Energy bars better than the store variety

By Jackie Burrell / Contra Costa (California) Times

Fresh air, gorgeous views and mile after mile of rugged, eminently walkable wilderness — there are few forms of exercise more enticing than a trail hike.

Or it would be, if you weren’t nibbling a high-sugar, additive-laden, uber-expensive, store-bought energy bar — or what Camilla Saulsbury calls “a peanut butter sponge with a chocolate Ex-lax-like coating.” You can do better than that, says the author of “Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook.” It takes less than half an hour to make several dozen bars. You can store them in the freezer, fridge or backpack. And the difference in taste, texture and cost is pretty shocking.

Saulsbury spent her childhood hiking the trails and backwoods of Northern California and her graduate school years holed up in a library with a stash of processed power bars. They tasted terrible.

“I was living out of my backpack. The taste factor started to get to me real soon — and they weren’t providing energy,” Saulsbury says. “I thought, I can make something like this. So we made granola bars — oats and some glue to hold it together. It cost so much less and was so much better tasting.”

Soon, Saulsbury was making all sorts of riffs on the energy bar theme: Clif Bar taste-alikes without the soy protein isolates, a byproduct of the tofu industry; Kind Bar look-alikes that have all your favorite dried fruits and nuts; crisp, puck-shaped discs of nutty-seedy splendor and energy bars filled with banana chips, citrus zest, quinoa flakes and even kale.

We whipped out a batch of her Friend Bars, which emulate the Kind variety. When you make your own, you control the ingredients, of course. So our “Friend Bars” were full of dried apricots, pecans and pepitas, but yours might be made with dried apples, pecans and cinnamon. Or shredded coconut and almonds. Or ground ginger, almonds, sesame seeds and dates.

“Sometimes, simple is best,” she says. “Growing up, we had a VW camper with a pop-up top for the five of us. We’d go to Samuel P. Taylor Park or all the way up to Canada. We’d take a big container of almonds and raisins, protein from the nuts and then simple carbohydrates from the dried fruit.”

But if you want to get a little fancy with minimal effort, she suggests mixing up a batch of her Paleo Pucks, nuts and dried fruit held together with egg white and a tablespoon of honey or maple syrup. “You bake them in a muffin tin,” she says. “Super simple. Nice to grab.”

Highly addictive. And good for you, too.

Friend Bars

Makes 10 bars.

11⁄2 C chopped assorted raw or toasted nuts and/or seeds, such as cashews, sunflower seeds, peanuts, pecans

1⁄3 C crisp brown rice cereal

1⁄2 C chopped dried fruit, such as raisins, apricots, berries, dates

1⁄3 C organic light corn syrup or brown rice syrup

1⁄8 tsp fine sea salt, optional

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil or parchment paper, letting the ends protrude by a couple of inches. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together the nuts or seeds, cereal and dried fruit.

Add syrup and salt; stir until evenly coated.

Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Place a large piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap (coated with cooking spray) atop bar mixture; use it to spread, flatten and very firmly compact the mixture in the pan. Discard the paper.

Bake for 17 to 20 minutes or until slightly browned at the edges, but still somewhat soft at the center. Cool 20 minutes in pan on a rack.

Lift mixture from pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 10 bars. Cool completely. Tightly wrap the bars individually in plastic wrap. Keeps 3 days at room temperature, up to 2 weeks refrigerated and up to 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container.

Variation 1: For Apple Pecan Bars, use chopped dried apples and pecans; add 3⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon along with the syrup.

Variation 2: For Ginger Sesame Bars, use 1 cup almonds or cashews and 1⁄3 cup sesame seeds for the nuts and seeds, and chopped dates for the fruit. Add 1 teaspoon ground ginger along with the syrup.

Note: Do not substitute agave nectar, honey or maple syrup for the specified syrups, which are essential for binding the ingredients.

— Camilla V. Saulsbury, “Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook” (Lake Isle Press, $16.95, 152 pages)

Paleo Power Pucks

Makes 10.

1 lg egg white

1 TBS honey, agave nectar or maple syrup

1⁄4 tsp cinnamon

1⁄4 tsp fine sea salt

1 C chopped nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, almonds

1⁄2 C seeds, such as sunflower, pumpkin, hemp hearts

1⁄3 C chopped dried fruit, such as dates, prunes, apricots

Line 10 cups of a muffin pan with paper or foil liners. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a bowl, whisk egg white, honey, cinnamon and salt until blended. Add nuts, seeds and dried fruit, stirring until completely combined.

Divide mixture among the muffin cups. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Tightly wrap pucks individually in plastic wrap. Keeps 5 days at room temperature, up to 2 weeks refrigerated and up to 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container.

Variation 1: For Tropical Paleo Pucks, add 2 teaspoons grated lime zest to the egg white mixture and substitute ground ginger for the cinnamon. Replace the dried fruit with 1⁄2 cup shredded coconut.

Variation 2: For Rosemary Golden Raisin Pucks, omit the cinnamon, add 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves and 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest; use golden raisins for the fruit.

Variation 3: For Chocolate Paleo Pucks, omit the cinnamon; add 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder to the egg-white mixture. Replace the dried fruit with 1⁄4 cup dates and 3 tablespoons cacao nibs.

— “Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook”

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