I have a lot of travel coming up over the next few weeks, and so I conceived of these bars with one purpose and one purpose only: to keep The Hangry at bay. When my body doesn't know what time zone it's in, when the airport offerings are sparse, when the taxi ride takes double the time I expected, I'm certain these granola bars will be my saving grace.
I've made a lot of granola bars over the years with countless combinations of ingredients, but for this looming bout of travel, I knew I needed something really good. A combination of flavors and textures that wouldn't grow tiresome and that I could count on to satisfy.
I drew inspiration from my friend Megan Gordon's recipe for Hazelnut Cacao Nib Granola in her excellent book Whole-Grain Mornings. When I first made this granola and sprinkled it over my yogurt, I knew it was a winner. I love the way the sweet nuttiness of the hazelnuts plays off the bitterness of the cacao nibs, and also how the two ingredients give the granola a subtle crunch in every bite. After eating every last flake of oat from that batch, I knew it would translate perfectly into portable bar form.
For my granola bars, I based the recipe on my basic granola bar recipe, adding some cocoa powder and almond butter to the mix. Both ingredients help make a firmer granola bar and also add to the nutty, chocolate flavors I liked so much in Megan's recipe. (You could also use Nutella for something a little sweeter!) I love chewy bits of fruit in my granola bars, and dried figs felt like a natural companion to the hazelnuts and cacao nibs. I baked these bars a little longer than usual to make extra sure they set up well and wouldn't fall to bits in my lap on an airplane — 25 minutes is good for firm but chewy bars, but go to 30 minutes if you want a bar with more crunch.
These bars have already stood their first test: Faith and I relied on them heavily to keep us going through a culinary conference in Chicago last week. In fact, we started referring to them as our "lembas" bars for the fact that just a corner was all we seemed to need to bridge the gap between long afternoon sessions and late dinner reservations.
Whether your granola bars will be traveling in a backpack to class or in a suitcase across the country, I think you'll be happy with them and the sustenance they provide. Think of me fondly as you enjoy your snack — I'll be the girl in 32C reaching gratefully into her carry-on for another nibble.
Cocoa-Hazelnut Granola Bars with Dried Figs
Makes 9 bars
3/4 cups hazelnuts
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (gluten-free, if needed)
1/2 cups figs, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pepitas
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons almond butter
1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat the oven to 325°F. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast until lightly golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a cutting board and roughly chop.
Line an 8x8 baking dish with parchment, letting the excess hang over the edge. Coat lightly with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the chopped hazelnuts, oats, chopped figs, pepitas, and cacao nibs. Toss with your hands, making sure to break apart any clumps of figs.
Warm the brown rice syrup in the microwave for 30 seconds or in a small saucepan over low heat. When it's loose and runny, stir in the almond butter, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the rice syrup mix over the oat mix and stir until the dry ingredients are evenly coated.
Scrape the granola mixture into the baking dish. Spray the back of a spatula with cooking spray and use it to press the granola mix firmly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the bars are lightly browned around the edges. (Bake less time for firm but chewy bars and longer for crispier bars.)
While the bars are still warm from the oven, press them again with the back of an oiled spatula. Allow to cool completely before slicing or eating.
Slice the cooled bars in the pan and use the flaps of the parchment to lift them from the pan. Wrap bars individually and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. If your bars are a little looser than you'd like, you can also refrigerate them for a firmer texture.
More Chocolate! If you'd like a bigger chocolate flavor, try increasing the cocoa powder to 1 tablespoon and(or) adding 1/4 cup of mini chocolate chips.
Nutella Bars! For a slightly more indulgent bar, replace the cocoa powder and almond butter with 1/4 cup of Nutella.
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)