You may wonder how to go about creating an original recipe. Sometimes it’s combining ingredients that just seem to go together to create something delicious (I hope). Other times it takes research, long thought and experimentation. For these granola bars, I started by finding what other people did. Here is a list of some granola bar recipes I found when doing research:
Pioneer Woman’s recipe looked delicious but contained nuts which Little Guy can’t take to school. It also contains more sugar and fat than I really want. However, it does contain wheat germ. I like that, and add it to my list of must haves.
Lauren’s Latest granola bars are no bake bar. They look fantastic and easy but perhaps a little too basic for what I’m looking for. Still, I file this away as a good no-bake option.
Ina Garten’s recipe on the Food Network website looks like a real winner. It has a minimal amount of butter and a lot of dried fruit and other good things. It doesn’t have the crisped rice that I want to use to make the finished granola bar milder in flavor (more kid-friendly), and it contains nuts. I remember the proportions of butter to oats and sugar and move on.
It’s about this time that I think of my favorite blogs that I think would have good ideas. That’s when I check out Mom’s Kitchen Handbook, Foodie with Family and Weelicious. All the recipes look delicious, but still not quite what I’m looking for.
Since it’s important to know what your audience is looking for, I go straight to the source. Little Guy informs me he wants a chewy granola bar with chocolate chips and peanuts. Since he wants to take them to school, I can’t use peanuts, so I decide to substitute sunflower seeds. I add the requested chocolate chips and throw in a little hidden dried fruit too. I want it to be sweet enough to make Little Guy happy, but not so sweet that it’s more candy than healthy snack. I know from experience that to make something that Little Guy will eat (and many four-year old kids), I have to tone down the dried fruit and nuts. It should be more granola, less other stuff.
Now that I have a clear idea of what I’m looking for and what makes a successful granola bar, I come up with a list of ingredients for my first test. It is not at all like any of the recipes I have researched, yet it still reflects the knowledge gained by those that have developed their own recipes before me. I head to the kitchen and see what I get.
My first attempt is close; a good sign. I make a few changes based on my opinion as well as that of Hubby and a few other tasters. I make the changes I think it needs, and try again. Batch number two is almost perfect, I make notes and one small change and make a final batch for photography and my final round of taste tests.
The granola bars are chewy and sweet without being cloying, and they have a pleasant nutty flavor. To help give a nutty flavor without real nuts, I add sunflower seeds as well as a couple tablespoons of sunflower butter. This not only adds to the flavor, but also has the added bonus of helping the bar stay chewy. I also use a tablespoon of barley malt syrup. This stuff is just about the stickiest, gooiest stuff you will ever run into. Pulling a spoon out the jar usually ends up with strings of sticky syrup covering the outside of the jar and my hands. However, its a very rich, heady syrup which adds a huge amount of flavor to anything it is used in. You can find Barley Malt Syrup at Amazon, or at many high-end groceries (I got mine at Whole Foods) or even at home brew specialty stores since it is a main ingredient in beer making. It’s one of those secret ingredients used by pros that give their products more flavor than many homemade versions. In the granola bars, it helps balance the sweetness of the other sugars. I also like the flavor it gives the whole grains, giving them full-flavored crunchy goodness instead of just wholesome fiber.
Know your audience when you make these too. Use whatever dried fruit your family likes. If you aren’t limited to nut-free, toss in some almonds, pecans or peanuts. I use full-size chocolate chips, but the mini chips would be perfect here. I don’t keep the mini ones in the house because I end up eating them all myself and that gets ugly fast!
I have a product I like, but I’m still not finished. Little Guy has to sign off on them too. He’s used to this part. I’ve learned not to let him try versions that I don’t like, or he will never try the later versions. So, after not letting him have the overcooked first batch, he’s excited to try the final perfect version. I always know quickly if he’ll like it. He smells it first, then takes the tiniest taste he can manage (one piece of crisped rice). Then if he likes that, he will go in for a full bite. I knew he liked it then, but I didn’t get the final thumbs up approval until he shoved the second half of the bar in his mouth in one huge bite. Success! Enjoy!