Remember when you were young and wanted to share a recipe with someone, and you had to write it out for them? It took time and effort, and then the copied recipe would (probably) be dutifully tucked into a recipe collection to be used at a future date. When I was young, the most valued recipes I had and wanted were for sweets – chocolate chip cookies, pudding cakes, strawberry dessert – and I remember looking through my grandmother’s hand-written recipes for gumdrop cookies and chocolate pudding cake.
Now I have all those recipes online, plus a special few I have in word documents, ready to be emailed to recipe requesters.
And every now and I then I meet a blogger who puts her recipes online to share with the world in one fell swoop of a blog post. Wonderland Kitchen is the blog of a friend of a friend. Molly Sheridan is a music journalist and culinary adventurer. She’s into vegetarian cooking, bread baking, photo taking, cocktail making, and occasional music, she says. She also writes a series for Serious Eats, and this recipe for blueberry cereal bars is her first post there. So when I offered to do a recipe exchange with her (the modern day kind where I use her online posted recipe and see how it works out for me instead of the hand-given, hand-written version for a friend who tried it once and wanted the recipe) and she kindly accepted. I decided to make her DIY-blueberry cereal bars and she went with my honey-almond bars. I made her recipe gluten-free and she made mine gluten-ous(?).
Her Serious Eats series is a kind of “should you make it yourself, or buy the store-bought version” comparison. And my verdict on these cereal bars is that you should definitely make them yourself. They’re so satisfying and simple. I had to make them gluten-free, which required buying a bunch of odd ingredients like rice bran and quinoa flakes to replace the oats and wheat bran, and I used 1 cup of amaranth flour, 1/2 cup of rice flour, 1/2 cup of buckwheat flour, and replaced the milk with almond milk and the butter with soy-free earth balance. Despite all my efforts to mess it up (not really), the recipe was a great success.
The instructions may seem a bit complicated (I contemplated ignoring some of them and never mentioning it – rolling the dough to a certain thickness, folding lengthwise, and sealing the filling of rehydrated blueberries), but you can’t argue with results. And it’s not as though I wanted the recipe to fail. I’m happily snacking away on granola bars I made myself and can actually eat!!! They’re soft, but chewy, and the rice bran you sprinkle on top just before baking gives the exterior a great texture. They’d really be lesser bars without it.
Mind you, finding rice bran can be tricky. You need a good bulk store or specialty foods store. It’s worth it though. So fall down the rabbit hole, get a little lost in gluten-free or glutenous flours, and get onto the DIY cereal bandwagon. At least you know there will be good music when you get there.
DIY Blueberry Cereal Bars from Wonderland Kitchen in pictures:
makes 12 bars and takes about 2 hours total
For the Dough
1 cup amaranth flour, sieved
1/2 cup rice flour, sieved
1/2 cup buckwheat flour, sieved
1/2 tsp guar gum (or xanthan gum)
1/4 cup quinoa flakes (or buckwheat flakes)
1/4 cup rice bran
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) earth balance, cubed.
2/3 cups almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or seeds of 1 whole vanilla bean)
For the Filling
1 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup water
1 egg white plus 1 teaspoon cold water, for wash
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) rice bran, for sprinkling
Measure flours, guar gum, quinoa flakes, rice bran, brown sugar, baking power, salt, and cinnamon into the bowl of a large bowl. Whisk to combine and retain lightness of the gluten-free flours. Too much stirring knocks the wind right out of them.
Stir vanilla (or vanilla bean seeds) into the almond milk and add to the dry ingredients in a thin stream, stirring as you pour. Or do this in a stand mixer or food processor (as Molly recommends), but the less you stir/process, the better. Divide into two equal portions and flatten into 1/2-inch discs. Wrap each portion in plastic and refrigerate until firm enough to roll out, about two hours.
To make the filling, place dried fruit and water into a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently, covered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer fruit and water to a food processor or blender and process until broken down into a rough purée. Transfer filling to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until needed.
When ready to assemble the bars, heat oven to 350°F with rack in the middle position.
Place one portion of the dough in the center or a large piece of wax or parchment paper. Place second sheet of paper on top and roll into an 8×12-inch rectangle, turning regularly to prevent sticking. Cut dough in half the long way to create two 4×12-inch sheets.
Down the 12-inch center line of each piece of dough, spread an even 1-inch strip of filling (about 2 1/2 tablespoons). Using the edge of the parchment or wax paper as an aide, fold one long side of the dough over the filling, covering it slightly more than half way. Place paper on a cutting board and cut through the wax or parchment paper between the two logs using a sharp knife so they separate and you can move them apart. Brush a light coating of the egg wash over the remaining edge with a pastry brush and, again using the parchment to help keep things even, fold the second dough edge so that it overlaps the first by 1/4 inch. Press gently to seal and flip the bars over so that they are seam-side down. Cut each log into three 4-inch portions.
Coat each bar with a thin layer of the egg wash and sprinkle tops with rice bran. Leave bars on parchment strips and transfer to baking sheet.
Repeat steps five through seven with remaining dough and filling. Bake bars for 16-18 minutes, until just golden. Transfer to a wire rack until cool. Store at room temperature in an air-tight container.
Tips: I rolled out the dough between wax paper because it saved me from having to put down a layer of flour on the counter – always a messy experience. With gluten-free flours your dough is also usually more crumbly than with regular flours (all the starch and rice involved), so the wax helped it all stay together too, especially for the rolling (the recipe suggests this part. Yay, recipe).
When I had to slice the dough in half and finally remove it from the wax paper, it actually cooperated. I had to tear the wax in half to get it to un-peel, but all was well.
Because I did it gluten-free and, more importantly, butter-free, I didn’t chill the dough to help it stay together. I think this would have just made it more crumbly. But with a regular flour dough, it’s a good idea to chill and give yourself a flakier, more tender pastry-type result.
My next experiment will be using coconut sugar to make the dough. It should be a 1:1 replacement for the brown sugar. I’ll do this to lower the glycemic index and make myself feel better about eating these for breakfast. I could use honey but that will change the consistency of the batter. I was ready to add more flour to make the batter stickier if necessary, but using heaping cups or half cups of the flours ended up working out just fine.
I almost used dried figs instead of blueberries because they’re so much cheaper, but I bought the blueberries. They’re a real treat. Oh, and I didn’t blend them after boiling them because my roommate was asleep. So I chopped the blueberries before rehydrating them. It worked fine. The texture was just a little coarse. No big deal. I like it. It was chewier.