The recipe you see before you, in all its crunchy cluster and creamy chocolate glory, is the result of three significant events. First, I found myself staring at a bag of freeze-dried strawberries at Trader Joe's, a food that I hadn't considered for its recipe potential until then. Second, an obsessive run of granola-making. Third, and perhaps most unsurprising, a late-night chocolate craving. Presto chango: granola bark was born.
I can't in good conscience call this a healthy snack, exactly. But neither is it a totally decadent chocolate dessert. It's somewhere in the middle. An afternoon snack with a bit of a wink.
White chocolate verses dark chocolate caused quite a bit of internal debate. I could see the argument for both. In the end, white chocolate won because it reminded me of eating granola with milk for breakfast. I find that white chocolate melts a little quicker on the tongue, creating the perfect contrast to the crunchy granola. This said, please use the chocolate that calls to you the most.
A nod of credit for clustery, nubby granola goes to a guest post we featured a few years back from Melissa of The Traveler's Lunchbox. In that recipe, Melissa grinds a portion of the oats into a fine flour and then tosses everything with the standard binding mix of butter-plus-sugar. The oats serve as the mortar, binding the oats and nuts together into clusters. I love how this is accomplished with minimal fuss and no extra ingredients, and I have started using the trick in all my granola endeavors.
Strawberry-Almond Granola Bark
2 1/2 cups (8 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats, divided
2 cups (1 - 1 1/2 ounces) freeze-dried strawberries, divided
1 1/2 cup (8 ounces) whole almonds
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (4 ounces) dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 ounces (4 4-ounce bars) good-quality white chocolate
Heat the oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick liner or parchment.
In a food processor, process 1 cup of the oats and 1 cup of the freeze-dried strawberries continuously until they break down into a fine flour, about 10 seconds. If needed, scrape down the sides of the bowl to dislodge any large pieces and process again. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Place the almonds in the food processor and pulse 20-25 times in 1-second bursts until the pieces are pea-sized or smaller. Transfer the almonds to the mixing bowl with the flour. Add the reserved oats to the bowl with the oat flour and almonds, and stir to combine all these dry ingredients. (Reserve the rest of the strawberries for later.)
Melt the butter in a sauce pan over low heat or in the microwave. Stir in the brown sugar and water. Continue heating until the brown sugar dissolves and the mixture is liquidy. Stir in the cinnamon, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt.
Pour the butter mixture over the oat mixture and stir until everything is evenly coated. Add an extra tablespoon of water if you still see dry oats. Let this stand for about 10 minutes.
Pour the granola onto the lined sheet pan. Use your fingers to spread the granola out in a single layer. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and gently stir the granola, trying not to break up the clumps. Return to the oven. Bake another 15 minutes, stir, and then a final 15 minutes: one hour of total baking time. The granola will darken considerably. Let cool for 15 minutes, stir, and then let cool completely.
Put the remaining strawberries in a bowl and crush them with the back of the spoon until they have broken into many small pieces. Mix the strawberries with the cooled granola. Granola can be made-ahead and stored in an airtight container for several days.
When ready to make the bark, fill a small pan with one inch of water and bring it to a simmer. Set a larger heat-proof bowl over the pan; be careful that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the surface of the water. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick liner or parchment.
Chop the chocolate into small pieces and transfer them to the bowl set over the pan. Stir the chocolate pieces gently with a heat-proof spatula as they melt. When just a few small lumps remain, remove the bowl from the heat. Stir until the chocolate is completely smooth.
Pour the chocolate onto the sheet pan, scraping the bowl clean. Use the back of the spatula to spread the chocolate in a thin, even layer across the sheet pan. Sprinkle handfuls of the granola over the chocolate in a single layer. When all the chocolate is covered, press the granola gently with dry hands to make sure it sticks to the chocolate.
Place the granola bark in the fridge for about an hour or until the chocolate is set. Break the bark into large pieces. (Any loose granola can be collected and eaten as a snack!) Store the bark in an airtight container for up to a week. If your house is very warm, store bark in the fridge.
Related: How to Make Homemade Granola Bars
(Images: Emma Christensen)