Cooking

Raise the Bar

How to make perfect granola bars at home
Photo: Tasting Table
Upside-Down Pineapple Granola Bars
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We're going clean in 2016—and not only because it rhymes. Recharge and renew yourself with our favorite healthy recipes.

Make 2016 the year that you show strength in the face of attractive packaging in your grocery store's granola bar aisle.

Making them at home is a cheaper (and healthier) option that'll make you feel proud to break out your 4 p.m. desk snack. You know exactly what goes into them and, more importantly, what doesn't: namely, hard-to-pronounce ingredients like tricalcium phosphate and shelf life-extending preservatives that sound like they belong in a science lab.

We took tips from chefs and created a new granola bar for the New Year: a pineapple upside-down cake version, so you can have your granola bar and eat it, too (see the recipe).

Master the basics. You'll want something crunchy (oats, nuts, crispy rice cereal), chewy (dried fruit) and sticky sweet (brown sugar, honey). Watch the last one though, as many granola recipes can be overloaded with excess sugar. Often, liquid sugar like honey or maple syrup acts as a sweet glue to bind the bar together, but we used egg whites to help cut down on sweetness.

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The ratio of ingredients is up to you, but heed Brandon Kida's advice and remember one word: balance. The chef of L.A.'s Hinoki & the Bird says to take into account all the basic tastes (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami), so that one doesn't completely overpower another—just like when cooking most dishes.

Loosen the reins. Once you have a standard formula down, play around with ingredients that you like. While we got our fruit quota with dried pineapple rings, try adding in other dried fruit like papaya and mango for a tropical treat. Allergic to almonds? Use peanuts, instead. And if the ease of just experimenting with a new flavor from the supermarket sounds tempting, remember that even busy chefs take time to DIY their snacks: Jeff Mahin likes to make his own granola bars when hunger strikes. The Stella Barra chef says his almond butter, raisin and cinnamon version reminds him of a homemade Clif Bar.

Go free-form. A granola bar is really a handful of granola that's a bit more stuck in its ways. If you prefer your oats in scoopable form, then spread the mixture onto a baking sheet rather than packing it into a pan. It crisps up with a much shorter cooking time than its bar relatives, meaning streamlined snacking—or a yogurt, salad or smoothie topper.

Get your just desserts. Even though we generally think of granola as a virtuous snack, it doesn't always have to be. Valerie Gordon of L.A.'s Valerie Confections makes a chocolate snack (as well as a spicy one) filled with nuts, seeds and a not-shy amount of chocolate coating that makes for a half candy, half crumbled granola bar. We added cacao nibs to our granola bars, which give extra crunch (as they don't melt as readily as processed chocolate chips) and pleasant bittersweetness. It may be the time for healthy eating, but look at it this way: You're better off with a chocolaty handful of baked oats than a personal pan of brownies.

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