Apologies for this post being a few days late, but my love for LARA bars demanded several tries and multiple flavor variations before posting—I really wanted to get this as close to the real thing as possible.
Whether you’ve heard of them or not, LARA BARS are one of the very best energy bars on the market, largely because they are made from a short list of real food ingredients: nuts, fruits and spices. In addition to their inarguable yummy-ness, they boast the following assets:
Unprocessed - Raw - Non-GMO - Gluten Free - Dairy Free - Soy Free - Vegan - Kosher.
For comparison sake, take a look at the Lara bar ingredients and the ingredients for another apple-ish flavored bar on the market (made by Powerbar):
LARABAR: Apple Pie Flavor (from http://www.larabar.com/)Dates, Walnuts, Unsweetened Apples, Almonds, Raisins, Cinnamon
Powerbar: Apple Cinnamon Flavor (from http://www.powerbar.com/)High Fructose Corn Syrup With Grape And Pear Juice Concentrate, Oat Bran, Maltodextrin, Milk Protein Isolate, Rice Crisps (Milled Rice, Rice Bran), Brown Rice Flour, Almond Butter, Apple Powder, Natural Flavor, Glycerin, Soy Protein Isolate, Cinnamon and Peanut Flour.CONTAINS ALMOND, MILK, PEANUT AND SOY INGREDIENTS.
The only downside to LARA bars is that once you try them, you love them, and you’ve got to have them. And at about $1.60 to $2.00 per bar, times three family members (yes, baby likes small bites of them, too), it starts to get pricey. Hence my ersatz, but equally enchanting, rendition.
Just me and my food processor…
A few raw ingredients, and no cooking required? Replication seemed possible. I found a handful of blog posts with recipes for homemade LARA-type bars, but they didn’t sound like they could possibly be correct.
The primary problem was that quite a few recipes pushed for a one to three ratio of fruit to nuts. I tried it, and my suspicions were correct: far too many nuts, nowhere near enough fruit (an easy give-away: if there were so many nuts, it would always be listed as the first ingredient on the LARA BAR packaging; it is not).
In addition, the specifications for each of the steps (how fine to chop/process the nuts and fruits, how to blend, etc) were vague.
After a few delicious rounds of testing, I think I’ve got a good facsimile; Kevin agrees, and baby Nick kept pleading, “More! More!”.
So here’s what to do for two bars (and this can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, etc; it only depends on the size of your food processor). I’m using cherry as my main example, but I’ve listed some variations below. You can be as creative as you like with the combinations.
Raw or Toasty—It’s Up to You
The Raw Foods Movement is fascinating, but if the raw angle does not matter to you, and you have a bit of extra time, consider lightly toasting the nuts; it boosts the flavor significantly (but truth be told, I still like the raw flavor best). Or, if you like salty-sweet, you can opt for roasted, lightly salted nuts—yum!
There is no rule saying you have to shape these into bars; you can shape them into little truffle shapes or squares (see photo 6). It's a great candy alternative (and this comes from someone with a not-so-secret affection for sour fruit jelly bellies).
Very Cherry Bars (use as a template for almost any combination)
LARA BARS use a multi-layer package that keeps out UV light and oxygen, which, in turn, maintains freshness without the use of preservatives. I use plain old plastic wrap and my refrigerator, then pop one in my bag when I’m ready to go.
1/4 cup chopped dates (roughly chopped whole fresh dates; see my note about pre-chopped below)
1/4 cup dried cherries or dried cranberries
1/3 cup whole pecans, almonds or walnuts
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Set out two pieces of plastic wrap for shaping and wrapping the bars. Do this first; you’ll have sticky fingers when you need it.
Place the dates and cherries in a food processor. Pulse until processed to a paste (photo 1). Transfer paste to a medium bowl (don’t clean processor).
Add the nuts to the processor and pulse until finely chopped (photo 2). Add the nuts, along with the cinnamon, to the bowl with the fruit paste (photo 3). Use your fingers to knead the nuts into the paste (just keep squishing, it’s fun; brings back memories of play-dough; see photo 4).
Divide mixture in half. Place each half on each of one of the sheets of plastic wrap. Wrap the plastic around each bar and start squishing into a bar shape form, 3 and 1/2 inches long, 1 inch wide and 3/4-inch thick); press against countertop to flatten bottom side, flattening top side and ends with flat of hand (photo 5) Tightly wrap the plastic around each bar and store in the refrigerator. Makes 2 bars.
Nutrition per Serving (1 bar): Calories 207; Fat 9.4 g (sat .8g, mono 5.2g, poly 3.1g); Protein 3.9g; Cholesterol 0mg; Carbohydrate 24.9g; Sodium 0.4mg. (Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Note about using pre-chopped dates: Pre-chopped dried dates are much cheaper than whole dates, and sometimes are the only option available at the supermarket, depending on where you live. However, they are typically coated with oat flour (to prevent sticking), and sometimes a bit of sugar, too. They are too dry and hard to work as is in this recipe, but with a bit of tweaking, they will work just fine. To make them usable for larabar purposes, place them in a small bowl and cover with warm water (not hot or boiling water; this will make them turn to mush). Let stand 3 to 5 minutes until softened; then drain and pat dry. Not only will this soften the dates, it will remove any oat flour and/or sugar).
A Few Ideas for Variations:
Apricot-Almond: Use 6 tablespoons coarsely chopped dried apricots and 2 tablespoons date (to measure 1/2 cup total); use almonds for the nuts.
Tropical: Use tropical fruit bits (these come pre-packaged at the supermarket); use raw cashews for the nuts. Add 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest, and 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice to the mix.
PB & J (cheap and delicious!): Use 1/4 cup dried cherries or cranberries and 1/4 cup raisins or dates; use raw or roasted peanuts (lightly salted or unsalted) for the nuts.
Blueberry Bliss: Use 1/4 cup dried blueberries and 1/4 cup dates; use almonds for the nuts. Add 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, and a drop of almond extract to the mix.
Cashew Cookie Dough: Reverse the proportions of fruit to nuts--Use 1/3 cup dates for the fruit and 1/2 cup raw cashews for the nuts.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough: Same as cashew cookie dough, but add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, pinch of cinnamon and 1/2 ounce very finely chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate to the mix.
Pistachio Heaven: Same as cashew cookie dough, but use raw pistachios and add a tiny drop of almond extract.
Peanut Butter Cookie Dough: Same as cashew cookie dough but use raw or roasted (lightly salted) peanuts for the nuts.
Dates Nutrition Notes:
Dates are included in a majority of the LARA Bars, so I thought I’d mention a few facts about these wonderful fruits.
I love dates because I love brown sugar, and dates taste like brown sugar candy--hence they are a delicious and healthy way to curb my sweet tooth. One date has a mere 23 calories and is loaded with nutrition. Dates are an excellent source of carbohydrates (great for pre- or post-workout), contain no cholesterol, are high in fiber, and boast a wide range of nutrients, including calcium (32 mg per serving), Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Iron, Zinc, Copper, and Manganese.
Dates also contain vitamins A1, B1, B2, B3, B5, C and more than 20 different amino acids; they help in the digestion and assimilation of carbohydrates, and help to regulate blood sugar levels and fatty acids content in our bodies.