As someone who works the 5am shift at the bakery every day, I take my lunch break around 9 o'clock in the morning. At this point in my day I am starving, but never really in the mood for anything other than a granola bar. I started checking the ingredients more closely on the bars I had been buying, and many use high-fructose corn syrup as well as preservatives. As a vegetarian, I usually go for the granola bar with the most protein and vitamins, but these of course tend to have more preservatives and ingredients I am not familiar with.
I then remembered my first position as a baker.
At my first job, I was responsible for baking all the granola (loose and bars), which was then sold retail, wholesale, and at local farmer's markets. As you can imagine, I baked at least a hundred pounds of granola per week, and more during the holidays.
I decided to start baking my own granola bars for work so that I would know exactly what went into them and could control the amount of sugar used. I wanted a bar that would keep me full throughout the day and provide me with a good amount of protein.
In the following recipe, I used barely any sugar and relied upon honey as the binding agent. I used three types of whole nuts and dried cranberries. To add a little extra flavor, I used orange extract, vanilla extract, and cinnamon.
Another important ingredient I added was wheat germ. Wheat germ not only has more protein and iron than can be found in most meats, it is also is rich with vitamins. It doesn't change the texture or taste of the granola at all, in fact, it blends right in.
2 cups oats
3/4 cup wheat germ
1 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup pistachios
3/4 cup pepitas
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tsp orange extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
8oz dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix the first 5 ingredients in a bowl and spread out on two sheet pans. Bake for 15 minutes, turning ingredients with a spatula about every 5 minutes so they don't burn.
Meanwhile, bring the next 5 ingredients to a simmer over low heat. Once the nuts and oats are toasted, transfer them to a large bowl and add the dried cranberries. Pour the sauce over and mix well.Line a glass pan (I used a 10"X6" but you can use a larger or smaller depending on the desired size of bar). First spray pan well with non-stick spray, then cut a piece of parchment or wax paper to fit across the pan with two of the sides hanging over (see picture).
Pour granola into pan and spread out with spoon. Using a piece of parchment paper that has been sprayed with non-stick spray, press granola into pan. This step is very important for a "tight" bar. Make sure that the granola is even and well pressed down.Bake for 30 minutes, turning pan halfway through. Allow to cool for at least 2 hours so it has time to fully set.Now comes the more difficult part. To cut the bars, place the granola on a cutting board and use a good bread knife (serrated). I cut my bars into 8 pieces, but you can cut them smaller or larger. If kept in an airtight container, these bars should last for several weeks.
This recipe of course can be adapted to suit your tastes. You can use any type of nut or dried fruit you desire. You can also add some chocolate chips or use different extracts or spices to flavor the bars themselves. Have fun with it and enjoy!