Tuesday, April 28, 2015

PB+J Larabars

Years ago, a couple months after my first niece was born, I visited my sister in Wisconsin to meet the baby. Of course it was a wonderful visit: my first in-person experience as an auntie and a crash course on how babies work (turns out they pee a LOT). However, I quickly realized that while the baby got to eat constantly (hence the urinating), the adults in the household seemed to be subsiding on a limited diet of espresso. 



This was somewhat of a struggle for me (I didn't even drink coffee then!) until, luckily, I discovered a box of Cherrie Pie Larabars. If you haven't encountered a Larabar before, they are very simple snack bars made primarily of dates, with dried fruits, nuts, and sometimes chocolate mixed in to vary the flavor and texture. Packed with fiber from the fruits and protein from the nuts, they make for a great breakfast on the go, pre- or post-workout snack, or meal replacement when your day is controlled by an infant.

The beauty of the Larabar is its simplicity (only 3-5 ingredients for most flavors), so why pay $1-$2 per bar when you can make them at home for a fraction of that? Start with dates (they provide natural sweetness and bind everything together) and go from there, depending on your tastes. 



You will need a food processor for this (or a very high-powered blender) to incorporate everything together. I start with 8 ounces of dates and add between 1-2 cups of nuts and dried fruit to create my mix (here we use figs and peanuts for a PB&J version). Everything gets dumped into the food processor bowl and processed until it comes together. You may need to stop a few times to prod the mixture around; it should look uniform and stick together when you pinch it.



There's a lot of forgiveness in forming the bars. In fact, you could skip this all together and use a scoop to just make date balls. I like to press my mixture into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper. If you plan on cutting into bars, as I have, it helps to freeze the loaf for 30 minutes or so to make slicing easier.



Okay, so wrapping them in pieces of parchment paper and securing them with washi tape is a bit of a pain in the ass, but you need something to keep them from sticking together. Plastic wrap would work fine too.

Store them in an airtight container in the fridge (if you like them firmer) or in the pantry at room temperature. Everything here has a pretty long shelf-life; I've kept them in the fridge for months.



Experiment with whatever nuts and fruits strike your fancy; if there's a particular Larabar you like, check out the ingredients and try to replicate!

Peanut Butter + Jelly Larabars
makes 12-16 bars, depending on size

  • 8 ounces medjool dates, pitted (about 10-12 dates)
  • 8 ounces dried mission figs* (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts (I used unsalted)
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt** 

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a standard S-shaped blade. Process until all ingredients are pureed together; depending on your preference you can leave small bits of nuts for crunch or process further to work them in. The mixture should hold together when pinched.

Line a loaf pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil; dump mixture into pan. Using your hands or a flat-bottomed measuring cup, press mixture firmly into the pan and create an even top. (In place of this step, you can simply use a cookie scoop to make date balls - a bite-sized snack!)

Place pan in freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. 

Lift parchment paper out of pan, place on cutting board, and slice into bars with a sharp knife. 

Wrap individual bars in plastic wrap or parchment paper; store in a zip-loc bag or airtight container.

*The brand-name PB&J Larabars use cherries (which I love), but I had dried figs on hand. The end result tasted just like a peanut butter and jelly, and IMO, better than the Lara version.

**Don't omit the salt! You'll want to reduce this amount if you're using salted peanuts, but the saltiness really gives it that "peanut butter" taste.

My other favorite combinations to add in with the dates include cherry-cashew (1 cup of dried cherries, 1/2 cup of roasted cashews) and cherry-chocolate-peanut (1 cup of dried cherries, 1/2 cup of peanuts, 1/3 cup of dark chocolate chips).

Any other favorite flavors out there? 

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