We were some 7 miles into our snowy hike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness when we finally pulled the peanut butter filled pretzels from the bottom of my backpack. Pulling a couple of crunchy little bites from the resealable bag and popping them in my mouth, a thought came to me: “ya know, I could make these. I could fill crunchy little pretzel crackers with peanut butter AT HOME.”
Filling my fleece layer pockets with pretzels, I lashed my snowshoes to the sides, slung the pack over my shoulder and stomped my way over the snowpack towards Derek yelling,
“Honey! Great news! We’re going to have homemade peanut butter pretzel bites at home!”
I may or may not have plotted out my recipe attack on pretzel bites for the next 4 miles back to the car. “Don’t you need a machine to make them this crunchy? Won’t the peanut butter melt out of them? What about the salt? Can we even but tasty little salt crystals like this?” My poor, sweet husband must have thought I was insane but I think I may have convinced him and I certainly convinced myself that it could be done. And so in the coming weeks, I’m going to give it a shot. Every little treat we dream of and pine for was created in a home kitchen somewhere, and can be recreated again.
Though I’m sure my recipe banter was exhausting, I don’t think that either of us was surprised with this hunt-for-homemade-peanut-butter-pretzels that surfaced. It fits right into the new ways that I am preparing, shopping and planning our meals these days; I’m emptying our pantry before I refill with “more,” I’m cooking from scratch every chance I have, and I’m spending time putting a little more thought and preparation into our home cooking because I know if I do these things, I can make it more fun, creative, easy and less expensive.
So, I’ve been gathering up recipes and ideas, making ingredient lists and trying to think about how I can repurpose ingredients I buy for each recipe. (ie: I know I’ll need a bit of cilantro for that chili recipe I want to try. Maybe we’ll have homemade pasta with cilantro pesto for dinner another night that same week?)
I was flipping through my beloved Bon Appetit Magazine the other day and found a cool video feature that was in line with these three new culinary goals; I have no interest in spending $5 on a pre-packaged energy bar, have a whole pantry full of nuts, seeds, grains and dried fruits to use, and have a busy week of outdoor adventures, meetings and late evening trainer rides to make it through. I make portable energy bars + snacks often (this, this and this are favorites) but these were new flavors to try! New textures! And new ideas that are more than worthwhile sharing here.
The foundation behind awesome homemade energy bars is ridiculously easy. To make your own formula at home, you’ll need:
- A BINDER: brown rice syrup, honey, maple syrup, agave, will all bind your bars. You could also combine cherries, dates, apricots or figs in a food processor with a little water to make a fruit paste. This is the glue that will make all of your other ingredients stick together.
- A HEALTHY ENERGY BAR BODY: use nutrient rich building blocks that add texture. Try wheat germ, wheat bran, uncooked quinoa, ground nuts, toasted oats, unsweetened coconut or wheat bran
- CRUNCH: crunch is EVERYTHING to me and I don’t like energy bars that are gummy or too soft. Adding crunchy elements – like nuts, seeds, toasted small grains (like quinoa) or cacao nibs – will deliver a powerful, nutritious punch and will keep you satisfied.
Toast any nuts and seeds at 350F degrees until lightly golden brown. Process your binder with your toasted other ingredients in a food processor until just combined (chunks aren’t a bad thing here!) Press the mixture into an 8×8 pan lined with parchment paper. Bake the bars at 200F degrees for 20-25 minutes. Then let cool and slice! (This cool little video from Bon Appetit is worth a watch too if you want to perfect your bar-in-pan-pressing.)
Derek was actually munching gleefully on of the bars I whipped up as I bombarded him with homemade pretzel bite ideas! They were perfectly portable, satisfying treats reminiscent of those delicious little sesame candies you buy at asian food markets, but they contain none of the sugar overload and will absolutely make it into our packs again. I included our favorite recipe below – a Crispy Cashew + Sesame Bar to get you started. I can’t wait to hear what you think of these, what other combinations you come up with, and where you’re taking your awesome homemade energy bars as your adventuring this winter! -xoxo L
- 1½ cups cashews
- 6 tablespoons raw white and black sesame seeds
- 5 tablespoons finely ground flaxseed
- ¼ cup wheat germ
- ¾ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- **adapted slightly from a recipe featured in Bon Appetit January '15**
- Preheat oven to 350°. Line an 8x8 pan with parchment, leaving overhang on all sides. Toast cashews, sesame seeds, and flaxseed in separate areas on a rimmed baking sheet, stirring occasionally (but not mixing), until golden brown, 10–12 minutes. Let cool. Set aside 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds and 1 Tbsp. flaxseed.
- Process cashews and remaining seeds with wheat germ, salt, and cardamom in a food processor until mostly finely chopped. Place in a medium bowl.
- Bring maple syrup and coconut oil to a boil in a small saucepan; cook, stirring, 1 minute. Pour over cashew mixture and stir to coat.
- Press mixture firmly into prepared pan with wet hands (it will be sticky). Top with reserved seeds; press to adhere. Bake until golden brown, 25–30 minutes. Let cool, then cut into bars.