As you all know, I try to keep my Sunday baking for the coworkers healthier in January to avoid sabotaging any start-of-the-year health goals. This usually means whole wheat flour in cookies and cakes, using alternatives to butter and eggs as much as possible, and trying to be liberal in my interpretation of “treat” to include non-sweet alternatives like crackers.
Most of this month’s baking has been from Heidi Swanson’s book and blog, which do at least half the work for me by emphasizing whole grains, less-refined sweeteners, and creative uses of health-minded foods. These cereal bars are a great example: chewy and tangy from the fruit, crunchy from the rice cereal and nuts, and incredibly handy for grabbing on your way to work or school. The pops of green from the pepitas and red from the cranberries make them as appealing visually as they are tasty. They’re also vegan, and they’re gluten-free if you use all oats as originally written instead of the multigrain cereal (which includes wheat, rye and barley).
Multigrain Cereal Bars with Pepitas, Cranberries and Ginger
(Adapted from Do-It-Yourself Power Bars in Heidi Swanson, Super Natural Cooking, 2007)
Makes 3 dozen bars
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 ½ cups pepitas
3 cups crispy brown rice cereal
2 ½ cups multigrain hot cereal (uncooked)
½ cup oat bran
½ cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
2 cups dried cranberries, chopped
6 tablespoons candied ginger, finely chopped
2 cups brown rice syrup
½ cup unrefined cane sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with the coconut oil.
Toast the pepitas in a dry skillet over medium-low heat, tossing frequently to prevent burning, until they’re fragrant, just starting to brown and making the occasional popping noise. Chop them coarsely and set aside to cool slightly.
In a very large bowl, toss together the multigrain cereal, rice cereal, oat bran, coconut and dried fruit. Once the pepitas are no longer hot, add them to the mix.
Combine the rice syrup, sugar, salt and ginger in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer for a few minutes, until it thickens a bit. Off the heat, stir in the vanilla, then pour over the cereal and fruit mixture and stir with a spatula until everything is well coated.
Pour the mixture into the greased pan and press it down well. (The flat greased bottom of a 1-cup measure is especially effective at helping you achieve a firm, even block.) Cool to room temperature, then turn out onto a sheet of parchment paper and cut into 1×3 inch bars.
The bars keep well in sealed containers for about a week, and should keep even longer tightly wrapped in plastic and kept in a zip-top bag in the freezer.
Brown rice syrup is unbelievably sticky stuff, so it helps to coat the measuring cup with coconut oil before pouring it in. Similarly, if you rub the blade of your knife with a thin layer of oil, it will make chopping the cranberries and ginger much easier, and likewise slicing the finished bars.
If you don’t care for the stronger flavors of rye and barley in the multigrain cereal, you can substitute the same amount of old-fashioned rolled oats. You can also switch out the dried fruit and nuts to your liking, e.g. cherries and slivered almonds would be lovely too, although in that case I would probably leave out the candied ginger and use cinnamon in the syrup instead.
I found it useful to individually wrap the bars in wax paper for transport purposes, to stop them from sticking to each other or anything else. It also made them neater to eat.