Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sustaining Snacks: Homemade Lara Bars

In desperate need of an alternative to the packaged cookies and crackers and mid-afternoon trappings of my office lunch room, I set out to recreate my favorite good-for-you-and-tasty-too snack using a few bulk ingredients and a happy food processor.

I love Lara Bars. I really do. Their ingredients lists are short and sweet: real foods, no preservatives, no GMOs, no crazy-hard-to-pronounce-fifteen-letter-words. But at upwards of $1.79/each (though I have scored a few times on the $1/ea sales), it's hard justifying more than a few stock-ups in fits and spurts, and even then, I end up going through them too quickly or playing the martyr and trying to make them last too long.

Additional note: While looking into the origins of the Lara Bar, I discovered that the company was sold in 2008 to....General Mills ("The World's Sixth-Largest Food Company" their website tagline proudly proclaims). Yet another reason to help willingly fracture and diversify the food chain. (A favorite podcast of mine, Deconstructing Dinner, has an eye opening series on packaged foods and the multinational corporations producing such products. If you're interested, I especially recommend the programs on Nestle and Kraft.)

I've found, if I make them myself, it's easy, entertaining (well, I'm easily entertained in the kitchen), and even just a tad bit mentally freeing. No sugar rush. No regrets. Just a healthy boost for a mid morning snack or an afternoon pick me up.

After Googling my way around the www looking for helpful homemade Lara Bar tips and pointers, I settled on this recipe from Enlightened Cooking as a starting point. Her recipe calls particularly for dried cherries, but I worked off her ratios and simply chose my own ingredients.

Bulk Medjool dates, raw almonds, and cashews from Azure Standard
Dried cranberries, apricots, ginger, and figs from Trader Joe's
Dagoba Xocolate drinking chocolate powder from Whole Foods
Dried coconut from the neighborhood store

Working quickly in one nighttime burst of energy, I made three batches (not stopping to clean the food processor in between...I prefer to think of cross contamination of ingredients to be akin to cross pollination of wildflowers).

The Basic Ratio:
one part dates + one part dried fruit + a little more than one part nuts + a smidgen of spice
(this can be adjusted ad infinitum - see my variations below and see the original recipe for additional ideas)

The Basic Gist:
Combine pitted dates in food processor with dried fruit, pulse to a thick paste
Remove and place in bowl
Combine nuts and spices/extras in food processor and pulse until chopped
Add nut mixture to bowl of dates/fruit and knead until well combined
Press out onto cookie sheets
Refrigerate until firm
Cut into bars
Store in airtight container

From upper left, clockwise: Xocolatl Fig, Apricot Almond, and Cranberry Ginger Coconut

{ Xocolatl Fig }
1 C. Pitted dates, chopped
1 C. Dried figs
3/4 C. Almonds (I used soaked and dried raw almonds)
1/2 C. Cashews (toasted briefly in the oven for extra flavor)
1 T. Dagoba Xocolatl powder (includes dark chocolate, chili, and cinnamon)
1/2 C. Sunspire 65% Cacao Organic Chocolate Chips

{ Apricot Almond }
1/2 C. Pitted dates, chopped
1-1/4 C. Dried apricots
1-1/3 C. Almonds
1/8 t. Cloves
1/8 t. Nutmeg
1/4 t. Cinnamon

{ Cranberry Ginger Coconut }
1 C. Pitted dates, chopped
3/4 C. Dried cranberries
1/4 C. Dried ginger, uncrystallized
1-1/3 C. Cashews (toasted briefly in the oven for extra flavor)
1/2 C. Coconut

The first time I made these, I followed a recommendation to mold them individually in muffin tins on top of squares of pre-cut saran wrap to make it easy to pop them out, seal them up, and take them on the go. It was a nice notion, but my personality screamed for tidy little bars instead of round wanna-be-cookies, and I gave in the second time. Besides, I didn't like trying to wrangle all those little squares of plastic into place.

Bars they are, and bars they will continue to be. They're living happily inside my fridge, and I just take them out one or two at a time and pack them with my food for the day.

~ The finished product: Approximately 40 bars ~
And since I like to do the math...that's 40 x $1.50 (being generous) = Comparable to $60.00 worth of Lara goodness.
And I still have 3/4 of my bulk box of dates left!

These are a life saver when my blood sugar plummets toward the end of the work day and better than a coupon when it comes to saving money by eating a little something before visiting the grocery store!

I'm eager to continue experimenting with flavor combinations...and glad for a wholesome treat in close reach during these busy days. Interested? Give that food processor a whirl and see what you come up with!


Food Group: Sustaining Snacks
The Real Lara Bar
Enlightened Kitchen's Lara Bar Recipe


tonia said...

oh wow. yum. since we are gluten and dairy free we buy Lara bars a lot for our teen athletes. i would love to be able to make them! thanks so much!

this is a wonderful site. I'm so glad to have met you bethany! (and you are in the PNW! lovely! me too. *smile*)

The Farmer's Wife said...

Bethany, these look awesome! I want to try these with pumpkin and sunflower seeds since I can't have nuts! Yum! :)

Bethany said...

Tonia and Brenda - Thank you! They really are so simple to make once you round up the ingredients, and they're substantial enough to stand in as a mini-meal. They've become a real life-saver around here :)

Mmm...a pumpkin bar with pumpkin seeds and a mix of pie spices sounds amazing... Might have to give that one a try!

Heather said...

I know you posted this forever ago, but thanks! i havent really had any lara bars, but love Nakd bars. just whipped up some with raspberry, raisin, date, pistachio, almond, and chia seeds. They're so yummy and much cheaper and I can make flavors i like.

Lisa O'Connor said...

These look amazing and I will make some this weekend. Do you have a nut free alternative?

Anonymous said...

Made the cranberry/ginger version. Not sure if I used the right ginger - had crystalized on hand. Delicious! and the kids (9 & 12) loved them. Thanks - I will share your site with others.


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