These are the bars I’ve been making. They’re from what was supposed to be the May “travel” issue of Bon Appétit — an issue they seem to have hastily renamed “Recipes to Transport You” — where they were originally imagined for a multistate road trip. Oh, the irony! I almost couldn’t bring myself to tear out the recipe. But I’m so glad I did.
The thing is that while we’re not traveling far, there actually have been a lot of excursions. Our family has spent more hours exploring our own backyard and the national park around us in the past two months than in any spring I can remember. Hikes and bike rides have become a daily pastime. And like so many of you, we are doing these outings with young kids.
My parents taught me that there is no shame in bribing reluctant children into outdoor activity. My sister and I hiked many mountains for the promise of a Snickers bar, and my dad never took us skiing without a pocketful of “head bonk medicine” — Rolos — at the ready. And so, lately, I have taken to baking double batches of excursion bars.
They’re not altogether unhealthy. In fact, the reason these bars are so satisfying is that they’re nutrient-dense enough to offer some lasting energy, but still tempting enough to please a sweet tooth. They feature the crunch of walnuts, the toasty snap of oats, the chew of raisins, and the gentle melting of chocolate. They keep us putting one foot in front of the other.
As I write to you, my fifth batch of these is cooling on the counter. I’ve learned a few things along the way. The original recipe called for more sugar, but I don’t think you need it. I’ve cut it here, and while I think brown sugar is best, you can substitute maple syrup, white sugar, or honey in the same proportion. It will change the texture and flavor a bit, but it’s not a deal breaker.
The original recipe called for mixed dried fruit and mixed nuts and seeds, which I didn’t like. In my opinion, walnuts, raisins, and chocolate are king, though I’m sure there are other trios out there (macadamia nut-white chocolate-Craisin?). Just be sure to stick with the general ratios if you deviate.
One more thing: the original recipe was for cookies, but I found the dough just fell apart and they were difficult to shape — that’s how these became bars.
Makes one 8-by-8-inch pan, 16 squares
1½ cups walnuts, broken into pieces
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the walnuts and oats on a baking sheet and toast, stirring around once, for 8-10 minutes, or until golden. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool. (Don’t skip the cooling, or later on the heat will melt the chocolate chips.)
Meanwhile, mix together the egg, melted butter, brown sugar, vanilla, salt, and baking soda. Stir in the cooled nut and oat mixture, then stir in the raisins, chocolate chips, and flour. Spread the batter evenly into an 8-by-8-inch baking dish.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the batter is just cooked through. Cool, cut into bars, and you’ll be ready for your next excursion.