It doesn't matter if it's a three-course meal on the grill, a simple barbecue, or an impromptu picnic, summer outdoor eating lends a magical feeling to food. Even unwrapping and eating a popsicle, trying to keep up with its melting, is such a treat.
And because I like to get out and go, energy bars are always a convenient and oh-so-portable option for heading off to the park or making longer treks by plane or car. When I'm hungry and busy, and there is no other food in sight, an energy bar eaten on a park bench in the sunshine exceeds haute cuisine.
I've written recipes for energy bars in past posts, including my rendition of homemade LARA bars, but the other day I decided to tackle another of my favorite ready-made bars, Clif bars. I like them a lot, and so does my husband, but the $1.69-per-bar cost is a bit much considering how much we like to have them around.
Clif bars are chewy and soft, similar to an under-baked oatmeal cookie. Looking at the ingredients list on the wrapping, brown rice syrup and oats are two of the main ingredients in all the bars. Also on the list are some scary scientific additives that I'd rather do without, along with a weird soy aftertaste. So rather than add any soy protein powders or the like, I decided to keep the ingredients simple and readily available (as well as pronounceable).
I tried a baked option first, combining several recipes into one and swapping out a number of the ingredients for high protein nuts and some whole grain. I was thinking I could under-bake the bars slightly to get the chewiness (it didn't include any eggs). The results were tolerable, but extremely dense--arguably an edible enima. Thankfully, Nick thinks they are delicious, so all is not lost.
Two things prompted the success of my second batch. First, I had eaten some of the raw cookie dough. It was delicious, far more so than the finished prodict, and much closer to the flavor of Clif bars. Second, my mother phoned to ask for a recommendation from my No-Bake Cookie Cookbook (all of the recipes are cooked in minutes on the stove as opposed to baked in the oven). This got me thinking about no-bake cookies in general. It was shortly thereafter that I had my lightbulb moment: Clif bars may be cooked, but I was pretty sure they were not baked.
So I went back to the drawing board and, using some of my no-bake cookie recipes as reference, concocted a no-bake Clif bar. Yum! While not exactly the same, it is pretty darn close. Plus it's far less expensive--and no yucky aftertaste. Enjoy.
Homemade Cliff Bars (no bake!)
There is plenty of room for variation here, so let your mind and tastebuds run wild. I have a few variation ideas to get you started. And yes, you can definitely double this recipe and press into a 13x9-inch pan insteads of an 8-inch pan.
1 and 1/4 cups crisp rice cereal (e.g., I like Erwhon Crisp Brown, but Rice Krispies are fine)
1 cup uncooked quick-cooking oats
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (flaxseed meal)1/4 cup finely chopped dried fruit (e.g., raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, etc.)
1/4 cup finely chopped nuts or seeds (pepitas are great)
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup nut or seed butter of your choice (e.g., peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine the rice cereal, oats, flaxseed meal, dried fruit, and nuts in a large bowl.
Combine the syrup and nut butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until melted and well-blended (alternatively microwave in small microwave-safe bowl 30-60 seconds until melted). Stir in vanilla until blended.
Pour nut butter mixture over cereal mixture, stirring until coated (use a wooden spoon at first, then get your hands in it. It will be sticky, but this way you can really coat everything. Just scrape off your hands when you're done). Press mixture firmly into an 8-inch square pan (sprayed with nonstick cooking spray) using a large square of wax paper (really tamp it down). Cool in pan on a wire rack and chill at least 30 minutes to help it set. Cut into 12 bars. (Wrap bars tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator).
Chocolate Chip Cookie
Replace the dried fruit with an equal amount of semisweet miniature chocolate chips (or carob chips). Combine the cereal mixture with the syrup mixture, then let the combined mixture stand 10 minutes before adding the chips.
Use chopped cranberries for the dried fruit and raw pepitas for the nuts/seeds. Use either honey or brown rice syrup.
Peanut Butter Cookie
Use chopped dates for the dried fruit and dry roasted peanuts for the nuts. Use honey, or half honey-half molasses for the syrup and peanut butter for the nut butter.
Will You Cherry Me?
Use chopped dried tart cherries for the fruit and lightly salted roasted almonds for the nuts. Use any nut butter (almond butter is great, but I know, a bit pricey--but worth it!), and add 1/4 teaspoon almond extract.
Use chopped dried apples for the fruit and rice syrup or honey for the syrup. Be sure to add the cinnamon option, and use toasted walnuts or pecans for the nuts.