homemade nut bars

Store-bought "energy bars" are expensive and poor quality, typically made with processed soy protein that's quite bad for you. (Unfermented soy was not used as food until the industrial age.) And high-quality organic nut bars, like Govinda or Bumble bars, are even more expensive. But you can make the same thing at home, with exactly the ingredients you choose, for less than a quarter the price.

Nuts. I use maybe five pounds -- sorry, I never measure. Almonds are the healthiest nut, and cashews go well with almonds nutritionally. And I use walnuts and pecans because I love them! I also might use pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or sesame seeds. I consider peanuts a trash nut. Do not use unsweetned coconut unless you're going to eat them soon -- it goes bad quickly.

The nuts will need a little breaking up. I use a Corona hand grinder, the worst grinder for flour and the best grinder for almost everything else. It also works to put them on a big cutting board and go at it with a knife. You also might want to roast them -- some sources say nuts should be either roasted or soaked to be digestible, and other sources say roasting is bad. Soaking is definitely good but it's only easy for almonds, and I've read that it doesn't work at all for cashews because they're cooked in processing. If you soak your nuts you'll need to either roast them or dry them thoroughly, or they won't stick to anything and your nut bars will fall apart. I've found that the pilot light in a gas oven or the light bulb in an electric oven works well for drying if you have a few days.

Sweetener. I use maybe a pound and a half of thick liquid. I've tried brown rice sweetener, barley malt sweetener, and honey -- which gave me a terrible sugar high. Now I use a mixture of ground-up dates and real maple syrup, which is too thin to use alone. If you don't have a grinder, a strong food processor will work too, or you can use those flour-coated date pieces. I use roughly two parts dates to one part syrup. I have not tried agave syrup, and don't know if it will be thick enough to use alone.

The sweetener is the glue -- it must be gooey and sticky to hold the nuts together, plus it's tasty and adds more calories. (In a few years it will be hard for us first-worlders to imagine that we ever thought calories were bad.)

Powdery stuff. This soaks up the moisture in the bars so they're not sticky, and fills in the cracks. If you're really good, you might be able skip this ingredient. I've generally used puffed millet, about half of a big 6oz bag, ground or food-processed down to a coarse powder. I tried puffed kamut, which is too strong-flavored, and I can't find puffed amaranth or quinoa. Now I've figured out something healthier -- ground up dried sprouted buckwheat, which I won't get into here. I suppose whole grain flour would work.

Putting it together. Warm the nuts in the oven -- this will make the mixture easier to work. In a giant bowl -- or two or three big bowls -- mix the nuts and the sweetener and spend a few minutes squishing them all together with your hands. It's not easy to get the proportions right. It should be firm, not crumbly, sticky but not wet, and it should all hold together in a big mass. If it's crumbly or dry, add more sweetener. If it's too wet and gooey, add more dry stuff. You won't really have a sense of what you need until you've tried to make the bars with it.

Now, in a big flat cookie-sheet-type rectangular pan, lay down plastic wrap or waxed paper, and press the mixture down into the pan to nut bar thickness. Even it out, and flatten and smooth it with a rolling pin or wine bottle. You shouldn't need another layer of plastic on top -- if you do, it's probably too wet. Take some time and press it in there hard!

Now, right there in the pan, cut it into bars. If it's too hard to cut, warm it in the oven to make it temporarily softer. After cutting, you can pull the bars out and put them somewhere to dry, or leave them in the pan to dry. I generally leave them for about a day, take them out, put some more powder on them, and put them back in the pan more loosely, with more air contact, for a couple more days. Then they're ready to store and eat. If they're too crumbly or sticky, you can mix in more sticky stuff or dry stuff and do the whole thing again, or just eat them and know better how to do the mix next time.

(public domain, anti-copyright, written 2005, last updated april 2011)