Granola is perhaps one of the best food innovations to have been borne from the easy-going days of the 60’s era. Combining hearty oats, sweet fruits, and crunchy seeds and/or nuts, such a staple is a cheap and tasty way to nourish your body – A huge payoff for such a small amount of work. Stick all of these healthful elements together to form a bar, and you now have a completely effortless on-the-go meal. Sadly, corporate America has found ways to corrupt even this concept, adding in unnecessary and non-nutritive ingredients to bulk up their bars along with their bottom line, or going the route of traditional Yankee junk food, turning once healthful snacks into genuine candy bars. As an unabashed lover of all things granola, it can be quite frustrating to find myself in a grocery store aisle full of nothing but over-processed, over-priced, and unfulfilling ready-to-eat products. Sure, it’s not a huge undertaking to just make them yourself, but I can understand that many less experienced bakers balk at the idea of just whipping up a nutritious granola bar that could rival anything conveniently purchased at the store.
Even so, I normally would not think to look towards a baking mix – Not in this instance, and not in any other for that matter. Growing up with a skilled baker as a mother, the only thing I can remember ever baking from a box is angel food cake. My natural thought process would most likely never even lead me to imagine there might be a need for a pre-assembled dry mix for something as basic as granola bars…but then out of no where, I became aware of a growing sensation defined as just that. Suspending my doubt, I took an open-minded look at Trail Blaze Bars by Matisse and Jack’s. They appeared to have nothing but the best intentions for their consumers, in stark contrast to most corner-cutting products.
Not just some cheap gimmick to make money, this particular mix included a good amount of protein, whole grains, and real ingredients (rather than an incomprehensible slurry of chemicals and artificial flavors). Even though it felt like cheating as I mixed in a mere smattering of applesauce and water, I couldn’t deny that the ease was truly appealing, and this blend of grains and fruits was honestly alluring in its own right. At first, the smell was a bit disconcerting – Something akin to wet cement in my opinion, but perhaps I was just exhausted from the marathon of baking I had just completed to test more recipes for my book. Smoothing out the top of the thick mixture, it went into the oven for the recommended time, and before I could clean the clumps of old flour out of my hair, they were done in a flash.
First to meet the heat was the mix of Cranberry Walnut bars. Bursting at the seams with visible oats and flax seeds, a hearty, glutinous smell wafted to my nostrils as the oven door opened to reveal my semi-homemade snack. Ravenous and taunted by the delicious scents and looks, my will power allowed me to wait just until the bars were cool enough to leave only minor burns along my mouth. Initially surprised by the texture, I had expected more of a solid, crunchy bar, whereas what I chewed carefully was much more like baked oatmeal. Had I actually taken a good look at the box, however, it should have come as no surprise, being clearly labeled “OATMEAL ENERGY BARS.” My poor brain must have been on the fritz, but nonetheless it was a pleasant surprise all the same. Passionate for granola as I am, the same fondness extends out to almost all forms of cereals, hot and cold, readily including oatmeal as well.
Slightly crisp on the outside but still soft on the interior, the blend of various base ingredients came together harmoniously to form a toothsome, multi-textured and flavorful bar. Each bit slightly different, the inclusion of crunchy nuts and soft, sweet cranberries made me excited to taste how the next bite might compare to the last. Balance is the name of the game here, and I must say that everything seems to be in perfect proportion to each other – No one flavor rules, but they all make themselves heard. Sweet in a natural and appropriate way, I could see these bars working their way into every eating opportunity available – Breakfast, lunch, snack… Hey, if you’re in a rush, dinner might not be such a stretch, either! Trust me on this; It took me two short days to polish off five of these babies…
Anticipating the untimely demise of my first batch, I wasted no time and whipped up the other box of granola mix, Chocolate Chip. Still boasting an impressive collection of whole grains and seeds, these bars took a decidedly more decadent route, revealing a sprinkling of dark chocolate every now and then. Noting that my first bite lacked any actually chips, I was still happy to detect a pleasant cocoa flavor nonetheless. Although that might sound like a skimpy amount of chocolate, it really carries well throughout – Any more than that would make it seem like too much of an indulgence to enjoy as a regular snack. However, just warmed through, the gooey, melted chips make it seem 100 times more decadent than it really is. After polishing off a generous square straight out of the oven and literally licking stray chocolate off my fingers, it’s hard to believe how healthy these are!
After all of the struggles of making labor-intensive dishes from scratch, I can see the lure of a no muss, no fuss baking mix like this one. Much better than buying pre-made granola bars altogether, this quick fix lets you know exactly what’s going into your body, beyond some random numbers and statistics printed on the side of a label. There are even different ways to make your bars should you choose – Instructions are included for making them with yogurt, less sweet, or vegan like I did. Additionally, a brief search of their website reveals numerous recipes for other healthy snacks using the very same mixes, such as muffins, cookies, and other tempting treats. My only complaint about this product is that it’s only available online, and therefore more difficult to obtain – I only wish I had received more than one box of each to try out some of these other options!
[Written for Go Dairy Free.]