One of my newest cookbooks is the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. It's a huge (more than 500 pages) hardcover book filled with a wide range of classics. The various cookies include bars, drops, roll-outs, shaped, batter, no-bakes, and essentials like sugar and chocolate chip.
There are some great photos in the middle of the book, but probably the most helpful aspect of this tome is the all the tips scattered throughout. King Arthur's book editors were kind enough to list both weights and measurements for the ingredients as well as nutritional information (yay!) and suggested variations on recipes.
I recommend this cookie book for people who love to bake and try new recipes as well as different versions of the classics.
Earlier this week, I decided to try one of the recipes from the book, Vermont Granola Bars. It seemed like it would be easy to adapt since it called for two different liquid sweeteners.
Here's my version (I used organic ingredients when possible):
1.5 sticks of butter
1.5 cups of agave nectar
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup of dried unsweetened cherries
1 cup dried chopped apricots
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
1 teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon
First, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (25 degrees cooler than the original due to the agave nectar), and lightly grease two 9 x 13 inch pans.
Combine the agave nectar and the butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue to boil for 5 minutes. Then set aside to cool a bit.
While the syrup is heating, place all the dry ingredients except the cherries, apricots and cinnamon in the prepared pans and bake for 12 minutes.
Stir the ingredients on the pan every 4 minutes to prevent the edges from getting too dark. After the time has elapsed, remove the pan from the oven and transfer the oat mixture to a large bowl.
Add the cherries and the apricots and toss to mix thoroughly. Then add the cinnamon and toss again.
The mixture should look like the photo at the right.
Now add the vanilla paste to the butter and agave syrup and stir until combined.
Then, gradually mix the syrup into the oat mixture until everything is well moistened.
Move the batter into the pans and press it flat. The cookbook suggests using the bottoms of other pans the same size to flatten the mixture, but I found that it was easily enough flattened using the back of a silicone spatula.
Bake the bars for 8 minutes until they are a light golden brown.
Cut into squares or bars while they're still warm. I tried it both ways and found that they were very difficult to cut and remove from the pan once they had cooled.
King Arthur recommends using a baker's bench knife to cut the bars into long strips, then transfer each strip to a cutting board to cut into bars.
I just used a large chef's knife and cut them into bars. Then, I used a steel spatula to remove them from the pan. Not too much trouble when warm.
So, how do they taste? Well, pretty darn yummy. Toasting the coconut and almonds beforehand really brings out those flavors. They're a bit sticky, so my guess is that you could probably get away with just 1.33 cups of agave (or even less) and do just fine. I'm not sure I'd bring them along on a hike, but rather serve them as dessert, perhaps drizzled with a carob ganache.
For a low-cholesterol version, you can substitute 3/4 cup of grapeseed oil instead.
The yield, according to the book, is 48 small bars. I cut about 20 decent-sized bars.