Some of my best peeps (that's you!) have been asking for the recipe for the granola bites that are often in the bentos for my kids. This recipe has evolved and been tweaked quite a bit and I'm pretty happy with it now. My challenge in finding a granola recipe was to find one that doesn't use peanut butter (because my main granola-eating kid doesn't like peanut butter) (he's nuts!), and one without coconut (I don't like that, blech!) and one that holds together after being cut into bars. Along the way I have tried a lot of recipes that tasted great, but they would crumble to pieces as soon as it removed from the pan. Crumbles don't pack well in a bento box. ;-)
Gathering the goods:
also needed but didn't make it in the picture (because I am just that scatterbrained)...vanilla, brown sugar, and ground flax seed and/or wheat germ (optional).
For granola bars you will need a baking pan and for the little "granola bites", as I call them, you will need mini silicone cups. This recipe will yield an 8x8 pan of granola bars plus about six mini-granola bites. You can make all granola bites if you like, or all granola bars. I wouldn't try making more than 6 of the bites if you are also doing the bars, because you may end up with not enough granola in the pan for enough depth to keep the bars intact once cut apart.
I've also found through a lot of trial and error that the bars stay together better in a truly square pan, like this one, rather than a glass baking dish with rounded corners and edges.
I use a piece of parchment to help get the bars out of the pan. I use the paperclips to keep the sides of parchment from flopping into the middle. I remove the paperclips after the pan is filled and ready to bake.
2 1/2 C. quick oats
1/2 C. crisp rice cereal
1/2 C. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 C. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 C. canola oil
1/4 C. honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla
* optional: ground flax seed and/or wheat germ (I use 3 heaping Tbs. or so of each).
Mix all ingredients (except for the chocolate chips - keep those out for now) really, really, really well. I start with a wooden spoon and then usually end up using my hands too. Take your time to make sure everything is really blended. Taking your time also allows the wet ingredients to sort of soak into the dry components. If your mixture seems dry after mixing then you may need to add a little more oil and/or honey - a teaspoon at a time - until it starts to clump up a little.
It may be hard to tell, but can you see how some of the granola mixture is starting to cling and ball up a little here?
When your granola mixture gets to this point, not too wet, not too dry, then stir in the chocolate chips.
Holding the mini muffin cups, scoop the granola mixture in and form the mound compactly. I use a rounded tablespoon to help form them, a small cookie scoop would work too. You need to use both hands to press the granola and support the muffin cup at the same time. Line them up on a baking sheet to place in the oven.
Press the remaining granola into your baking pan (if you are making bars). Make sure your baking pan has been sprayed well with non-stick spray! Press mixture firmly, compacting it as well as you can.
Granola bites: 12-15 minutes.
Granola bars: 17-22 minutes (keep an eye on them!).
They are ready to remove from oven when the tops are golden. If they don't cook long enough they may not hold their shape. If they cook too long they will get too dry (not to mention they can burn) and may not hold their shape. (I've found granola bars to be finicky.)
Let the granola bites cool completely. Just leave 'em alone for a few hours so they can set. Then, they are done! So easy.
You can remove them from the silicone cups, if you want, they hold their shape great.
The bars are a little more work.
MOST IMPORTANTLY - do not even attempt to touch them at all after they are done baking. You must let them set and gel and have alone time. Overnight. I mean it. If you don't leave them alone overnight you'll be sorry! Take my word for it. I speak from experience.
It doesn't matter if they seem cool to the touch and it doesn't matter if they "look fine". They really do need that time to come together and fully set or they will just fall apart.
So, the next morning, you will need a long knife. It's a lot easier if you can cut them apart in one big motion. My longest knife is *just* barely long enough.
Turn the pan over on a cutting board. Sometimes I get lucky and the whole granola slab plops out without further prodding. Sometimes it needs to be prodded. This is where having that parchment in there is a big asset. Just gently pull on the flaps of parchment hanging out and the whole thing will pop onto the cutting board.
Next, using that long sharp knife cut into bars. I get 12 out of an 8x8" pan.
Lastly, you should wrap them up. While they hold together well enough to eat with your hands, they are "delicate" and will fall apart if they are messed with too much. Warmer weather also seems to make them more prone to falling apart.
I use wax paper. I cut into pieces approximately 7" by 3" or so (I'm not very precise or concerned about it) and wrap them individually. If I have space to twist the ends closed I'll do that (easy!). If I've cut too short then I fold the ends in and seal shut with a sticker (cute!).
Store in an airtight container.
Some random notes:
It's important to use the Quick Oats and not the regular ones. Regular oats will NOT gel together and you'll end up with a tasty granola crumble instead of handy granola bars.
You can use regular Rice Krispies for the crisp rice cereal. But if you do that you should cut back on the brown sugar or they will end up being overly sweet. I use the organic brown rice cereal because we are trying to cut out all HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) and Rice Krispies have HFCS (and other sugars too, but it's the HFCS I have the biggest issue with). The organic brown rice cereal is not sweetened, so the whole 1/2 cup of brown sugar is needed.
Substituting mini semi-sweet baking M&M's for the chocolate chips is fun way to change it up.
You can add a little peanut butter to this if you like. Sometimes I'll add a big heaping spoonful in hopes of acclimating my son to the taste of it. ;-) As long as he doesn't know it's in there and I don't over-do it he doesn't notice. Sometimes he notices but doesn't complain too much.
The flax and wheat germ are totally optional. I usually use it, but sometimes forget. It's a great way to bump up fiber and omega 3's and a bunch of other good stuff. :)
You can use butter instead of the canola oil if you prefer. I use the canola because it's a healthier oil/fat, but butter works just fine with the recipe too.
I hope you enjoy!! :)
Supplies used to make these granola bites: