These bars slip into that magical niche of snacks that seem — and taste — like candy but are still, at least ostensibly, healthy. They are made without refined sugar, require zero cooking, and can last in a backpack all day. Packed with peanuts and topped with a thin layer of chocolate, they are also the perfect energy-boosting snack to get you through a workout, an afternoon class, or a weekend hike.
These bars are a riff on my favorite 3-ingredient energy bars, which use dried dates as both the sweetener and the binder to hold the bars together. Peanuts and chocolate, that much-loved duo, round out the other ingredients here and make these bars taste like a real treat. Don't worry if you're not a fan of dates — these bars don't taste at all fruity, just pleasantly sweet and chewy.
These backpack buddies are also "healthy," less in the dieting sense and more in the "good, wholesome ingredients" sense. Use the best ingredients you can find, particularly with the peanuts. Almonds and other nuts also make a fine substitute here if allergies are an issue. Also, use a chocolate that you enjoy eating out of hand. I'm a fan of using a fairly dark chocolate with these as the bitterness cuts the sweetness from the dates.
Since the bars are so energy dense, one small bar (or even, really, half a bar!), is enough to satisfy me before a workout. On a recent trans-Atlantic trip, these bars were my savior when the airplane meal options were less than appetizing.
I like the dense chewiness of these bars when they're right out of the fridge, but they last very well at room temperature. They become softer as they warm, so if you can, transport them in a hard-sided container so they don't get squashed against books or gym shoes in your bag.
Peanut Butter & Chocolate Energy Bars
Makes 15 bars
1 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups
pitted dried dates, preferably Medjool
coarsely chopped dark chocolate or mini chocolate chips, divided
Line an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper; let the ends of the paper hang over the edge.
Optional step: For deeper, more peanuty flavor, roast the peanuts before making the bars. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Spread the peanuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until fragrant and golden, stirring once or twice during roasting, 8 to 10 minutes total. Allow to cool slightly before continuing with the recipe.
Combine the peanuts, pitted dates, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse 5 to 6 times to break up the ingredients. Uncover and break apart any clumps of dates. Process continuously until the ingredients begin to clump together, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. When you remove the lid, the ingredients may still look a little crumbly (like couscous), but should hold together when pressed in your fist.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the chocolate over the peanut-date mixture (reserve the rest of the chocolate). Replace the lid and pulse just 3 or 4 times to incorporate the chocolate.
Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and press it firmly down with the palm of your hand or the bottom of a drinking cup. Microwave the remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips in a small microwave-safe bowl in 15-second bursts, stirring between each burst, until melted. Pour the chocolate over the bars and use a spatula to spread it into an even layer.
Cover the bars and refrigerate until the bars are firm and the chocolate is set, at least 1 hour or overnight. With the bars still in the dish, use a sharp knife to cut them into 15 bars.
Softer Icing: Stir 1/4 cup peanut butter into the melted chocolate before spreading it over the bars.
Storage: Bars can be stored in the dish or individually wrapped. Keep refrigerated for firmer texture or unrefrigerated for a softer texture. Bars will keep for about 1 month refrigerated or for about 1 week at room temperature.
This post was requested by Aurora Gray and Mary Frances Ellison for Reader Request Week.