That’s the way the granola bar crumbles

granola bars

I think the highlight of my Christmas dinner this year was when I entered the family kitchen, where I arrive bearing the dessert, and promptly dropped the the whole thing on the floor, where it shattered into a million pieces. I sighed, and guessed it was a fitting end to a fragmented year. Having seen more than my share of kitchen catastrophes in my time in various professional kitchens, like getting yourself stuck in a traffic jam, there’s not much you can do once the damage has been done and I’m glad that I’m able to laugh them off.

This year, one of my catastrophic ideas was to tackle granola bars. I see recipes out there all the time—usually some sort of combination of oats, dried fruits, sometimes nuts, and invariably lots of sweeteners to hold everything together. I wanted to make a bar that was really grainy and nutty, without being overly chewy or sugary, but not one of my experiments turned out as I expected. And what I was left with after each of my attempts was a cutting board with some combination of oaty crumbs, miscellaneous dried fruits, dried out seeds of some sort, and a wounded ego.

granola bars

But aside from my granola bars not working out – despite my best efforts, 2011 seemed like a pretty tough year outside of my kitchen as well. There was good news and bad from our neighbors in the Middle East, natural (and unnatural) catastrophes in Japan, we saw the continued polarization of America (which makes me wonder how much longer we’re going to be able to use the word “indivisible” in our pledge of allegiance to each other), as well as a topsy-turvy financial roller-coaster that wound its way around the globe.

One thing I think we can all agree on in America is the proliferation of what are called “energy bars.” As far as I know, no research exists that conclusively proves that these bars, many with the same ingredients in regular candy bars and the same number of calories as a Snickers bar, are any better or worse for you than a tablet of good chocolate. However I will just assume that all the oats and dried fruit make up for the overload of sweetness in some of them, and because they’re handy for travel and so forth (and because I am a sucker for the promise of marshmallows, peanut butter, and chocolate chips as being part of a healthy snack), they get a pass.

granola bars

What I can’t forgive them for are their dense, dough-like texture. And although I still grab a Clif bar whenever I’m back in the states and taking a plane, I’ve brought them back to Paris and stuffed them into my kitchen cabinet for a future trip. But then, I’ll come across one of those chocolate chip-peanut butter or Smores bars whose expiration date had passed and pause before tossing it out.

(Although I’ve learned that expiration dates are sometimes ‘suggestions’ and not always followed, and I’ve been served a few past-dated food in my time, one which included a recent stint in a restaurant restroom where I was afraid that Catherine Deneuve – who was dining in the same establishment – was going to come into the restroom and find me curled on the tile floor in front of the toilet.)

Fortunately that didn’t happen – well, the Catherine Deneuve walking in on me part – but what also didn’t happen was me finding the perfect granola bar in 2011.

granola bars

Interestingly, the French do have their own version of “energy bars” and I’ve slipped one into my carry-on for a trip, only to pull it out in a fit of ravenous hunger at the airport, only to find something that is about the size of a pack of gum. I’ve learned now to stuff a whole box into my carry-on since a whole box is roughly the equivalent to the size of one American energy bar. (No wonder we Americans have so much energy!)

granola bars

But in terms of granola bars, now that we’ve reached the end of 2011, I’ve given up the idea, dragged my “Granola Bar” file into the trash…and am moving on. Not because I don’t like granola, or granola bars – especially the ones with any combination of chocolate, peanut butter, and marshmallows in them – but because it’s the end of the year and I’ve decided to start 2012 with a fresh, clean cutting board.

granola bars

Lord knows, I’ve got plenty on my plate, or cutting board, and sometimes we cobble together what we do have, even if it’s not picture-perfect, and make it work. Or realize that sometimes, well…that’s just the way the granola bar crumbles. And that’s that. And when it does, it’s okay to just wipe the board clean, and start anew.


121 comments

  • Happy New Year, David! I was delighted to watch you on ABC last night explaining why the French have banned ketchup in their schools.Keep on surprising us with your appearances. Love seeing you on TV!

  • In addition to granola bars, I’m interested in what you made for Christmas Day dessert which made its debut on the floor. ;-)
    I too had a kitchen disaster on the 24th whereby a whole, fresh leg of pork slipped my grip and fell into a too full 12 quart pot of sweet and salty brine. At least it gave me a good excuse to wash the floor and cabinets inside and out before guests arrived on the 25th…

  • I had the same struggle this year. Didn’t give up yet though. I have an idea a bar that omits all the oats and for sticking the whole thing together with Renuka coconut cream. I’m going to try it as soon as I get home!

  • These hold together really well and don’t contain any added sugar:
    Snacking Bars (gluten-free)

    1/2 cup almond butter
    2 smashed bananas

    1/2 cup almond meal
    3/4 cup nuts/dried fruits
    1/4 cup seeds
    1 cup oats
    2 stevia packets
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. vanilla extract

    Preheat oven to 350`. In a skillet, heat almond butter and banana on medium heat until smooth. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, then add banana mixture. Stir well with a fork and press into a sprayed, small rimmed sheet pan using plastic wrap. Bake 23 minutes. Cool and cut into bars. Enjoy!

  • I love a good granola bar, until I look at the ingredient list and realize they aren’t really that healthy! I would have been happy to try any you deemed a success but can’t really blame you for throwing in the proverbial kitchen towel. Am looking forward to new projects you share with us – and hoping 2012 will be a better year in many ways.

  • Re: your dessert mishap – have you seen the documentary “Kings of Pastry”?

  • I’m getting caught up on the TiVo and just watched this documentary. David posted this program on his blog, so I’m pretty sure he has seen the spectacular sugar creation shatter into mostly dust.

    • Yes, I’ve seen it and wrote a little about it a while back. It’s a great documentary..and very exciting ~

  • David, check these out http://www.chow.com/recipes/28752-figgy-fuel-bar. People are coming up with recipes for Larabars. You could make some killer ones!

  • Personally, I’m a fan of minced dried fruit and chopped, salted nuts held together with just enough good quality unsweetened baking chocolate. The slightly healthier version includes some sort of puffy crunchy whole grain breakfast cereal like brown rice krispies, pureed dates, a smidge of honey or fruit juice concentrate (cherry, pomegranite), and chopped nuts. They can be France or US sized.

    Give them a try one day… if you have a bit of cereal around.

    I gave up on the oat involvement years ago.

  • There was an Oatmeal Cookie Bar in US Army field rations (called MREs) when I was in the service in 1993 to 1995 that many people loved, including me. It was not overly sweet or chewy. It was a slightly sweet, compressed oat bar that tasted nutty and whole-grainy, even though I don’t think there were nuts in it. I bet some could be picked up online somewhere for “research purposes.”

  • haha, granola bars were on my to-try-list too this year. They’re not perfect yet but already proved far more popular then store bought during our ski trip last week!

    My recipe is based on Nigella Lawson’s recipe using condensed milk as ‘glue’.
    Besides that: oatmeal, dried cranberries and apricots, pecans, mixed seeds, dark chocolate chips and a little honey.

  • Glad to read you have food disasters, too :) I was bringing two fresh pans of italian sausage lasagne to my kids’ school for their staff when I turned a corner and it all fell onto the floor of the car :(

  • I had to just laugh b/c my Christmas dessert had the same fate. I made your recipe for French tart dough in the oven- amazing! Then filled it with a chocolate ganache. I put it on a cake pedestal & stored it the outside fridge. After cooking a multi course meal for all my in laws, I go to present the final masterpiece. Kersplat, on the floor it went as I stepped into the dining room. No saving. I was heartbroken but a glass of vino ( or a few) later I had the thought- what a fitting end to a tough year. Thank you for all your recipes. I am a former NorCal resident with a love for travel & a passion for baking. Your recipes and blog write-ups are entertaining and tasty!