Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray.
Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter or oil, liquid sweeteners and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry (and peanut butter, if you’re using it) until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. (A piece of plastic wrap can help with this, as you press down on the back of it.)
Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges — don’t be afraid to get a little color on the tops too. They’ll still seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the center of the pan but do not worry, they’ll set completely once completely cool.
Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. (Alternately, after about 20 minutes you can use your parchment “sling” to lift and remove the bars, and place them in their paper on the rack to cool the rest of the way. This can speed the process up.) [In addition to cooling them completely, I’m thinking 30 minutes in the fridge might really get the “glue” to set enough that there’s no chance they’d come apart. You can still store them outside the fridge when you’re done and they still stay together. ]
Once cool, a serrated knife (or bench knife) to cut the bars into squares. (I cut mine into 16 squares, but I wanted something hearty. For snacking, I’d cut them in half again.) [Updating to note, as many had crumbling issues:] If bars seem crumbly, chill the pan of them further in the fridge for 30 minutes which will fully set the “glue”, then cut them cold.
To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container. In humid weather, it’s best to store bars in the refrigerator. They also freeze well.
*Of note: The original recipe calls for something called “sticky bun sugar” which can be made at home with sugar, butter and corn syrup. It is for this reason that corn syrup is listed within one ingredient but also separately, and I used all butter rather than two different fats. Whether the corn syrup can be entirely replaced with honey or maple syrup or the butter can be entirely replaced with a healthier oil is worth auditioning, I just didn’t. Yet. I can tell you this: as is, this is the best granola bar I’ve ever eaten.
**Quick rolled oats are thinner, lighter. They cook faster. In this case, they’ll “glue” a bit better. If you only have old-fashioned or slow-cooking ones, pulse them a little in the blender so the oats break up a little.
***Suggestions: Dried cranberries, apricots, pecans, sunflower seeds, coconut, walnuts, sesame seeds, pepitas, dried pples or even chocolate chips, flat seeds, wheat germ, rice crispies. My mix: 1/2 cup wheat germ, 1 cup dried cherries, 1 cup walnuts, 1/2 cup pecans and 1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut flakes. Because my pieces were all pretty coarse, I pulsed them in the food processor a few times to break it up a little, though this isn’t necessary if you don’t mind yours chunkier.
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