Have you looked at the ingredients list on your average commercial energy bar recently? If so, you’ve likely found some dubiously unpronounceable chemicals, way too high energy density for the average person (or even the average athlete), a truckload of added sugars or sugar alcohols, and possibly even partially-hydrogenated oils (better known as trans-fats). All this for upwards of $4 per bar! Not really my kind of bargain.
I’ve been interested in baking chemistry for a while, particularly since my significant other enrolled me in a baking class as an anniversary present. I learned how to make rather spectacular cakes and confections; they are far from conducive to good nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices, but gosh are they ever fun. There’s also the bit about knowing exactly what goes into those delicate little buttercream roses that makes good incentive to steer clear…here’s a hint: the only thing that’s actually derived from nature is the 4 pounds of powdered sugar per cake. Just for the icing. Yep. But I also learned about how ingredients chemically react with one another in the cooking process to yield certain qualities in baked goods, and how to optimize them for the desired outcome.
I wanted to take what I have learned about the science and chemistry of dessert baking and apply it into making a great-tasting, greatly nutritious energy bar for sports and healthy snacks on the go. I’ve been tweaking this recipe for over a year, and I think I finally have it honed down to near-perfect, gluten-free, easy to make bars. I tried a lot of types that required baking, no baking, different sorts of flours and fillers before settling on this. It makes a dense, moist but not overly chewy bar that’s filling and easy to eat on the run (or, as is more common in my case, on the bike).
A couple disclaimers: if you need your food medically-grade gluten-free, be sure to buy GF oatmeal and carobs especially, and double-check everything else for safety. I know most people with gluten intolerance conditions are already well aware of the necessary precautions, but if you happen to be cooking for someone else and not completely familiar with gluten-free ingredients, always err on the side of caution. The carob chips are more of a personal preference thing; I like their nutty sweetness better than chocolate chips and I found that even bittersweet chocolate made the whole bar too sweet for my taste, and the carob chips seem to set up better and not get melty when the bar is in a bike jersey pocket against my back for a couple hours. These can be made vegan by substituting the flesh of a medium-sized avocado for the eggs and your favorite plant-based protein supplement instead of whey protein powder. For the fruit and nut mix, my local grocery carries a bulk mix that includes almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, dried cherries, and cranberries that just tastes super. Pumpkin seeds also make a great addition; just keep the total around 1 cup and it will be delicious.
Sara’s Oatmeal Energy Bars
- 4 c old-fashioned oatmeal, dry
- 3 scoops vanilla whey protein powder
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 c granulated stevia (or other sugar-alternative sweetener)
- 3/4 c carob chips
- 1 c dried fruit & nut mix, unsalted and unsweetened
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 ripe bananas
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3.5 oz plain applesauce (one mini container)
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit
- Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. Thoroughly mash bananas and blend in wet ingredients, beating until smooth
- Combine wet and dry until the mixture is uniform. It will be dense and wet.
- Line a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with parchment paper. Spoon mixture into the pan, patting with a spatula to spread and level.
- Bake uncovered 25-30 minutes until top is golden and an inserted knife comes out clean.
- Turn out immediately on a wire rack and cool completely.
- Peel off parchment and cut into 1.25″ x 4.5″ rectangles. Makes 24 servings.
- Cool completely and wrap individually in wax paper or saran wrap. Store in the refrigerator. Grab and go for sports and snacks!
Nutrition information for 1 bar serving (good estimates, depending on fruits and nuts used):
- Total calories: 131
- Calories from fat: 36
- Carbohydrates: 20 g
- Fat: 4 g
- Protein: 6 g
- Sodium: 57 mg