Fruit and Nut Bars

I’ve said it once before, but I’ll say it again, homemade granola bars outshine every store bought version.  This quick and easy recipe for Fruit and Nut Bars is so simple that at one point in the recipe, you use your hands to combine the ingredients (no fancy mixer needed).  The most “advanced” step involves using a fork to stir the egg and vanilla together.  You can totally do this.

My version of these bars included pecans, cashews, almonds, dates, dried apricots, dried cranberries, and dried blueberries.  Some brown sugar, a little  bit of cinnamon and vanilla, an egg, and just enough flour to hold it all together round out the ingredients.  The result is bars that are dense and chewy, sweet and nutty, and slightly tart.

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A close up of all that deliciousness.

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Fruit and Nut Bars

Makes 16 2-inch bars or 25 smaller bars (8×8 inch pan)
(from Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies)
My notes are in [  ] below.

Ingredients

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1.625 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt [less if the nuts you use are salted]
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon [optional; this was not in the original recipe but I like a hint of cinnamon in my baked goods.]
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2.625 ounces) packed light or dark brown sugar
2 cups (7 ounces) of nuts [can be whole or pieces; I prefer a mix of almonds, cashews, pistachios, and pecans.  The original recipe specified walnuts only.]
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) dates, pitted and cut into quarters [I like a mix of dried fruit so I used 5 ounces of dates, 2 ounces of dried cranberries, and 2 ounces of dried blueberries.  Dried cherries are also a nice flavor addition.]
1 cup (5 ounces) lightly packed dried apricot halves, each cut in half [I used a little less than this because I didn’t want my bars too tart.]
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F.  Position a rack in the center of the oven.
  2. Line an 8-inch square pan (the bottom and all 4 sides) with heavy duty foil and spray with baking spray or line the pan with parchment paper.  The bars are pretty sticky, so I prefer using parchment paper.
  3. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon (if using) in a very large bowl, and mix together thoroughly with a whisk or fork.
  4. Add  the brown sugar, nuts, dates, and dried fruit (including the dried apricots).  Use your fingers to mix the ingredients until the nuts and fruits are coated with the flour mixture, and separate any sticky fruit pieces.
  5. Vigorously whisk the egg with the vanilla in a small bowl until light colored and thickened.
  6. Scrape the egg mixture into the large bowl, and mix with your hands until all of the fruit and nut pieces are thinly coated with batter.
  7. Spread the mixture into the pan, pressing down to compress the batter and even it out.
  8. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the thin batter coating is dark golden brown and has pulled away from the sides of the pan.
  9. Cool in the pan on a rack.
  10. Drizzle the top with honey, if you like your bars a little sweeter.
  11. Life the ends of the foil/parchment, and transfer the bars to a cutting board.  Use a sharp knife to cut 16 or 25 squares.

Note:  The bars can be kept in an airtight container for at least 2 weeks at room temperature, or longer in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Caramels

These Chocolate Caramels are proof that the best recipes don’t need to come from a fancy cookbook or famous chef.  This recipe for Chocolate Caramels was included when I ordered candy wrappers.  The ingredients are basic, and the instructions are simple, yet the caramels are utterly sublime.  They taste a lot like See’s Candies chocolate lollipops but with a chewy caramel texture.  I made a few slight modifications like adding a little bit of cinnamon and a finishing salt.  Adding 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon provides a hint of cinnamon without overpowering the chocolate.
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Chocolate Caramels

Makes a 9×9 inch pan of caramels.  The number of caramels will depend on the size that you cut them.
(from Caramel Wrappers.com)

Ingredients

3 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup cocoa (I prefer natural high fat cocoa powder)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finishing salt to sprinkle on top (optional, Maldon Sea Salt Flakes is always one of my favorites)

Directions

  1. Butter a 9×9 inch pan or line it with parchment paper.  I prefer using parchment paper as it makes it easy to remove the caramels from the pan.
  2. Mix the sugar, light corn syrup, cocoa, butter, and whipping cream in a heavy, large saucepan.
  3. Boil, stirring constantly until a candy thermometer reaches 248°F.  If you want slightly softer caramels, cook the caramels to 246°F.  Don’t boil the mixture too vigorously, otherwise the caramel will burn.  Also stir the mixture constantly and don’t take your eye off of it to keep it from developing hot spots and burning.  It will take a while (15 minutes or more) for the caramel to reach the right temperature so just keep stirring.  Your patience will be rewarded.
  4. Take a caramel off the heat, and quickly, but carefully whisk in the vanilla and cinnamon (be careful as the vanilla may cause the caramel to bubble up a bit).
  5. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan.
  6. Sprinkle sea salt on top of the caramels.
  7. When cool, cut into small squares with a buttered knife or pizza cutter and wrap in waxed caramel/taffy wrap or waxed paper. I really like the convenience and look of cellophane candy wrappers.

Note:  The caramels will keep for two weeks in an airtight container at room temperature and longer if refrigerated.  Bring them to room temperature before eating.