Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

I’ve been making these for so long now that my kids kind of take them for granted. Fortunately they have really sweet little friends who, when they come over after school and eat these, say things like “This is the best granola bar I’ve ever had!” I’ll take my compliments where I can get them.

This is a really easy recipe. I make a batch on auto-pilot every Sunday evening, and it yields enough for my two kids to take them to school every day, plus after-school snackage and a few extra for me.

The cool thing about this recipe is that, like granola, you can substitute ingredients at will, so long as the ratio of dry ingredients to wet stays pretty much the same. Though I once suggested to my kids that these would be awesome with chopped dates instead of chocolate chips — for a second I thought they were going to stage a revolution in the kitchen.

With the cooking time I’ve provided, these yield a crunchy bar. I’ve been thinking of experimenting with reducing the cooking time by five minutes or so to see if I can get a chewier bar that will still maintain its structural integrity in the lunchbox. If you try this, let me know how it goes.

Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

Modified from this recipe. Yields 20-24 bars, depending on how you slice them.

IMPORTANT: Make sure that you really compress the mixture in the baking pan. I once made the mistake of shirking somewhat, and the bars ended up being quite breakable.

ALSO IMPORTANT: Don’t wait too long to slice these. You need to wait at least 10 minutes, and I’d say you’re good for anywhere up to 30 minutes or so. After that, they’ve pretty much totally cooled and tend to be brittle and break-y when you try to cut them.

INGREDIENTS

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (or other rolled grains, such as barley)
1/4 cup whole wheat flour (or ground flax, wheat germ, etc.)
1/2 cup shredded coconut*
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup light oil, such as grapeseed or canola
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract

*About coconut: Any time I bake, I use sweetened or unsweetened, whatever I have at hand. I don’t fret about what kind the recipe calls for, and to be frank, I’ve never noticed that it makes that much of a difference. If you’d like, you can always slightly adjust the amount of honey up or down, depending on what type of coconut you’re using.

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9″ x 13″ rectangular baking pan with parchment.
  2. Place the oats, flour, coconut, brown sugar, cinnamon, chocolate chips, and salt in a large bowl, and toss with a spatula until combined.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the oil, vanilla, and honey until smooth and combined. Pour this all over the dry ingredients, and thoroughly mix all the ingredients together until the wet ingredients have evenly coated all of the oats.
  4. Pour the granola mixture into the parchment-lined baking pan and compress it with a flat spatula until it’s about 1″ thick.
  5. Bake for 35 minutes, until golden. Cool for at least 10 minutes, then use a sharp knife to cut into bars.

Storing:

I’ve never had a batch last longer than five or six days, but I reckon they’re probably good for at least a couple of weeks if they’re stored in an airtight container.

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DIY Easy Gourmet Granola
At what point in our transition from kidhood to adulthood do we acquire that annoying habit of spending the Christmas holidays complaining about how many delightful treats are lying around just waiting to be put in our bellies? It’s a shame, really. We get one chance a year (okay, maybe two, if you get into Halloween in a big way) to revel in sugary, chocolatey gluttony, and we spend most of it feeling guilty. That’s crazytown, people!

Me, I love to wallow in sweet goodness throughout the holidays. I find that, by January, I’m more or less ready to move on, and then I like to wallow in atrociously healthy food for a while and feel all virtuous and self-congratulatory about how well I’m eating. (It’s how I roll through the calendar, people. Don’t you judge me.)

The great thing about this recipe is that you get to have your cake and eat it, too. This granola is better than even the best expensive “gourmet” granolas out there — I’ve tried a lot of them, and I speak with confidence here — so it has its own decadent appeal. And it has just the right amount of sweetness to gently ween you off your holiday-induced sugar addiction. And it’s so easy to make! Seriously! Five minutes of mixing ingredients, then pop it in the oven for 16-18 minutes, then cooling time. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

The cooking time here is just a suggestion. 18 minutes yields a nice crunchy (but not roof-of-your-mouth-shredding crunchy) texture. Reducing cooking time to 15 or 16 minutes will give you a slightly chewier consistency.

The ingredients are also just suggestions. I always start with 3 cups of rolled oats (or other rolled grains; I used barley for the batch in these photos, as I was experimenting for a friend who’s allergic to oats), but I didn’t have sunflower seeds, so I threw in some extra cashews and almonds. You can also experiment with raw pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts… you get the gist. So long as your total quantity of dry ingredients comes out to more or less the required total , you’re hunky-dory.

DIY Easy Gourmet Granola

DIY Easy Gourmet Granola

IMPORTANT: If you’ve never made homemade granola before, a key thing is to NOT break up the sheet of cooked granola until after it’s completely cooled. If you do this while it’s still warm, you’ll break up all the elements and won’t end up with any of those lovely clusters that are a hallmark of great granola. Also, don’t make the rookie mistake I made the first time I baked my own granola: I skimmed the instructions and didn’t see that the dried fruit goes in AFTER the granola has baked and cooled. Yeck.)

INGREDIENTS

3 cups rolled oats (or other rolled grain, such as barley)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup raw cashew pieces
(You can also substitute pretty much any kind of nut or seed you can think of for the sunflower seeds, almonds, and cashews.)
Handful of brown sugar
Handful of shredded coconut (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup of honey
1/3 cup of light vegetable oil, such as sunflower or canola
1 tsp. vanilla
Cranberries, raisins, chopped dates, or whatever dried fruit you like in whatever quantity you like

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, honey, and vanilla.
  4. Pour wet ingredients over dry and mix thoroughly, until dry ingredients have absorbed all the liquid.
  5. Spread mixture on a cookie sheet, preferably on parchment paper.
  6. Bake for 16-18 minutes, depending on how crunchy you want it to be. At the halfway point, remove from the oven and give it a good stir to ensure it cooks evenly.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to fully cool before breaking into chunks and adding dried fruit.

Storing:

You’ll want to keep this in an airtight bag or container, of course. I use a big canning jar with a rubber ring. And you don’t want to store it anywhere too warm; otherwise the honey will get melty, and you’ll run the risk of having your entire batch harden into a single huge clump.

I have no idea how long it keeps for, because I’ve never made a batch that survived longer than a week or so. So I can confidently tell you that it lasts for a week or so.

shortbread

I don’t have a Grandma Snyder. She belongs to a friend. Her shortbread recipe, however, belongs to the ages. If you like your shortbread delicate, fluffy, and buttery, then this is the recipe for you. If you prefer your shortbread dense, dry, and crumbly, then I don’t know what to tell you.

The glacé cherries are, of course, totally optional. Unless you live with my husband, in which case they are totally mandatory.

Grandma Snyder’s Shortbread

INGREDIENTS

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup icing sugar
1 lb. soft butter*
Glacé cherries (optional)

*A note about butter: You will notice in my recipes that I don’t specify salted or unsalted. Call me a philistine, but I’m a catch-as-catch-can kind of baker. I tried keeping unsalted butter in the house solely for baking purposes, but my husband doesn’t read labels EVER, so he’d end up using it on his toast and complaining about how horrible it tasted. So now I use salted for everything, and to be frank, I don’t really see the difference. If a recipe calls for unsalted butter plus salt, I’ll just reduce or omit the salt. (I also never sift flour, nor do I fret about whether I’m using dark or light brown sugar. I’m a wild woman, I know.)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cream ingredients for at least 10 minutes. This is the secret to the fluffiness. This is also the reason why stand mixers were invented.
  2. Form dough into three logs about two inches in diameter. Wrap in wax paper. I like to then put the wrapped tubes in an airtight container to keep them from getting smushed in the fridge.
  3. Chill overnight. (This dough will keep for three or four days in the fridge, so I like to slice and bake on demand.)
  4. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, slice dough into ½-inch thick rounds (and decorate with cherries, if you’d like), and bake for 18-20 minutes. Cool on rack, etc.

Storing and serving:

After baking, I like to keep these in the fridge in an airtight container. I’m not sure why I like to do this, because I don’t do it with most other cookies I bake, but there you go.

Serving warning: These cookies are like airy clouds of butter, flour, and sugar. As such, they have a tendency to explode into a vapour of butter/flour/sugar dust if hastily chomped down on. You can learn a lot — and possibly more than you want to know — about people’s eating styles by seeing who makes a mess with these and who doesn’t. Or you can skip the social experiment and just warn people to take it slow and easy.

billionaire's shortbread
Given the title of this site, it stands to reason that the very first recipe should contain the most butter (two and a half cups, yo!) of possibly anything I’ve ever made. I made a batch a couple of weeks before the holidays, and my husband groaned and complained that I must be trying to kill him. He groaned and complained so much that I ended up parcelling it out as gifts at every opportunity. When I was packaging up the last pieces to give to our kids’ teachers on the final day of school before Christmas break, he suddenly looked devastated.

“What are you doing?”
“Just sending some treats to school.”
“Do we have any more of that?”
“No, this is it. You said that I was trying to kill you with it, remember?”
“Seriously? That’s the last of it?”
“Seriously.”
[Hangdog expression]

So then a few days later, I thought I’d surprise him with a fresh batch. And the groaning and complaining commenced afresh. Is it sick and wrong that I kind of dig it when people feel horribly conflicted about my baking? Probably. If you feel horribly conflicted about this recipe, I would be delighted to hear about it in the comments.

A few things to note about this recipe:

This is one of those desserts that looks trickier than it is. The shortbread and chocolate layers are ridiculously easy. Admittedly, the caramel has the potential to go sideways on you, but it’s really more time-consuming than difficult. It took about 15-20 minutes for the mixture to achieve the right consistency. The first time I made this, I found that I was obsessed with it being the correct colour. The recipe I worked with claimed the mixture would turn amber, but either I don’t know what amber is supposed to look like, or the original recipe creator didn’t, because my caramel never turned a proper amber (though its consistency and flavour were perfect, if I do say so). Anyway. The second time I made this, I just focused on the consistency. As soon as the mixture had thickened to a point where it was gooey but still runny enough to spread easily, I knew it was ready.

While experimenting with this recipe, I learned that you can melt chocolate way more easily in the microwave than the old-fashioned double-boiler route I’ve been a slave to in the past. The trick is to do it in 30-second bursts in a microwave-proof bowl, stirring well between bursts.

Also, I think you could make a gluten-free version of this by substituting gluten-free flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free baking flour) along with the recommended amount of xanthan gum. It’s not like the shortbread needs to get that much of a rise, since its main purpose is to act as a base for the caramel and chocolate layers, which are really the star of the show.

One last thing: The original recipe called for unsalted butter, but I’m one of those philistines who wings it in the butter department. I used salted butter in every layer, and it all worked fine.

One last thing, for real this time: Yes, I know, it’s normally called millionaire’s shortbread. But, you know, inflation. And did I mention the two and a half cups of butter?

Millionaire’s Billionaire’s Shortbread

Slightly adapted from this recipe via Annie’s Eats.

INGREDIENTS

For the shortbread layer:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar

For the caramel layer:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp. light corn syrup
2 (14 oz.) cans sweetened condensed milk

For the chocolate layer:

8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. light corn syrup
½ cup (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces
Fleur de sel or sea salt, for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS

For the shortbread layer:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F.
  2. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. Stir with a fork to blend, and set aside.
  5. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until well blended, about 1-2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed blend in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.
  6. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan and press in an even layer over the bottom of the pan. (It may seem really thin, which could tempt you to not press down as firmly as you should. Press away.)
  7. Bake 15-18 minutes or until golden.
  8. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely.

For the caramel layer:

  1. Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted.
  3. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, stirring constantly.
  5. Continue simmering and stirring until the mixture thickens to a gooey-runny consistency. (It will firm up considerably after it cools.)
  6. Pour the mixture over the shortbread layer, smooth the top, and allow to cool completely and set. (I refrigerated it for about an hour. You want it to be cold to prevent the caramel from melting when you pour the melted chocolate over it later.)

For the chocolate layer:

  1. Combine the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter in a microwave-proof bowl.
  2. In 30-second bursts, heat the mixture. I just used my microwave’s shortcut button, which I believe is a pretty high setting. Make sure to stir well at each interval, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. It took my machine about two and a half minutes to do the job.
  3. Pour the chocolate mixture evenly over the caramel layer and use a spatula to smooth the top.
  4. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes or so, and then sprinkle with fleur de sel. (It’s what all the cool kids are doing these days, I hear. It’s nice, but not totally necessary.)
  5. Chill in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to slice and serve (about half an hour or so, depending on your fridge).

Serving and storing:

The original recipe suggested cutting this shortbread into bars, but I opted to cut it into little 1.5 x 1.5-inch squares. They’re pretty rich (not that there’s anything wrong with that), so this size makes them a little less intimidating for the more timid souls. Also, this method gives you, like, a bazillion of these little flavour bombs. Looking at this bounty stacked in your biggest storage container, you’ll think to yourself, “This is how billionaire’s feel!”

I’ve successfully frozen and thawed these, and they’ve kept well in the fridge for a week or so (and counting). They’re pretty tasty when cold from the fridge, but if you want to really release the flavour and texture of the caramel, then I’d suggest pulling them out an hour before you plan to serve them.

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