May 5, 2009
I have never been particularly drawn to energy bars and their spooky ingredients lists, but then I discovered the hugely popular Lärabars while in New York, and they won me over quickly.
If you've yet to make their acquaintance, here's what you need to know: Lärabars (I just ignore the umlaut and say "larabar") are compact but tender energy bars made of ground dates mixed with nuts and other flavorings -- spices, dried fruits, coconut, cocoa powder... -- but no added sweetener.
They come with a string of honor badges (non-gmo, gluten-free, raw, vegan, and the list goes on) and in many different flavors, each involving but a handful of ingredients, all from the normal world. It probably won't surprise you to learn that I am especially fond of the Jŏcalat line, which features chocolate prominently.
The downside of such simplicity, for the company who sells them* at least, is that it doesn't take a girl very long to think, "Hm, I could probably make my own." Lärabars are not easily available in Paris** and I am not a proponent of individually packaged anything, so the idea was altogether appealing.
I started with organic date paste and Medjool dates, to which I added a mix of nuts, a touch of cardamom, cinnamon, and salt, and for the obligatory chocolate fix, cocoa powder and cacao nibs. I played it by ear, adjusting the quantities until the texture felt right and the flavor was to my liking, and let the mixture set in the refrigerator overnight. The resulting bars were slightly chunkier than the original, full-flavored, chewy with crunchy bits, and absolutely delicious.
The recipe below is completely open to variations and substitutions to emulate your own favorite or come up with your ideal bar, and I hope you'll report back if you make a winning version. You can check the original flavors on the Lärabar website for inspiration, and refer to Camilla's post for further suggestions.
* Lärabars were introduced in 2003 by an independant company based in Denver, but that company was bought over by General Mills last summer. It seems the founder, Lara Merriken, plans to stay on board.
** I noticed the other day that Rose Bakery sells them at 2€50 a pop.
Homemade Chocolate Lärabars
- 50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) date paste, diced (see note)
- 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) mixed nuts (I used a mix that includes Brazil nuts, pistachios, cashews, almonds, and hazelnuts)
- the seeds from 2 green cardamom pods
- 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) Medjool dates (about 4), pitted (if these are unavailable, substitute regular dried dates, or use all date paste)
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- a good pinch salt
- 1 rounded tablespoon cacao nibs (not chocolate covered)
Makes 5 or 6 bars.
In the bowl of a sturdy blender or food processor, combine the diced date paste, nuts, and cardamom, and process in short pulses until the nuts are chopped to small bits (but not powdered) and blended with the paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and process in short pulses until the mixture comes together.
Grease the bottom and sides of a small rectangular container (I use this small, 18 x 12.5 cm / 7-by-5-inch baking dish, but you could also use a recycled takeout container of these approximate dimensions) with vegetable oil. Turn the date mixture out into the container, cover with a piece of parchment paper or recycled food wrapper (this is to prevent the mixture from sticking to your hand and spoon) and pack the mixture down using your hand and then the back of the spoon, in order to fill the container in a smooth, even layer.
Transfer to the fridge to set for a few hours or preferably overnight, then slice into five or six bars, or the number of servings you prefer. They will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for about a week. Use the same piece of parchment paper to wrap the bar you want to take with you, then save and reuse it to wrap the other bars on subsequent days. You could also consider buying one of those über-cute reusable snack bags.
Note: Date paste can be found at natural foods stores, or in North African or Middle Eastern shops. If the paste seems dry and hard, cut it into slices and soak for an hour in a little cold water to soften, turning every now and then. Drain well before using (save the date water to use in smoothies, breads, or sorbets).
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