These days, the packaged snack food industry has exploded into an $80 billion-a-year affair. According to David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, snack bars alone represent almost $7 billion in annual sales. People are quite literally living off packaged snacks.
Many of these snacks claim to be “healthy,” but I am skeptical of packaging claims. Besides, to me the concept of health is related not only to ingredients and daily allowance of sugar, fat and carbs, but also to the health of the planet. What about packaging? What about the process of making processed ingredients?
So I set out to make some popular packaged snack foods at home.
The most popular Kind Bar flavor is Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt, and, incidentally, this bar never carried the “healthy” label. A single bar has 200 calories, 15 grams of fat (3 grams saturated), 5 grams of sugar and 6 grams of protein. With my homemade recipe, I was able to get the calories, fat and sugar all down a bit.
What’s different about a homemade Cheez-It vs. the store-bought kind? The option to choose fresh ingredients. My recipe contains butter instead of vegetable oil, and fresh full-fat cheese, so even though you get more protein and fat per serving, the total calories remain the same (150 calories, the same as packaged Cheez-Its). Like the ingredients that go into them, these crackers won’t last for months in a dark corner of your pantry. However, I’m guessing this won’t be a problem; they are addictive.
When I started this DIY snack project, our house was most excited about the fruit gummies, particularly in choosing which forms we should use. You can buy a silicone candy form that will make exact replicas of the classic gummy bear, but silicone ice cube trays work just fine, or even a glass baking dish treated as a blank canvas to slice, dice or stamp out shapes.
You’re basically making Jell-O with a lot more heft and a natural juice base. The big difference is the gummies are glossier and less chewy than gummy bears or Welch’s Fruit Snacks. Commercial gummy snacks stay stiff and rubbery thanks to carnauba wax, also used in shoe polish, car wax and mascara. The wax is derived from a natural source (the carnauba palm tree, native to Brazil), but it is highly processed, and as a mom I just find that repulsive. My homemade versions weren’t as shelf-stable as a bag of Welch’s, but they get vacuumed up by little mouths anyway, so no need for stabilizers and wax.
Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Bars
These snack bars are so close to the original (Kind brand) that you might be able to fool some people.
3⁄4 C whole roasted, unsalted almonds
2⁄3 C roasted, unsalted peanuts
2⁄3 C coarsely chopped walnuts
1 C crisped brown rice cereal (may substitute puffed grain cereals such as millet or amaranth)
1⁄4 tsp kosher salt, plus more for finishing
1⁄4 C brown rice syrup
1 lg egg white, beaten
1⁄3 C (2 oz) bittersweet chocolate pieces/chips
1⁄2 tsp vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a quarter baking sheet (9 by 12 inches) with parchment paper, leaving some paper overhang (for easier extraction later).
Combine all the nuts, the cereal and the salt in a mixing bowl.
Gently heat the brown rice syrup until liquid, either in a microwave on MEDIUM-LOW for 20 seconds or on the stove top in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Pour the syrup over the nut mixture and stir until evenly coated, then stir in the egg white until evenly distributed. Transfer the mixture to the baking sheet, using the back of a spatula to compact the mixture into a slab, which may not fill quite to the edges.
Bake (middle rack) for about 15 minutes, or until starting to brown along the edges of the slab. Transfer to a wire rack to cool (on the sheet) for 20 minutes.
Use the parchment paper to lift the slab from the pan, transferring it to a cutting board. Cut into 16 bars of equal size. Let cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the chocolate drizzle: Combine the chocolate and oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on MEDIUM in 30-second increments, stirring in between, until the chocolate is melted.
Drizzle this over the bars in a crisscross pattern, then sprinkle lightly with a little salt. Allow the chocolate to set, at least 15 minutes, before serving or storing.
Make ahead: The bars, wrapped individually in parchment paper and kept in an airtight container, can be held at room temperature for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 1 month.
— From cookbook author and TheKitchn.com founder Sara Kate Gillingham. Tested by Sharon Hageman.
Makes 5 servings (80 to 90 small crackers)
You might run across skeptics who think you can’t make a cracker taste like a commercially produced Cheez-It -- but they would be just plain wrong. These crackers are so easy to make and so tasty. But what puts them above and beyond the store-bought version, besides their nutritional value and lack of packaging, is that you can eat them straight from the oven when they’re warm.
2⁄3 C unbleached all-purpose white flour, plus more for dusting
1⁄3 C whole-wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1⁄2 tsp table salt or fine sea salt
1⁄8 tsp sweet paprika
8 oz grated sharp or extra-sharp cheddar, Jack or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or a combination), at room temperature
4 TBS ( 1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 or 3 TBS ice water
Kosher salt, for sprinkling
Whisk together the flours, baking powder, table or fine sea salt and the paprika in mixing bowl.
Combine the cheese and butter in the bowl of stand mixer on medium speed, until well blended. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
On low speed, add the flour mixture and beat to form a crumbly mix. Gradually add the water, as needed, until a ball of dough forms.
Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough there and divide in half, patting each half into a disk. Wrap each one in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a tight mass then divide in half and pat each half into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
Re-flour the work surface as needed. Unwrap one disk of dough and roll out to a rectangle with a thickness of 1⁄8 inch. Use a sharp knife or fluted pastry wheel to cut 1-inch squares, then use a skewer to poke a hole at the center of each one. Transfer to the baking sheets, spacing the squares at least 1⁄4 inch apart. Refrigerate for 15 minutes; repeat with the second portion of dough. Scraps can be re-rolled.
Sprinkle the unbaked crackers lightly with kosher salt. Bake each sheet one at a time (middle rack) for 16 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Transfer the crackers to a wire rack to cool completely before serving or storing.
Make ahead: The dough needs to be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes, and up to 1 day. The rolled-and-cut cracker dough needs to be refrigerated for 15 minutes. The baked crackers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
— From cookbook author and TheKitchn.com founder Sara Kate Gillingham. Tested by Jessica Weissman.
Makes 8-12 servings (about 400 3⁄4-inch gummies)
About the sweetness of these candies, if a juice is sweet enough to drink, it’s sweet enough for a gummy snack, but you might feel differently. Cranberry juice, for example, is typically pre-sweetened, so why would you add sugar? But experiment and see what works best. They are not quite as firm/rubbery as commercially made gummy bears, and less sweet.
Vegetable or liquefied coconut oil
2 C pure apple juice or grape juice (see headnote)
2 TBS honey or maple syrup (optional; see headnote)
4 TBS unflavored powdered gelatin (from more than one 1-oz box)
Use a little oil — not too much — to grease the molds or baking dish.
Combine the juice and honey or maple syrup, if using, in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Once a few bubbles begin to appear at the edges, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface and then whisk it in quickly until smooth, making sure no clumps form.
Pour the gummy mixture into the silicone candy mold or the baking dish. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until the mixture sets. Then the gummies will be ready to be popped out of the silicone mold, or gently coaxed out of the glass baking dish onto a cutting board to be cut into small squares or other shapes.
Make ahead: The gummy mixture needs to be refrigerated for at least 2 hours to set. The gummies can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 3 days.
Where to buy: Silicone candy molds are available at craft stores and through various online purveyors.
— From cookbook author and TheKitchn.com founder Sara Kate Gillingham. Tested by Kara Elder.