Homemade Maple, Pecan, and Dried Cherry Granola Bars (with Dark Chocolate)

Tony writes: It came as a minor shock when I  learned recently that you can make really good (no… make that great) granola bars at home. Not that it should have (I admit, I’m a dummy with baking). But I’ve always related to granola (the loose, sprinkling stuff) as a homemade entity and granola bars (squared off and crisp) as the domain of multinational companies. So when I started developing a granola recipe a couple of months back, not only was I surprised that I could get it to stick together and cut ok, but also that the resulting bars were so damn good. I’ve taken to the process and I’ve been  making these every week since. Here’s how:

-The grains (ie: how much good-for-you?): These days, most folks are trying to seek a balance between the outer antioxidant and fiber reaches of the whole grain spectrum and something that just tastes good. My goal is a bar that engages both elements. The maple syrup and brown sugar offer plenty of sweet, but I also like to use old-fashioned roll oats (which have all of their nutrients and fiber intact) as well as a healthy mix of nuts and dried fruit. You can certainly make up your own mix, though do go with the chocolate; chocolate is good.

-This recipe: I like making up a large batch of granola. The recipe below fits perfectly in a jelly-roll pan (aka a “half pan” in restaurant parlance) and though it has an exceedingly large yield, the bars hold or freeze perfectly. The method itself is simple: toast the oats and nuts first, combine with a sticky mix of maple syrup and brown sugar (and oil for a little richness and texture), set flat in the baking sheet, and bake until browned.  Cool, cut, and be merry.

The Recipe: Yields approximately  24 bars

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1. Toast the oatmeal and nuts: Heat the oven to 400F. Set 6 cups rolled oats (I used the slow-cooking kind) on a rimmed baking sheet. And set 3 cups nuts (I used 1 cup sunflower seeds, 1 cup chopped pecans, and 1 cup sliced almonds) on another rimmed baking sheet. Bake the nuts and oats until they brown lightly and become fragrant, about 8 min. Cool to room temp, about 5 min. granola.2 2. Melt the sweet mixture: In a small saucepan, mix 1 cup maple syrup,  1 cup brown sugar1/2 cup canola oil, and 1 tsp. kosher salt, set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture heats through and the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in  2 tsp. vanilla extract.granola.1

 3. Mix and spread on a baking sheet: In a large bowl, mix the toasted oats and nuts with 2 cups dark chocolate chips (if you’re game), 1 1/2 cup dried cherries (or cranberries), and 1/2 cup oat flour. Add the maple mixture and, using a wooden spoon, mix it together so it evenly coats the oats; the mixture should be sticky. Spread the oats on a large rimmed baking sheet (line it with parchment paper and grease with oil or butter first). Using your hands (and a piece of plastic wrap if you like), press the granola mixture into the baking sheet so it forms a flat even layer.

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4. Bake, cool, and cut: Reduce the oven to 350F. Set the granola on the middle rack, and bake until the mixture turns a light, golden brown, about 20 min. Remove from the oven and set on a cooling rack to cool to room temperature. Cut into bars or squares and serve. Store in an air-tight container at room temp for up to 1 week. Or pack in zip-top bags in the freezer.

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