Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sweet And Salty Crunchy Munchy Bars

A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe in a Kraft newsletter for a No-Bake Granola Bar. It sounded like it might be good but the truth is, the whole recipe - though very simplistic - just seemed a bit bland to me.

I knew I'd have to make my own version!
Why? Well, for starters, I RARELY follow a recipe as given. It is just the way I was taught to cook and bake - to be creative and play with recipes.

The recipe called for Trail Mix. I've yet to find a commercial trail mix that I like. There is always at least one ingredient - such as cranberries or sunflower seeds - that I'm just not a fan of. The mixes also just seem to be lopsided in ingredients - one or two are overwhelming and the rest are barely there. I also prefer to wash my dried fruits to remove any grit from the drying process and also to partially rehydrate before using.  

So, the first thing was to decide what to put in my "Trail Mix"

I almost always have almonds, salted cashews and salted peanuts in the freezer. I also keep salted pumpkin seeds on hand (for topping off some salads). My pantry is also stocked with dried (tart) cherries and either sultana or thompson raisins. These would make a great trail mix - once I tweaked them a bit!

BTW, I buy many of these items from a bulk food store here in Canada called Bulk Barn. They have a huge selection of products at great prices and often have a discount coupon available to print. If there isn't a location near you, try locating another bulk food store in your area. Buying pre-packaged items can often be more expensive (especially if you only need a small amount) and they also aren't always as fresh as buying in bulk.

Nuts always taste better when they are roasted. And yes, even the roasted ones you buy can take on an even fresher, deeper, richer flavour if roasted just a wee bit more!

I've also discovered that when making any recipes that call for crispy rice cereal, that they will become much more flavourful with a bit more roasting. The cheaper store brand versions of crispy rice cereal aren't generally as brown as the well known Rice Krispies brand, but once they are roasted a bit more they are just as tasty!

While I was roasting almost everything else a bit more, I figured that I might as well try roasting the quick oats a bit too! They took a fair bit longer but it was worth it!

Due to timing issues, I had to do all this additional roasting in stages as various items browned much quicker than others. The oats and cereal could go 15 minutes or more whereas the pumpkin seeds took less than five minutes! The almonds, cashews and peanuts were the only combo I could do together!

Yes, it is more time consuming to roast so many of the ingredients but the final taste is more than worth the effort!

The original Kraft recipe obviously called for Kraft Smooth Peanut Butter, but frankly, I prefer Skippy Crunchy. The liquid honey was no name and the brown sugar was bought in bulk.

Since I first saw the original recipe, I've made my version twice!
I've handed out samples to several of my friendly "guinea pig" taste testers and they loved it! The comments ranged from "excellent" to "awesome" and "a perfect combo of sweet and salty goodness"!

Sweet And Salty Crunchy Munchy Bars
1/4 cup sultana raisins
1/4 cup dried cherries
2-1/2 cups crispy rice cereal
1-1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup chopped, salted peanuts (sans skins)
1/4 cup chopped, salted cashews
1/4 cup chopped, almonds
1/4 cup salted pumpkin seeds
1 cup dark or bittersweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup liquid honey
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 cup Skippy Crunchy Peanut Butter

Soak the cherries and raisins in hot water for about 15 to 20 minutes. This will soften and rehydrate them just a bit which makes for better flavour. Drain off the water, rinse and transfer the fruit to paper towels to air dry. At this point, I also cut the cherries in half as they tend to be much larger than the raisins. Continue to air dry while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Measure the crispy rice cereal onto the parchment lined pan and place in oven to roast for about 10-15 minutes - stirring every three or four minutes to avoid burning. Transfer cereal to a large mixing bowl.
Measure the quick oats onto the parchment lined pan and roast for about 13-17 minutes stirring every couple of minutes. Transfer oats to the large mixing bowl.
Place the peanuts, almonds and cashews on the parchment lined pan. Roast for about 8-10 minutes or until browned and a rich nutty aroma is noticeable. Transfer the nuts to the large bowl.
Measure the pumpkin seeds onto the parchment paper and roast for about 3-5 minutes. These can burn easily so stir them every minute or so. Transfer to the large bowl
Allow the roasted grains and nuts to cool completely before adding the fruit and the chocolate chips. Stir to combine.

Line a 9"X13"X2" pan with parchment paper - pressing the paper into the corners and well up the sides (Note: I reused the same paper that the grains and nuts were roasted on).
Measure the 1/2 cup honey into a microwave safe 2 cup measure. Add the packed brown sugar and then enough crunchy peanut butter to just reach the 2 cup level. Microwave on medium high (I used level 7 of 10) for about 75-90 seconds - stopping to stir the mixture every 30 seconds. 
When the mixture is thoroughly combined, pour over the mixture in the large bowl and stir till all ingredients are completely coated.
Pour the ingredients into the lined pan and spread evenly - pressing the mixture firmly into all areas of the pan and levelling the top. Don't worry if some of the chocolate chips start to melt from the warm PB mixture. Allow the ingredients to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes then cut into 20 bars. Bars will still be very soft and a bit crumbly at this point so set the pan in the fridge to fully chill and firm up for a couple hours before removing from pan and serving. (Bars are much harder to cut if you chill first then cut so let them sit at room temperature first, then cut, then chill for best results.)
Bars can be stored in an air tight container or wrapped in plastic wrap in a storage bag and placed in the fridge.

Additional Notes:
You can use whatever combo of nuts, seeds or dried fruits you wish - just as long as the total adds up to 1 1/2 cups. Try to use at least one or two nuts or seeds that are salted. If you are using a smooth peanut butter, reduce the amount by a couple tablespoons and add in that much extra nuts. If you choose not to take the extra steps of roasting the nuts, seeds and grains, the flavour will still be okay just not as flavourful!


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