Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Chewy School-friendly Muesli Bars

My beloved husband believes, not without reason, that for both health and convenience reasons we need to bake snacks for our kids to take to school for recess. I'm obviously all in favour of health and convenience but I'm not entirely convinced that the chocolate banana bread or berry muffins that are our staple are really that healthy. Both are home made and therefore avoid the perils of transfats, palm oil, and oddly numbered preserving and stabilising agents, both are cheaper than buying that kind of snack food but to me they don't really seem particularly healthy. Plenty of sugar (or 'energy' as the candy bar ads so gloriously euphemise) which actually doesn't bother me that much but not high in fibre or protein, which as Megan knows, I'm a bit obsessed about

So I've been dwelling on what I can make easily, cheaply, lasts reasonably well (muffins, being lower in fat, don't last as well). It needs to have protein, fibre and be nut-free (school policy). And, obviously it needs to be whatever my fickle children consider tasty. Muesli bars (I think our North American friends call them Granola Bars) are a lunchbox staple, and I love chewy, oaty, fruity things, so that's what I decided to try.

I looked at about a hundred recipes and they tend to be variations on a theme. I asked various friends for their recommendations What I really wanted was something that gave me a ratio of wet to dry ingredients, an idea of crunchy to smooth ratios and how much fat and sugar was going to be needed to glue it all together. Oh, and I want to make sure I didn't end up with headache-inducing, rock-like crunchiness.

Based mostly on these recipes by SmittenKitchen, BakePlaySmile nd TheHealthyChef and the stuff I had kicking around in my pantry, I have constructed my own recipe and it's exactly what I was hoping for!

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 1 cup regular oats
  • 1 cup corn flakes (I wanted some crunchy bits and I'm not allowed to use nuts. You could use any kind of prepared cereal, puffed grains, nuts, whatever)
  • 1 - 1 1/2 cups dried fruit (I used 1 cup of diced dried apricots and 1/3 cup of diced dates)
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar (I will use brown sugar for extra chewiness next time)
  • 1 cup other dry ingredients. I used one third of a cup each flour, pepitas and quinoa flakes
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
Wet Ingredients
  • 120g/half a cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup honey (roughly - I hate measuring honey!)
  • 1 beaten egg 
  • half a cup stewed apple/apple sauce (I make this myself - just cooking up a heap of peeled, cored tart green apples with a little bit of sugar, water, and lemon and a heap of delicious sweet mixed spices). Those who want to make a nutty version of this could use a nut butter here, maybe loosened with a bit of oil and people who are really serious about being healthy might prefer to use tahini.
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup (because I was worried it wouldn't stick together enough)
  • preheat the oven to around 160C (fan-forced) and line a brownie tin with baking paper (spring for the fancy baking paper - it's worth it!) and give the lined pan a spray with cooking oil.
  • Mix the dry ingredients in a largish bowl.
  • Mix the wet ingredients in another bowl (I use a Pyrex measuring jug for this kind of thing - I melt the butter in the microwave with the honey and syrup then add the beaten egg, making sure it's not too hot because I don't want the egg to cook til it all goes in the oven).
  • Add the wet to the dry ingredients and mix it all up well and press it into the prepared tin, flattening it down neatly.
  • Cook it for about 25-35 minutes and let it cool completely before you cut it.
Store it in an airtight container - in the humid Sydney summer I'd suggest the fridge, if it isn't going to be eaten within a day or two. Although I could probably convince myself that this is an appropriate breakfast, morning tea and lunch, so that seems unlikely at this point.

Variations I'm looking forward to trying:
Tropical: with dried coconut, dried pineapple and pawpaw with golden syrup instead of honey. Maybe even mashed banana.
Thanksgiving/Autumn: Pecans, cranberries and maple syrup. Mashed cooked pumpkin with lots of spices instead of apple.
Summer: Dates and figs, dried coconut, some orange juice or even a drop or two of orange flower water.