No Artificial Preservatives

The fall semester started a few weeks back, which means my 57 bus and the B-train are full of students not exactly sure where they’re going. Commonwealth Avenue, down where I work, is lined with banks tabling for new customers, and eager 20-somethings in brightly-colored t-shirts want my help saving the whales, gay rights and women’s right to choose.

And then there are the freebies. There’s always some kind of vitawater or granola bar someone is offering free samples of. I wasn’t aware of how many Luna Bars and Kind bars had made their way into my backpack until yesterday afternoon, when I dumped its contents onto my dining room table in a fruitless search for my keys. (False alarm… long story.) Rich was astounded at the amount of oats and nuts I had on my person, while I was pretty astounded finally reading the voluminous ingredient lists on the wrappers.

I had made these apricot bars this weekend as a direct result of those ingredient lists. I’d made them once before, using apricot jam instead of soaking the apricots. The directions said I’d have to wait an hour for them to soften, but it turns out things were good after only about a half an hour. I brought these bars to a meeting once, along with some whole wheat chocolate chip cookies that I think are just tops. I played these down, but everyone there loved them. Sorry it’s taken me so long to share this.

The recipe comes from The Common Ground Dessert Cookbook: A collection of naturally-sweetened wholegrain desserts. The Common Ground is New England’s oldest natural foods restaurant. (Sidenote: Is it closed? I can’t tell!) It’s up in Brattleboro, Vermont, which is only an hour from where I grew up. Sometimes my mom and I would take a quick road trip up to Vermont and crunch away on a large wooden bowl of salad put out for taking on the honor system.

I think I downplayed these bars because they are nothing like the Flour granola bars I also made last spring. On the other hand, those take more than three hours to make, while these took less than an hour. These bars, like the whole wheat cheese crackers, make comforting additions to lunchboxes. Sure, there’s a lot of butter in the recipe, but something about the whole wheat flour, oats and maple syrup seems to compensate… right?

Apricot Bars

Makes 18 1 1/2”x 3” bars

There are two parts to this recipe, the filling and the crust. My advice is to start soaking the apricots for the filing before you work on the crust. I’ve only done this recipe with the maple syrup, so if anyone tries it with the honey, please do let me know how they turn out. Although the recipe lists the extracts as optional, I have them in the house and used them. The original recipe calls for whole wheat pastry flour, but I only have regular whole wheat flour. Results were pleasing.

Preheat oven to 350F. Oil a 9”x9” baking pan.

Apricot Filling

1 cup dried apricots

1 cup boiling water

1/8 – 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Lay apricots in a shallow bowl and pour boiling water over them. Soak fruit until very soft, which will take between a half hour and an hour, depending on the age of your fruit. While your fruit soaks, prepare the crust.

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 cups rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

1/2 cup butter, melted

3/8 cup maple syrup or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

Mix dry and wet ingredients, each in a separate bowl; then combine and stir well.

Press half the mixture into the bottom of oiled pan.

Prepare the apricot filling:

Drain fruit but save soaking water.

Chop soft fruit and puree it in a blender or food processor with sweetener and only as much soaking water as needed for blending.

Add extracts if desired.

Filling may be thick enough as is. However, if it seems at all runny, bring it to a simmer in a saucepan and stir in 1 teaspoon arrowroot mixed with 1 Tablespoon water to thicken.

Using a spatula, spread the filling on top of the bottom crust.

Sprinkle remaining crust over the filling and gently pat it smooth. Make sure the top crust reaches the edges and corners of the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool completely before cutting into bars or they’ll crumble.

Just Like Woodstock

Through trial and error, I came to the realization that if I take a pain-killer for my back pain in the morning, going to work is out of the question. (Rest-assured, there is no trip to the Bette Ford Clinic in my future; I think I have about 40 pills left from a prescription of 60 which was written to me at the end of December.) On days where a pill and nap were necessary, I would feel better by mid-afternoon, but not well enough to go into work.

When left to my own devices and if I’m in charge of my own time, my go-to plan is always a trip to Flour Bakery + Cafe. Stopping in is mandatory whenever we visit the Institute of Contemporary Art or anywhere else in the Fort Point Channel. But standing in a museum for few hours – let alone getting from Lower Allston all the way down to the harbor — is still difficult to manage.

Fortunately, Flour has recently opened up another location in Central Square in Cambridge. So one afternoon, still slightly addled from pain medicine, I checked the real-time bus schedule on my Android and wobbled down to the bus stop. Yes, I was a little high at the time, and clearly was not in the right state of mind to sign any legal documents, but have you ever had their sticky buns? Their dacquiose? Recently, my pastry of choice has been the granola bar. The journey was a success, although I decided to not mention it to Rich. (This is the first he’s hearing of it.)

This weekend Rich went to the Museum of Fine Arts to watch a film about drumming, and although I absolutely adore their collection, I didn’t think I was up for the trek and standing on the hard floors for two hours. Obviously, my first instinct was to head to Central Square for a granola bar, but the line is a good 30 people deep on weekends. So, why not make my own? I had been lucky enough to score one of the coveted copies of the Flour cookbook from Santa when it first came out, and so far I’ve made the cornmeal lime cookies, banana bread and cranberry pear crostata.

This recipe for me is a pantry recipe, but as you know, I have a somewhat unusual pantry. Most people have flour, walnuts, sugar, oats, dried fruit, and honey on hand, but I cannot guarantee you’ll have millet, flax seeds and sweetened coconut readily available. I must confess, I didn’t have an entire cup of dried cranberries, but had a surplus of dried raspberries in my collection. I was less worried about any seeds in the fruit given the multitude of seeds called for in the crumble topping. I also changed out flax seed for so-hot-right now chia seeds; they’re rich in Omega-3s and are a complete protein.

About half-way through the process I realized my first-edition cookbook was missing the crucial instruction of what to do with the toasted walnuts. Luckily, Joanne Chang is amazing at responding to Tweets; I’ve since discovered the cookbook corrections are in a sidebar on the Flour website.

joanne chang-myers @jbchang replied to you:

@CheapBeets they go in w oats. So sorry! Corrected in later printings (u have a 1st printing!)
In reply to…
@jbchang Having a granola bar freakout Where and when do I add the walnuts? Into the flour/oat mixture?Can’t find that step in the cookbook.

Well, the granola bars were a success, but, well, the baking project took an entire afternoon, and that’s not even counting the three hours the bars needed to rest after baking. Ms. Chang is a brilliant woman: I suspect her degree in applied mathematics and economics from Harvard College helped her realize that, even if she released a cookbook sharing all her store’s secrets, it would have very little impact to the bottom line. Yes, I am thrilled to have an entire pan of my favorite granola bars on my kitchen counter, but I can’t wait until I’ll be healed enough to ride my bike to the store. The ride will take about 10 minutes, so even if I have to wait in line for 20 minutes, it will still be a fraction of the time it took to bake these. But don’t let me frighten you away. These are superb baked goods.

Granola Bars from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

If you have a kitchen scale, I strongly suggest you utilize it for this recipe. To “speed up” this recipe, I did the first two steps of the granola jam, and, while it was cooling, made the crust in the food processor, cleaned the bowl and continued making the jam.

Chang notes that the bars stay moist for several days and actually get better with age. (She prefers them best after 2 or 3 days.)

Ingredients

Granola Jam

1 cup (80 grams) dried apples

1 cup (160 grams) dried cranberries

1 cup (160 grams) dried apricots

½ cup (70 grams) granulated sugar

2 cups (480 grams) water

Crust and Crumble

1 cup (100 grams) walnut halves

1 ¾ cups (245 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups (150 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick cooking)

2/3 cup (150 grams) packed light brown sugar

2/3 cup (80 grams) sweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup (2 sticks/228 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 to 10 pieces

6 Tablespoons (128 grams) honey

3 Tablespoons flaxseeds (or Chia seeds)

3 Tablespoons sunflower seeds

3 Tablespoons millet

Directions

To make the jam: In a medium saucepan, combine the apples, cranberries, apricots, granulated sugar, and water and bring to boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let sit for about 1 hour. Transfer to a food processor and pulse 8 to 10 times, or until a chunky jam forms. (The jam can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted and fragrant. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Leave the oven set at 350 degrees F. Line a 9-by-13 inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In the food processor, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, coconut, walnuts, salt, cinnamon, and butter and pulse about 15 times, or until the mixture is evenly combined. Dump the mixture into a medium bowl and drizzle the honey on top. Work in the honey with your hands until the mixture comes together.

Press about two-thirds of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Place the remaining one-third of the mixture in the refrigerator.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until light golden brown throughout. Remove the pan from the oven, spoon the granola jam on top, and spread in an even layer with the spoon or rubber spatula, covering the surface. Remove the reserved granola mixture from the refrigerator, and break it up with your fingers into a small bowl. Add the flaxseeds (or chia seeds), sunflower seeds and millet and stir to combine. Sprinkle the mixture, like a crumb topping, evenly over the jam.

Return the pan to the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 2 to 3 hours, or until cool enough to hold its shape when cut. Cut into 12 bars.

The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.