 calories a bar. 

I've tried SO MANY granola recipes -- all of which were either too hard, too crunchy or just fell apart. I even made a spongy batch once with pumpkin puree.

The first time I bit into these chewy granola bars, I did a happy dance, which the kids found pretty funny.

I knew right away...this recipe is THE ONE. The best. The granola bar I've been searching for.

I've made these bars at least a dozen times since.

It's not a throw-everything-into-a-pan type bar. You toast the nuts and then the oats with a little butter -- only 3 tablespoons in the whole batch.

Then you make caramel.

Making caramel -- it's nothing.

Easy. You don't even need a candy thermometer.

It's all in the color.

Also, they're super versatile.

You can add cinnamon and dried apples or coconut and dried papaya, along with pretty much any kind of nut you like.

They also pack a punch of flavor -- buttery and somehow marshmallowy and still fairly low in calories.

So much better than those dry, itty-bitty low-cal bars from the store with the strange bits of "fruit" in them.

I wrap them up individually, good for on-the-go breakfasts and snacks.

And just straight-up tasty shots of energy.

Chewy Granola Bars

adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies or whole grain Cheerios (I used the crisped rice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Line a 9X13 pan with foil, allowing extra to hang over the sides (to act as a sling for easy removal). Spray foil lightly with canola spray.

In a large bowl, combine cereal and salt. Set aside.

In large skillet over medium heat, toast nuts, stirring frequently, until fragrant and slightly browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Combine nuts with cereal in large bowl.

In same pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir rolled oats into melted butter and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir oats into nut-cereal mixture. Set aside.

Pour water into a medium saucepan. Carefully pour the sugar into the center of the water in the saucepan (it will mound). The sugar should naturally absorb the water, but you may press down lightly on sugar if necessary so that all of the sugar is moistened.

DO NOT STIR. Cook sugar mixture over medium-high heat, without stirring, until sugar dissolves and the caramel becomes light gold in color, about 8 to 12 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and continue to cook until caramel turns a dark amber color, carefully swirling pan to ensure even caramelization. Remove from heat.

Carefully whisk the half and half into the caramel. Continue to whisk for about 20 seconds, until caramel barely bubbles, then add vanilla.

Pour caramel over oat-nut mixture and, working quickly, mix the caramel evenly into the oat mixture.

Pour granola into the lined pan and press evenly across the bottom. Press mixture down firmly against the bottom. (I use my hands, which I spray with a bit of canola spray, but it's HOT! You can use a wooden spoon or the bottom of another pan to press mixture into pan.)

Allow granola bars to cool completely in pan on cooling rack.

Once cool, remove bars from pan with foil sling. Cut into 18 bars. Wrap each individually in plastic wrap, if desired, and store in airtight container at room temperature.

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Reader Comments (8)

These are incredible!

January 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLucky Husband.

These are AMAZING. Exactly what I've been craving. Thanks for the recipe!

February 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKistbell

Awesome! Thanks for the feedback, Kistbell!

February 18, 2013 | Registered Commenterblackjack bakehouse

The first time I made these, they came out beyond perfect. The second time they can't out dry and crumbly, and just now they came out dry and crumbly again. Do you know why? I did everything according to the recipe./:

June 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaelene

Hi Jaelene -- I've made these bars more than 20 times (a lot more -- I was a bit fanatical about these one summer) and never had them come out dry and crumbly.
Experimenting even a little with the dry ingredients, especially the cereal (like adding more cereal or a different kind), can affect texture.
Using a lean/skim version of half-and-half in the caramel could affect the texture, as well. I buy my half-and-half premade, rather than mixing up the milk and cream myself.
Also, it's important that the batch is pressed evenly and firmly into the pan before the granola cools, which will help all the ingredients adhere to one another and form a nice big chewy mass that can later be cut into bars.
I experimented a lot with most of the ingredients (and others :)) and usually came up with different flavors, or sometimes stickier or harder versions.
I've always come back to the recipe above though. I hope this info helps!

June 11, 2013 | Registered Commenterblackjack bakehouse

The first time I made these they came out perfect. I fell in love with the Carmel and salt flavor. I have attempted four times after to make them and every time they turn out crumbly and I'm getting aggravated. Making something over time should get easier instead of difficult. I think the problem is in making the Carmel but not sure what I'm doing wrong. Can u help? My only thought is that I'm stirring too long. They look nice and gooey until I spread them in the pan and when they cool they fall apart.

August 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterashaulis

OK..ME again....just made these for the 5th time. This time after making the Carmel I stirred everything very quickly...about 20-30 seconds and pressed into pan while still hot. They have cooled and I cut and ate one. They are still delicious but although edible, they are a little crumbly yet and not as chewy as the first time I made them. I'm still using all the exact same ingredients. As you can see, I'm a little LCD with these because they did turn out perfect the first time and I'm going a bit insane (my husband will agree) on getting these back to the perfect granola bar that I made the first time. Help me!!

August 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterashaulis

Hi Ashaulis -- I've had a similar comment above, and in that case, I suggested that it may have something to do with using a lean half-and-half. I buy regular half-and-half. The one I have in the fridge now has 3g of fat per 2 tablespoon-serving, and I used this brand to make these granola bars about two weeks ago with no issues. I've verified that the recipe I wrote above was in line with my source, The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, and all of it looks good. I've never had issues with this bar, so it's hard for me to say what's making yours crumbly. I've always used the crisped rice, like Rice Krispies (other cereals may affect texture). Also, it's important to take your caramel all the way to that dark amber color (without stirring) and then quickly/carefully whisk in the half-and-half. I wish I could tell you exactly what's causing your bars to crumble, but I'm just not sure. I hope at least part of this info helps, though!

August 18, 2013 | Registered Commenterblackjack bakehouse

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