There are a lot of books written about cravings – how you need to re-press them, not give in, or maybe they’re an indication of an underlying problem. But when you’re craving sweet, you’re craving sweet, and weak humans that we are, sometimes it’s best to give in and be satiated. Sometimes it’s not worth it, like when I – a lactose-intolerant person – give in to a big piece of buttery-creamy cake and pay for it later, but that’s what keeps me from doing it over and over. And sometimes it very much is worth it. My trick is to make the treat something that seems so decadent and rich but really is much better for me than, say, store-bought commercial ice cream. And by making it yourself, there’s a delayed gratification system in place as well as a homemade quality and love in the food that just isn’t there in Haagen-Daaz or Sara Lee.
So I was craving a mix of sweet and savoury – something chewy and dense, but not dry or soggy. Cookies seemed too mini, and cake seemed too texturally boring, which left oats. I was craving oats, with brown sugar and butter for richness, nuts for crunch, and something fruity like raisins or dried cranberries for punches of sweetness in the batter. What I settled on (after two days of cravings) was a recipe for Apple-Pecan Bars that got turned into this:
Honey Almond Bars
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup honey
1 egg (or grind 1 tbsp flax seed in a food processor or blender. Then add 1/4 cup of water and blend for 5 minutes more)
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup mango purée (about 1 mango, flesh scooped out and blended – a little less than 1 cup is fine. You can also use apple sauce, or peeled and puréed pear. Banana would be too strong a flavour)
1 cup chickpea flour (regular flour works fine, but chickpea flour tastes deliciously nutty in this)
1/2 cup rice flour (again, regular flour is fine)
1 tsp freshly grated cinnamon (or ground)
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 mango, flesh scooped out and chopped into 1/2″ cubes or slivers, or massacred as you see fit with a knife (mangoes are not cubes, after all…). Again, use apple or pear if you wish.
1/3 cup chopped almonds*
1/2 cup brown sugar (or 1/2 cup xylitol plus 1/2 tsp molasses. Note: Xylitol is a sugar substitute that hopefully has none of the side effects of aspartame, and definitely has none of the bitter aftertaste of stevia).
1/4 cup butter**
3 tbsp chickpea flour (or regular flour, or rolled oats ground to a powder)
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a large baking dish (about 9″ x 9″, but any will do. If you use a 13″ x 9″ dish you’ll have to bake the bars for less time, but they will be thinner. If you use an 8″ x 8″, bake them longer and expect them to be softer and thicker).
2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and honey until smooth, then beat in the egg (or blended flax seed). Stir in the almond extract and mango purée.
3. In a medium bowl combine the flours, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pour the flour mix into the bowl the butter/sugar/mango purée and stir to combine. Don’t over-stir or it will be dry. These are lazy person squares! Fold in the mango “cubes” and the first 1/3 cup chopped almonds and pour into greased baking dish.
4. To make the streusel, combine all ingredients in a bowl and use your fingertips to work the butter into the sugar, flour and all over the almonds. It should be crumbly. Sprinkle the topping over the batter in the baking dish and bake 40 minutes (check after 35 minutes. If you’re using a 9″ x 13″ pan, check after 25 minutes, and if you’re using an 8″ x 8″ pan, still check after 35 minutes, because 40 minutes is a long time at 350, and nuts burn easily).
5. Remember what I was saying about cravings? There’s a balance between “giving in” and “holding out”? Let the pan cool on a wire rack and then cut into 12 pieces, is what the original recipe says, but as you almost can see from the picture above, I did not let them cool, and I chose the best piece (not an edge) to try right away. The balance came in that I DID cut the contents of the baking dish into 25 bars. Because good things come in small packages, and I wouldn’t be tempted to eat a quarter of the thing at once. Frozen, even in these small (but still plenty big) portions, I could have a craving-satisfying treat out of the freezer for a long time to come. Of course, some did stay out of the freezer, and some got eaten more than one at a time, but that’s what a treat is for sometimes too. In the grand scheme of over-indulgent treats, these feel high up there but really are somewhere around sticking your feet in the ocean on a hot day.
*I buy natural almonds, soak them for 8 hours in cold water to remove the enzyme inhibitors, drain and rinse them, and dehydrate them on a baking sheet in a oven set to the lowest temperature with the door open until dry. They’re more flavourful if you toast them, but I like the health effects and digestibility of soaking the nuts, especially since the chickpea flour may be difficult on your stomach. Maximum nutrition, only slight loss of taste.
**I don’t usually cook with butter, but you need the flavour here. You could use a vegan margarine if you wanted, but I figure if I’d rather put something fairly natural into my body and get a little sick from being lactose-intolerant than put something as highly refined as soy-based, palm-based, or canola-based oils. Yes, some are better than others, but butter is pretty great.