I’m always on the hunt for a great go-to snack for on-the-go, and so when I really started digging into Ottolenghi’s latest book, Sweet, his recipe for Soft Date + Oat Bars immediately caught my eye amidst all of the tantalizing Mediterranean inspired cakes, treats, and sweets.
The illusive granola bar is one of the best snacks for when you’re eating things not-at-home (though I’ve also been known to take this, this and this on the go.) And there are a LOT of recipes for them out there but honestly, most of them I find aren’t salty enough, are cloyingly sweet, too crumbly, too dry, or get stuck in the pan. (One of my biggest pet peeves is a recipe for a granola bar that doesn’t tell me to line the pan with parchment, but then sticks to the sides of the pan so you have to chisel out the bars in chunks. Keep this in mind if you ever write a cookbook. Ahem.)
As turns out, it’s not that easy to make a great granola bar but it sure is simple to make a lame-ass one. I really like a sturdy, substantial granola bar. One that has a little bit of crunch, but still won’t break off my teeth if I bite instead of breaking it. I love some complex nutty flavors too. I’m not averse to any sweeteners, or fats in whatever combination – so long as the brown sugar, maple, honey, coconut oil, butter or nut butter is high quality I’m happy with it being in my snacks. The truth is that wherever I find myself eating them, these ingredients are probably the best possible options (over some non-food-filled packaged product with a virtuous claim on the wrapper.)
I took Ottolenghi’s date bar recipe and immediately started manipulating a bit on my own. (You bake up enough granola bars and you start to learn where you can break and bend the rules a bit.) I browned some butter, toasted some favorite nuts and seeds, added soft dates and baked them up. Then slipped them into my backpack for a ski trip last weekend, into bike rides during the week, and nibbled bits between meals or when I was running out the door without having lunch. They keep well – in a pocket and in a pantry – and I think, at last, I’ve found my forever favorite granola bar.
A little bit about the recipe here before you dive in; I liberally adapted the recipe below from Ottolenghi’s book, and you could liberally adapt it again to suit your purposes. There’s a whole little cast of nuts and seeds on the ingredient list, but you could swap any of them out for your favorites so long as you make sure to have the same quantity of nuts and seeds (about 1 1/4 cups.)
I use dark corn syrup here, but Ottolenghi’s recipe calls for date syrup. A lot of you will gasp with horror at this, but know that not all corn syrup is created equally, not all corn syrup is high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is in this form is exactly what it sounds like – syrup made from corn instead of agave, maple, brown rice or something else. You could also use maple syrup in a pinch but be warned that you may not want to bake your bars quite as long (maple syrup has more water than date syrup or dark corn syrup, and when it steams out during the baking process your bars will get real crispy real fast!)
Choose the juiciest dates you can find here, and make sure you remove all the little pits! I always use gluten-free oats but you could use glutinous oats as well; just be sure they’re old-fashioned rolled oats and NOT quick oats! I use orange blossom water, which is a delightful ingredient to have in your pantry, but if you don’t have this on hand and aren’t interested in buying it, simply add the grated zest of an additional orange.
Lastly, demerara sugar is a nice, coarse sugar typically used for sanding and decorating. You can also use turbinado – or raw – sugar.
A few of you have already asked for this recipe after watching me swoon over it online; I hope you love it as much as I do! Enjoy!
- 1/2 cup / 50 g whole almonds skin on
- 1/2 cup / 50 g whole cashews
- 2 cups / 200 g old-fashioned rolled oats preferably gluten-free
- 1/4 cup / 35 g pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 cup/ 35 g sunflower seeds
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- 8-9 large Medjool dates (about 4 1/4 oz / 120 g ) sliced in half lengthwise, pitted and chopped
- 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp / 200 grams unsalted butter cubed
- 3/4 cup / 180 g demerarra sugar
- 1/4 cup / 75 g dark corn syrup or date syrup
- finely grated zest of one large orange
- 2 tsp orange blossom water
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt
- In a small saucepan, add the butter and melt over low/medium heat until the butter browns. The butter will melt, then bubble and simmer. Then, the milk solids will float to the top and the butter will get really feisty. Then, the melted butter will settle with an airy film over the top with little golden flecks visible in the bottom. Pull the butter from the heat immediately and transfer to a bowl to cool slightly. You don't want to burn the butter, just cook it till its golden. Set the butter aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C and line an 8x8 square pan with parchment paper. Set the pan aside.
Spread the almonds and cashews on a baking sheet and toast until just barely golden brown and fragrant. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before chopping roughly into 2/3 inch / 1.5 cm pieces and placing the pieces in a large mixing bowl.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 3/4 cup / 80 g of the oats into small pieces. Be careful not to turn the oats into powder, though! These processed oats will help hold the bars together. Combine them with the nuts and the remaining unprocessed oats in the large mixing bowl.
Add all of the seeds to a small frying pan and toast gently over medium heat on the stove until just barely brown and very fragrant. Add these toasted seeds to the nut and oat mix, along with the chopped dates. Mix to combine and then set aside.
Now, return to the browned butter, still in liquid state. If your brown butter has cooled and is now solid, rewarm it over low heat until liquid again. Add the sugar, corn syrup and orange zest. Remove from the heat and add the orange blossom water, cinnamon and salt and stir to combine. Then, pour over the oat mixture. Mix well, then tip the mixture out into the prepared pan.
Use a small spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth the granola bars evenly into the pan, making sure to fill the corners.
Bake the bars for about 35 minutes, or until they're bubbling and have a nice dark golden color. Remove them from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 30 minutes or so before cutting into squares or rectangles. (If you remove them from the pan, they'll fall apart!) No matter what shape you choose, you want to cut them before they harden and cool completely. Store in an airtight container and enjoy at will.