Of all the pre-made and pre-packaged foods that we've been trying to move away from, we've found it hardest to let go of snack bars - particularly Nutri-Grain's Fruit and Nut Bars. We were devastated when they disappeared from store shelves! Then again, now we've figured out how to make them ourselves!
The beauty of making these ourselves is that we can add whatever fruits or nuts to the cereal base that we feel like. As long as you keep the proportions of ingredients the same (or roughly 3 cups of total cereal/fruit/nut mix), these bars will turn out great. For these particular bars, we combined dried cherries, dried cranberries, and almonds.
Much like our beloved Nutri-Grain bars, these tend to stay chewy and soft after baking. If you like your granola bars more firm, try adding a handful of chocolate chips, a few tablespoons of peanut butter, or some milk powder. These things will help the sugar "glue" to firm up.
Fruit and Nut Bars
Makes 8 bars
1/2 cup whole nuts - almonds, peanuts, walnuts, etc.
1/2 cup dried fruit, coarsely chopped - cranberries, cherries, figs, etc.
1 cup high-fiber cereal (like Kashi GoLean)
1 cup puffed rice cereal
1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons wheat bran
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350-degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare an 8x8-inch pan with oil or non-stick cooking spray.
Arrange the nuts on a sheet pan and toast for 10 minutes or until fragrant. Allow them to cool and then give them a rough chop. Combine the chopped nuts, dried fruit, and cereals in a heat-proof bowl. Use your fingers to separate the fruit if it clumps together.
Reduce oven temperature to 300-degrees Fahrenheit.
Combine butter, brown sugar, and honey in a medium sauce pan and stir to moisten the brown sugar. Set over medium heat and bring to a boil, swirling the pan once or twice to make sure all the ingredients combine. As soon as the sugar mixture comes to a full boil and the sugar is completely dissolved, remove from heat. This should take about 5 minutes.
Off the heat, stir in the vanilla, wheat bran, and salt. Be careful because the sugar will bubble up. Immediately pour sugar syrup over the cereal mixture and use a heat-proof spatula to stir everything together. Make sure the nuts, fruits, and cereals are evenly coated. Pour the cereal mixture into the pan and use the spatula or wet fingers to press the mixture into the pan as firmly as possible.
Bake 20 minutes for chewy bars or up to 30 minutes for crispier bars. Allow the bars to cool completely in the pan. Turn out onto a cutting board and use a sharp knife to divide into 8 bars.
We like to wrap the individual bars in plastic wrap so we can quickly grab them and go. The bars will keep for several weeks in an airtight container, or you can also freeze them.
(Image: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)