Alimentary, My Dear
Credit Crunch Bars — Better Than Store‑Bought
By Tamia Nelson
January 17, 2012
Energy bars are big business nowadays. Long confined to the pages of cycling catalogs and the shelves of health‑food stores, these pricey descendants of Space Food Sticks and granola bars can now be found in almost every HyperMart. And the range of products has proliferated astonishingly as the market for them has grown. You can buy bars tailored to the needs of women athletes, bars to sustain you through a long workout, even bars to help you recover from your exertions. But what you can't buy — at least in my experience — is bars that taste good. A case in point: I recently found myself on the receiving end of a sample package of Clif Bars. (I don't usually accept product samples, but these were a gift from my brother, who'd picked them up at a bike race he covered.) Two of the bars were labeled "Chocolate Brownie"; the third was "Black Cherry Almond." That got my attention. I love chocolate brownies, and I'm very partial to cherries and almonds, too. How could I go wrong? Judging by their wrappers, these were the bars I'd always been waiting for. Or so I thought.
Reality soon intruded. I'd tucked the Black Cherry bar into the handlebar bag of my amphibious bike, while a Chocolate Brownie bar went into the snack pocket of my rucksack. And not long afterward, I found myself sitting in a chill drizzle on the shore of a local beaver pond. I needed quick energy, so I reached into my pack pocket and grabbed the Chocolate Brownie bar, congratulating myself on my foresight. But a string of disappointments followed hard on the heels of self‑congratulation. The first letdown came just as soon as I'd peeled away the colorful paper wrap. To my eye, this particular Clif Bar had a rather off‑putting appearance. In fact, it bore a close resemblance to raccoon scat. Still, I was hungry, and looks aren't everything. So I took a first tentative bite. Disappointment piled on disappointment. The bar's texture was as unappetizing as its appearance, suggesting nothing so much as crumbled chalk embedded in tar. And the flavor? Well, I'm happy to say it didn't taste anything like raccoon scat. At least, I assume it didn't. (There are limits to my curiosity. I draw the line at eating raccoon scat.) Unfortunately, it didn't taste like any chocolate brownie I'd ever eaten, either.
I decided then and there that I could do better. So when I returned home I went straight to the test kitchen and began experimenting. And my efforts ultimately proved successful. I've now added a number of flavorful, nutritious bars to my repertoire of fast foods for the backcountry. I don't call them energy bars, though. Because cash is tight in these rather austere times, and because my DIY bars deliver good taste at a low cost, …
I Call Them Credit Crunch Bars
The name probably won't catch on with the Mad Men. And that's just as well. You won't see these bars in stores. Think of them as alternatives to my 100‑Mile Plus Bars, if you want. They're easy to make, they travel well, and they have plenty of fiber. That's a blessing in the early days of a trip, as your gut adjusts to an altered diet and routine.
Not that there's anything wrong with 100‑Mile Plus Bars. Except that too much of a good thing isn't necessarily wonderful. Now and then, you want something new. A different taste, say. Like chocolate. Or apple. So I've rung the changes, and the results didn't disappoint. Each of the new bars is delicious. Each is chewy without being gummy. And none is too sweet or too salty. Best of all, you can make some of them without opening your oven door!
No‑Bake Credit Crunch Bars
That's right: These bars require no baking. None. The trick is getting the right proportion of dry ingredients to binder, which has to be sticky enough to make everything hold together. For my dry ingredients, I chose a mix of cereal grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and seasoning. For binders I tried maple syrup, peanut butter, and honey. My two favorite blends are Peanut Butter–Apple Bars and Fruity Wheat and Oat Bars. I've provided comprehensive recipes and instructions elsewhere, but if you'd like to try them yourself, here are a few tips:
- For richer flavor, lightly toast the grains, seeds, and nuts.
- Warm the binder to make mixing easier.
- Oil the pan very lightly to ease bar removal.
- Press down firmly on the mixed ingredients to ensure they adhere.
- Chill the mix throughly before cutting and separating into bars.
- Wrap individual bars in waxed paper to make eating them less messy.
The general procedure is easy to summarize: Mix dry ingredients together and then stir in the binder:
Once the ingredients are thoroughly blended, scrape them into a pan and place a sheet of waxed paper on top. Next, press down firmly, in order to level and compact the mixture:
Lastly, pop the pan into the fridge to chill out. Once the binder has gelled, cut the "cake" into portions, and wrap each individually:
No‑bake bars can be sticky, which is why I sheathe them in waxed paper, but the paper does more than keep your hands clean. It also prevents the bars from clinging to one another. At home, you can store no‑bake bars in a tightly closed plastic bag in the fridge for about a week. Refrigeration helps them hold together, but don't worry: Except for the sultriest summer days, you can bring them along on weekend trips without a second thought. If you want to keep bars for more than a week at home, however, put them in the freezer. Then, when you pack up for your trip, just pull out as many bars as you need. They'll thaw by the time you're on the water.
I like no‑bake bars. I guess that's obvious. But good as they are, they can't equal their baked counterparts. So I returned to the test kitchen to see what I could do once I brought my oven into play. And the result?
Ultimate Chocolate–Mocha Brownie Credit Crunch Bars
OK. The name's a little over‑the‑top. Still, these are very, very good. They have the chewy richness of brownies, but they hold up better in a pack. And they're probably better for you than brownies, as well. Here's what they look like:
Not bad, eh? And — to my eye, at least — this bar stands head and shoulders above commercial "raccoon scat." But why take my word for it? Check out the scat for yourself:
And the differences go deeper than mere appearance. My Chocolate–Mocha Brownie Bars won't have you thinking that you're eating chalk entombed in tar. They're chocolatey, chewy, and moist. They travel well, too. So what's stopping you? Why not bake a batch for yourself? Here's the recipe:
Tamia's Ultimate Chocolate–Mocha Brownie Bars
Ingredients (makes 16 2‑inch squares):
- 11⁄3 cups crushed bran flakes (Go easy. You want little flakes, not dust!)
- ½ cup all‑purpose flour
- ½ cup whole‑wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1⁄3 cup cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1⁄3 cup canola oil
- 1 large egg
- 1½ cups brown sugar (dark or light, it's your choice)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1⁄3 cup dark‑chocolate mini chips
- 3 tablespoons instant‑coffee powder
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons flax seeds
- ½ cup dried cherries or craisins (aka dried cranberries)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly oil an 8‑inch‑square baking pan. Combine bran flakes, flour, baking powder, cocoa, and salt in a medium‑sized bowl. Stir well, then set to one side. Next, beat the egg, oil, and sugar together in a large bowl till the mixture resembles a slushy. Now stir in the vanilla extract and water. Retrieve the cereal‑flour‑cocoa mix and tip into the large bowl. Add the chocolate chips, coffee powder, seeds, and dried fruit. Stir. Finally, turn the well‑mixed batter into the oiled pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, without any clinging crumbs. Do not over‑bake! (The bars will burn if you do.)
The hard work is over. Place the hot baking pan on a wire rack to cool for five minutes or so before running a sharp knife around the edge. Now leave the pan on the rack until you can pick it up without oven mitts. Then cut the "cake" into 16 squares. The bars will still be a bit warm inside, so lift them carefully from the pan using a flexible spatula and allow them to cool completely. Once they've reached room temperature, wrap the bars individually in waxed paper and store.
The Chocolate–Mocha Brownie Credit Crunch Bars can now be kept on a counter (or in a pack) for three or four days. Refrigeration will push this to a week or more, and frozen bars will retain their chewy goodness for several months. But I'm betting that they'll be eaten long before then. Just don't wolf them down all at once!
When a windfall sample of commercial energy bars failed my taste test, I decided to see what I could do on my own. The experiment was a success. And now you can repeat it. Better yet, you can lay in a stock of my Credit Crunch bars without having to take out a loan — just as the name suggests. If that isn't good news in these austere times, I don't know what is.
Related Articles from In the Same Boat
And two more from Tamia's own website:
Copyright © 2012 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.