January 31, 2014

Breakfast Crumble Bars

The past several months found me in a baking flurry. If I wasn't measuring, mixing, or baking, then I was reviewing favorite recipes and pinning new inspiration. While I enjoyed that sweet time of year, all those empty carbs left me feeling bloated and yucky--and that's not to mention the large holiday meals that accompanied the baking. My body's been craving substance, real food that actually nourishes and fuels rather than impoverishes.

The problem is that in freezing temperatures baking makes sense. Since I still want to take advantage of the oven's heat during these cold months, I've turned to this versatile breakfast bar to satisfy that healthy craving while taking advantage of my oven. The basis of these breakfast bars is old fashioned rolled oats, a whole grain high in slow digesting fiber. The bars are also chocked full of healthy nuts, seeds and dried fruits, enhancing its nutrition profile as well as its overall flavor and texture.

Despite all these health perks, the recipe does utilize brown sugar and molasses. In an ideal world, I wouldn't want any sweetener at all. Unfortunately, I'm not ideal yet. In the meantime I really like that these bars are at least limited to a half cup of sweetener in the entire pan. And rather than relying on highly refined white sugar for that sweet touch, this recipe calls on brown sugar and molasses, meaning the spike in blood sugar won't be quite as severe. 

Depending on the dried fruits you use, your bars might have trouble holding together. When I prepared these using dehydrated figs from a friend's backyard and dates softened in a bit of warm water, the bars held together beautifully. When using only pre-packaged dried fruits such as raisins, golden raisins, and Zante currants, it tended to crumble. If you're looking for an on-the-go bar that won't fall apart in your hands, you may need to either soak your dried fruits in a bit of warm water before incorporating into the batter or add a bit more of the wet ingredients. Either form is delightful--the bars are lovely for on on-the-go snack while the crumble is scrumptious over Greek yogurt. You may just have to play with it to get the form that's right for you. 

More than any other tip, I recommend just playing with the recipe to suit you. Raisins, dates, currants, figs, golden raisins, apples... the choice is really up to you. (*Splitting the full cup of dried fruit into three parts allows one fruit, such as 1/2 cup dried figs, to play a more leading role while the others, perhaps 1/4 cup each golden raisins and currants, merely lend their support. I find this mix more interesting than using a full cup of just one fruit.) Olive, canola, or coconut oil--again your choice. (In full disclosure I melted coconut oil in my baking dish so that when I poured it into the batter I was left with a little bit of oil residue which worked perfectly to lightly grease the pan.) And the seeds can be altered or even omitted. This recipe is very forgiving so you needn't fear messing it up. Experiment and make it your own!

Breakfast Crumble Bars

adapted from Oatmeal Breakfast Bars by Sackville as featured on Food.com

You can easily convert your own rolled oats into oat flour. Simply pulverize oats in a food processor, processing until the oats reach the consistency of flour. I've found that 1 cup oats yields an equal amount of oat flour. Likewise, flax seeds can be converted to flax meal in a coffee grinder.

   2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
   1 cup oat flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup oil
   1 cup dried fruits, such as figs, dates, raisins, currants, and golden raisins
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
   1 tablespoon flax meal
   2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/2 teaspoon flax seeds
1/2 teaspoon chia seeds

Preheat oven to 375°. Grease a 13-in. x 9-in. pan; set aside.

In a large bowl combine oats and next five ingredients (through salt), stirring until mixed well. Stir in brown sugar, making sure any sugar clumps are broken and sugar is evenly distributed throughout. To the dry mixture, add molasses, water, and oil, stirring vigourously after each addition; continue to stir until wet ingredients are well incoporated. Fold in fruit, walnuts, flax meal, and seeds.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Cover palms of hands with oil and gently press batter into an even thickness across the pan. 

Bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cut pan into squares while still hot. Let bars cool in pan completely before serving or breaking into a granola-like crumble. 

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