The beauty of this recipe is that you can swap out the fruit-and-nut combination as you like, using dried cranberries or raisins for cherries, cashews for almonds and flax seeds or buckwheat groats for sunflower seeds. Get creative, but don't, however, skip the pineapple rings: Their tropical flavor and stunning look set these bars apart from the rest.
Palm sugar, a natural and unrefined sweetener, is perfect for its subtle flavor, as well as its honey-meets-sugar texture to help bind the ingredients together. But if you can't get your hands on it, you can substitute it with a quarter cup of honey and a quarter cup of granulated sugar. No cacao nibs? Use chopped dark chocolate instead. For the pineapple rings, look for the thin, unsweetened kind sold in bulk at health food stores and Trader Joe's; stay away from the syrup-soaked and candied ones.
Right before baking, pack your oatmeal mixture well so the bars hold together. For prime packing, lay a sheet of parchment paper over the top and press down hard with flattened hands. (Don't forget to remove the sheet before the tray hits the oven.)
To learn more, read "Raise the Bar."
Upside-Down Pineapple Granola Bars
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 12 granola bars
Prep Time: 10 minutes, plus cooling time
Cook Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, plus cooling time
2¼ cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup chopped mixed raw nuts and seeds (such as almonds and sunflower seeds)
½ cup palm sugar
2 egg whites (¼ cup egg whites)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
¾ cup dried cherries
⅓ cup cacao nibs
7 to 9 dried pineapple rings (it's OK if they aren't whole)
1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Line an 8-by-8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, letting the paper slightly hang over opposite edges, and spray with cooking oil.
2. In a large bowl, combine the oats and nut mixture. Pour onto an unlined baking sheet tray and roast until lightly toasted, 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes.
3. While the oat mixture is cooling, in a large bowl, whisk together the palm sugar, egg whites, vanilla and salt. Add the cooled oat mixture to the sugar mixture, along with the dried cherries and cacao nibs, and stir well to combine. Line the prepared baking pan with the pineapple rings and pack the oat-cherry mixture on top.
4. Bake the granola mixture in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 275° and bake until the edges are golden, another 30 to 40 minutes. Cool the bars completely and invert onto a cutting board. For best results, let the baked granola rest for a few hours or overnight, uncovered. Cut into bars or break apart into chunks, and individually wrap in plastic or store in a Ziploc bag for up to 2 weeks.