Peanut Butter & Banana Granola Bars

The quest for the perfect granola bar has been quite the process.  It began a while back when I forgot to buy C his favorite peanut butter granola bars at Trader Joe's.  He used to eat them almost everyday at work, and I decided that it was about time that I came up with a recipe that was even better.  

I think that granola bars fall into the category of food that people just assume is healthy.  Once the word "granola" gets involved, people start to have visions of barefoot women with long flowing skirts cooking up "earthy" oat concoctions.  When I started making my own granola in college, my mom jokingly called me "Earth Mama" and was happy to confirm that I was continuing to shower on a regular basis in spite of my "earthy" ways.

I think we're starting to move away from the stereotype that people who have a healthy diet are different from the rest of the population.  Maybe I think this because I live in DC now, where people are much more health-conscious, and I am starting to forget what it was like to cook and eat healthier foods in the Midwest.

Back to the granola bars.  I have tried making these a number of different ways, using applesauce, flour, baking powder, etc., and I've decided that these are by far the best batch yet.  There are so many granola bar recipes that include a whole stick of butter and loads of sugar (I won't name names), but I'm happy to report that there is no butter in these and no refined sugar.  I like butter as much as the next person, but a granola bar is no place for a whole stick of it.

I've added a little bit of maple syrup and honey to bring the bars together and add some flavor, but a large part of the sweetness in this recipe comes from the banana.  The peanut butter provides richness and flavor, but the secret ingredient here is definitely the toasted coconut.  Coconut really adds a tremendous amount of texture and a wonderful sweet flavor to the granola bars, and they really wouldn't be the same without it.

These are really quick and easy to make and would make a great alternative dessert for a BBQ over the long weekend. Sometimes when you're headed to an event where you know there will be a lot of unhealthy food, it's great to bring a dish that you know you can eat without guilt.  Just don't tell people that they're "granola" bars or your might get a look (trust me, I've been there).  Call them "Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Bars" or something, and I promise they'll disappear quickly.

Peanut Butter and Banana Granola Bars
2 cups quick-cook oats*
1/2 cup high fiber cereal**
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp salt (use ¼ teaspoon if you use salted peanuts)
1 cup shredded coconut, toasted***
½ cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts (cashews, walnuts, and pecans would work too) 
¼ cup chocolate chips (mini chips or chopped regular chips will give you nice and small pieces)
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp honey
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 Tbsp Earth Balance (or another vegetable oil spread), melted
1 banana 
¼ cup peanut butter (I use Valencia Peanut Butter with Roasted Flaxseeds from Trader Joe's)
1 egg white

*These are not the same oats that you'd use for muesli.  You really want to get the quick-cooking (not instant) oats for the granola bars, because the old-fashioned oats won't cook through quite enough to produce the right texture.  I get the oats in the bulk section of Whole Foods (along with the coconut) when I'm getting ready to make a batch of these bars.  

**I use Uncle Sam's cereal (they carry it at our Trader Joe's), which consists of toasted whole wheat berry flakes & flaxseed, but you can either add an extra 1/2 cup of oats instead or experiment with another cereal.  You might want to try something with a nice crispy texture like brown rice puffs.  

***Toasting the coconut is something that you can do while the oven is preheating and you're preparing the other ingredients.  Spread the coconut on a baking sheet lined with foil.  
Put it in the oven at 350 degrees (it can be lower if your oven is still preheating), and let it toast for about 4-5 minutes.  The coconut will get fragrant and start to brown (keep an eye on it because it will burn pretty quickly).  Remove it from the oven and let it cool for a minute or two before adding it to the other dry ingredients.  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a baking pan (either 8 x 8 or 9.5 x 7.5 works well) by spraying the pan with non-stick cooking spray and lining it with parchment paper.

1.  Mix together oats, cereal, salt, cinnamon, toasted coconut, peanuts, and chocolate. (I recommend using a stand mixer just to make things quicker). 

2.  Add maple syrup, honey, vanilla, melted Earth Balance, banana, peanut butter, and egg white to a blender.  Blend at medium speed until ingredients are well combined. (You can mash the banana and whisk the ingredients by hand, but the blender will make this step way easier).    

3.  If you’re using a stand mixer, turn the mixer on low, and slowly pour in the liquid from the blender into the dry ingredients and mix until the ingredients are well combined.  If you're mixing by hand (like I did this time), just pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and use a spoon or your hands to combine.  

4. Transfer the granola mixture to your prepared baking pan.  Press down with your hands until the granola mixture is packed down and the surface is even.  

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the edges start to brown.  

 6.  Allow to cool about 5 minutes and then use the parchment paper to lift the granola bars out of the pan.  Place the granola bars on a cooling rack (still on top of the parchment) to cool completely.  Wait about an hour to cut them into squares or rectangles (but if temptation gets to you, feel free to break off a piece before they're cool completely).  

7.  Cut into 12-14 squares with a sharp knife.  

Store these in an airtight container for several days, or place them in a plastic bag and freeze them for even longer.  And don't let anyone make fun of your "earthy" sensibilities!

Nutrition Facts, based on these being cut into 14 granola bars

Serving Size 
1 serving (53.3 g)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 211, Calories from Fat 106
Total Fat 11.8g, 18%
Saturated Fat 5.1g, 25%
Sodium 110mg 5%
Total Carbohydrates 23.5g, 8%
Dietary Fiber 3.4g, 14%
Sugars 10.5
Protein 4.9g
Vitamin A 0%Vitamin C 2%
Calcium 2%Iron 6%

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