When I was a kid, I always wanted to go to other peoples’ houses for playdates. Not because I didn’t like my own home. Because of the snacks.
Although my childhood diet included a fair amount of donuts and microwaved hot dogs, my mother had very distinct ideas of what was okay to eat on the regular, and what was not. Honey Nut Cheerios, okay. Lucky Charms, not okay. Granola bars, sure. Granola bars covered in chocolate, nope. My friend’s pantries were stocked with these things, also known as Kudos, which are somehow legally sanctioned to be labelled granola bars and marketed as a healthy snack, but definitely wouldn’t pass my mom’s test by a long shot.
So, I had to get creative to have access to said saccharine granola bar slathered with oozy, sweetened peanut butter, covered in a thick coating of milk chocolate. My teeth hurt just thinking about them now, but holy heck were they transcendent to my seven-year-old self. I would put up with all kinds of games I didn’t want to play, cartoons I didn’t want to watch, even annoying little sisters, just to have access to the cupboard of Kudos bars after school.
My version of this recipe came from a craving, as they often do. Maybe I was longing for a little nostalgia, or a connection to a simpler time when my only goal for the day was ingesting as much sugar as possible without my parents knowing. Good times, haha! Anyway, I have successfully re-created Kudos bars, with massively improved ingredients and adult upgrades. My version is naturally sweetened (duh), uses dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, and I swapped out the peanut butter for hazelnut butter, because it is just way more delicious! I added figs to the granola bars, since they pair so well hazelnuts. And last but not least, I included a healthy amount of salt for balance. Under-salted desserts make me want to light my hair on fire.
Altogether, these Granola Candy Bars are serious craving-crushers. Crunchy, crispy, creamy, oozy, sweet and salty, totally rich and mouth-wateringly delicious. I’m almost through my second batch and already planning my next one. I feel like a stockpile of these in the fridge would get me through just about anything, even the fifth, mind-numbing round of Candyland with my son, who bless his heart, just wants to eat sugar as badly as I did. Candyland is as close as he gets.
Chocolate and Energy
For those of you following along on Instagram you know that each month in 2020 has a theme, and March is Energy. I thought it would be appropriate to talk about chocolate and how it affects us on an energetic level. A lot of people think that chocolate contains caffeine, and it does have a little bit, but caffeine is not in fact the most stimulating compound that cacao contains. It’s something else called theobromine.
Theobromine is an alkaloid that gives chocolate its distinctive bitterness. The darker the chocolate, the more bitter, and the more theobromine it contains. Theobromine and caffeine are almost identical at a molecular level, which makes them behave in similar, energizing ways. The difference is that theobromine has one less methyl group (one carbon with three hydrogen attached), which makes it a less powerful stimulant, since it does not cross the blood-brain barrier as easily as caffeine does. Translation: theobromine offers a more relaxed, longer-lasting energy than caffeine, instead of the classic spike-and-crash. Both compounds act on our central nervous system, but only caffeine can make us feel anxious and jittery. Bonus: theobromine is also non-addictive (although I cannot help you if you get addicted to these Granola Candy Bars 😉
A 1½ ounce / 43g serving of dark chocolate (70% cacao solids) will give you about 115mg of theobromine and 20mg of caffeine. By comparison, an 8 ounce / 250ml cup of coffee contains about 95mg of caffeine and no theobromine. The maximum recommended daily intake for caffeine is around 400mg, while theobromine (thankfully) is higher at around 1000mg a day. We need to keep in mind however, that most chocolate contains sugar or other sweeteners and additives that are very stimulating. It is no wonder then, that for sensitive individuals, the theobromine in cacao combined with sugar and a little caffeine can give us a serious blast of energy and make chocolate feel like more than a cup of coffee! Be mindful of your chocolate intake during the later hours of the day, especially if you struggle to fall or stay asleep at night.
Let’s get to the recipe! I use honey to sweeten the granola bars, and to help bind all the ingredients together, but a good, vegan alternative could be date paste. Just make sure it has a high viscosity (like, real sticky). This recipe is gluten-free, just make sure you buy gluten-free oats if you are sensitive. Hazelnuts may be hard to find and depending on where you are, can be expensive. If you’re looking for an alternative, almonds or cashews would be the best! The almonds may need more time in the oven, up to 25 minutes, but keep a good eye on them, as they can burn quickly.
Of course you don’t have to make your own hazelnut butter for this recipe, but I highly highly recommend that you do. It’s really easy and a step that will fit into making the granola bars anyway. Just add 2 extra cups / 270g of hazelnuts to the baking sheets and roast as you would with the other ingredients. Blend hazelnuts in a food processor, scraping down the sides every so often, and eventually, you’ll have hazelnut butter. It can take up to ten minutes, so be patient. Add a splash of olive oil to get it going, if absolutely necessary. This will make about 1 cup / 250ml, which is exactly what you need for the recipe. You’re welcome!
Fig and Hazelnut Granola Candy Bars
1 ½ cups / 150g rolled oats
1 cup / 135g raw hazelnuts (plus two more cups if making your own hazelnut butter, see headnote)
2 Tbsp. coconut oil (I recommend flavour-neutral)
1/3 cup / 80ml thick honey (creamed or white)
1/3 cup / 80ml tahini
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup / 60g chopped un-sulfured dried figs
1 cup / 20g puffed brown rice cereal
¼ tsp. flaky sea salt, plus more for garnish
1 cup / 250ml hazelnut butter
1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
½ tsp. fine sea salt
200g dark chocolate (80% or higher), have more on-hand for drizzle and just in case!
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F / 170°C. Place the oats and hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, trying to keep them as separate as possible, and bake stirring once or twice, until the oats are golden and smell toasty, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool, and roughly chop the hazelnuts.
2. In a small saucepan, melt the coconut oil over low heat. Add the honey, tahini, and vanilla; whisk thoroughly until fully combined.
3. Roughly chop the dried figs and set aside.
4. In a large bowl, combine the cooled oats and chopped hazelnuts with the figs, puffed cereal, and salt. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir quickly to mix.
5. Line an 8×8” brownie pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper. Spoon the mixture in and using slightly damp hands, press it firmly into the pan, especially around the edges and corners.
6. Combine the hazelnut butter with the ½ teaspoon fine salt and maple syrup – it should transform from runny, into a more solid paste. Spread over the top of the granola bars. Set in the freezer to firm up for at least 4 hours.
7. When the bars are ready to coat in chocolate, remove them from the freezer and cut the base into 12 even pieces.
8. Set a double boiler up on the stove, over a low simmer. Chop the chocolate into chunks. Melt in a double-boiler over medium heat. Dip each piece in melted chocolate, then place on a piece of parchment to cool and set. Drizzle remaining chocolate over the top, then sprinkle with a little more flaky salt. Once cool, enjoy! Store bars in the fridge for up to one month, or the freezer for 6 months.
I know that this recipe will land with the child inside you, who is just trying to convince her parents that the chocolate-covered granola bars are healthy. Because at least now, well, they actually are.
All love and happy treat-making,
Show me your treats on Instagram: #mnrgranolacandybars
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Okay, one more thing before I go, just because I’m pretty stoked about it…I have a show! It’s called The Substitute Baker, and it’s going to be on Food Network Canada’s digital platform. The series premiers March 25th on Facebook Watch, so you can see it no matter where in the world you are! I’ll be dropping more details about it on Instagram and Facebook, so please stay tuned there. Thank you to everyone who has sent a supportive comment or email – it means so much to me, and this opportunity was possible because of YOU. So thank you!