Sunday, June 16, 2013

Homemade No-Bake Granola Bars

Ever since I made my own cliff bars, I have been on the hunt to try even more homemade granola bar (or granola bar like) recipes. The captain and I both enjoy them (I am totally hooked on the Trader Joes vanilla almond ones right now!) and I am all about trying to remake some of my favorite store bought snacks right at home in my own kitchen. They just somehow taste better too. I am not sure what it is. Maybe it's the extra love that's mixed in? I think so.

One of my favorite bloggers, Christina, over at Dessert for Two (check her blog out, here!) makes these no-bake chocolate chip granola bars for her and her hubby almost every week and recommended that I try them out. If she said they were good, I knew that I had to try them. She's never wrong about a good recipe! Plus, with it getting hotter and hotter (last weekend it was over 110 degrees here in Northern California!), a no-bake recipe is always a winner in my book. The less heating the house, the better. And, these are so fast to make. Like under five minutes fast. Now that's fast! Here's what you need for the basic recipe - a little butter, brown sugar, honey, quick cooking oats, rice cereal, vanilla and chocolate chips. That's it! Just heat up the butter, brown sugar and honey to a good rolling boil and then pour it over all the rest of the ingredients. Just don't mix it with your hands - that would hurt and you'd probably burn yourself pretty badly. Just use a big spoon and mix until it's all combined, press into a sprayed pan and top with the chocolate chips. Bada bing, bada boom. You've got homemade granola bars!

These do need to rest for a couple of hours so they can harden up and cool down, but it's well worth the wait. Once they are cool enough, you can cut them up and enjoy. These granola bars are great for an afternoon snack or even a quick breakfast with some greek yogurt. Or whenever you need a sweet treat. I sometimes need a sweet treat right before bed. I'm strange. These granola bars are a little crunchy, a little sweet and totally delicious. They kind of remind me of those Quaker Chewy Granola bars, but without all those added preservatives and stuff you don't want in your body. For my granola bars, I decided to switch it up and add a few more things. Why not, right? You totally don't' have to add anything more to the base recipe (they are just as good!), but I was feeling coconut, so I added about a 1/2 cup to the oats and rice cereal. Since I had some ground flax seed left over from making cliff bars, I added a couple of tablespoons in as well. Extra fiber and omega-3's in my granola bars is a plus! Again, totally not necessary, but if you are feeling extra wild, you can add whatever you want - almonds, walnuts, raisins, dried cherries or even chia seeds. The flavor possibilities are endless and everyone will love them. In fact, these granola bars may become something you make all the time! I know I will be - the captain gave these two thumbs up and I will most likely be packing these in lunch bag very soon.

love to buy things in bulk so you get the exact amount you need

boil boil boil

adding in a little coconut for fun

a little ground flax seed? why not!

flowing sugar lava

mix everything well, but try not to crush the rice cereal

press into a pan nice and firm

top with chocolate chips!

Homemade No-Bake Granola Bars (from Lauren's Latest)

Makes 10 Bars

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup crispy rice cereal
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips

My additions: 1/2 cup coconut and 2 tablespoons ground flax seed
Other additions (optional): cinnamon, citrus zest, nuts, dried fruit, etc.

In a large bowl, stir oats and rice cereal together. Set aside. In a small pot, melt butter, honey and brown sugar together over medium high heat until it comes to a bubble. Reduce the heat and cook 2 minutes. Pour in vanilla and stir. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well to moisten all ingredients. Pour into lightly greased 9x13 pan (or a jelly roll pan if you have one) and press out to be about 3/4 inch in thickness. If the pan isn't small enough, just pack it into half or 3/4 of the pan. Really pack down so it all sticks together well. Sprinkle with mini chocolate chips and press down lightly. Cool on a counter top to room temperature for two hours or until the chocolate chips are set before cutting into bars. Wrap in parchment or plastic wrap and store at room temperature.

The next time I make these, I plan to try them with whole almonds and dried cherries for extra crunch and chew!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Browned Butter Layer Cake - Happy 1st Birthday Lulu!

Today I got to experience one of the sweetest 1st birthday's ever - Miss Lulu. She is such a cutie. In fact, she is one of the cutest baby girls I've seen in awhile. No joke. Most people I show a picture of her say the same thing. That must mean she's really cute! She had such a great party with her family and friends that it practically pooped her out. Poor thing. She made it thought the whole thing without needed a nap! You should have seen her when we she tore into her birthday cupcake though. Not only was it all over, but she ate the whole thing - I couldn't believe it! Who knew such a little itty bitty girl could eat a whole one. I guess it was good!

cupcake all over!
It may seem like a perfect fit for me to blog about the cupcakes I made her today, but I have been saving a very special post for her for awhile now. Well, a little over a year. I wanted to save this special cake post as a little something special for her big o-n-e! Just over a year ago at her baby shower (when she wasn't even around yet), I made her momma a very special brown butter layer cake to celebrate the soon to be Lulu. Yes, you heard me right. Brown butter cake. How good does that sound? Just when you thought cake couldn't get any better, I go and add browned butter. I so went there and am so glad I did. Brown butter is unexplainably (is this even a word?) delicious. What better than to tell you about this fabulous cake then on Lulu's first birthday. It's just perfect.

If you haven't had anything with brown butter, you are missing out. Totally missing out. Brown butter is so nutty and creamy and it's a flavor that is just one of a kind. When Lulu's nana told me about a recipe she saw in Food & Wine magazine for browned butter cake, I had to make it. No questioning at all. I just had to make it. I had never made anything with brown butter at that point and was ready to take on the challenge. Don't worry though - brown butter is not hard to make at all. If you are worried, check out my how to brown butter here. It's not as scary as it sounds, promise! Once you've browned the butter, you are already half way there. Once the butter has cooled a bit, you just simply whip it up and then add eggs, vanilla and then the wet and dry ingredients in stages. If you add all the dry or wet at once, it may lump up on you or get all over you. You don't want either of those things happening, now do you? Once the batter is ready to go (don't try to eat it all with a big spoon - oh boy is it hard not to!), divide the batter evenly into two pans and bake until they are done. You will start to smell the butter as it bakes. No joke. It's heavenly it's own strange way.

When the cakes are cooling, it's on to making the mousse filling and frosting. For baby Lulu's shower, I decided to go with a milk chocolate mousse filling and a white chocolate (colored pink, of course!) swiss meringue buttercream. Sounds daunting, but it's not. Stay with me. I promise you won't regret it. To make the mousse you start out with gelatin and soften it with some hot water. While that is doing it's thing, whip the egg yolks really well and then pour in the melted chocolate, gelatin, a few other ingredients and mix until combined. Then gently fold in freshly whipped whipped cream to keep it light and fluffy. This is best done the day before since it takes several hours to cool and firm up, but that's your call if you want to do it all in one day. I always like to do things ahead if I can. Especially when it saves me hours of waiting around the next day!

Now, on to the frosting. When I first read the recipe for the frosting, it was not your traditional buttercream as they stated. This frosting is so different, but so delicious. I was a little scared, because it was swiss meringue buttercream, but SMB is not something to be scared about anymore. Let me tell you how to make it. To start, you need to heat egg whites, sugar and salt in a double boiler for about five minutes. Once everything is dissolved, whip the egg mixture with a stand mixer until glossy, about 10 minutes. Once they are ready, you add in the butter a piece at a time and the melted chocolate. It may look curdled at times, but don't give up - that happens. It will all come together. If it looks a bit runny, place the bowl in the freezer for a few minutes and then keep whipping. Once the frosting is ready, you can put it all together! I decorated this cake extra special with fresh roses and a special white chocolate name for baby lulu. I wasn't able to attend the shower, but heard the cake was a hit. I am so glad everyone enjoyed it and am so glad I was able to help Miss Lulu celebrate her 1st birthday today.  Happy happy birthday little one - here's to many more years of memories and fun!

start the mousse first

fold in the whipped cream carefully!

the start of beautiful browned butter

cooling the brown butter. don't skip this step!

swirling brown butter!

now on to the frosting!

start the frosting while the cakes are cooling

whip it good

add in pieces of butter just a few at a time

a little pink color for miss lulu


covered in frosting and then set in the fridge to chill

decorated especially for Miss Lulu!

Brown Butter Layer Cake (Food & Wine Magazine)

3 sticks unsalted butter (12 ounces), plus more for greasing the pans
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
3 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk, at room temperature
Mousse filling and Buttercream frosting (see below)

Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess. In a medium saucepan, melt the 3 sticks of butter. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until foamy, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the milk solids turn brown and the butter smells nutty, about 4 minutes longer. Scrape the melted butter and browned bits into a large heatproof bowl. Set the bowl in an ice water bath until the butter begins to set around the edge, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the 2  1/4 cups of all-purpose flour with the baking powder and salt. Remove the bowl from the ice water and scrape up the hardened butter. Transfer the butter to the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle and beat until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla seeds and beat at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks followed by the whole eggs. Beat in the dry ingredients and milk in 3 alternating additions, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven for about 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert them onto a rack to let them cool completely. 

Peel off the parchment paper. Set one cake layer on a platter. Spread the mousse filling on top and cover with the second cake layer. Frost the cake all over with a thin layer of buttercream and refrigerate until set, about 5 minutes. Frost the cake with the remaining buttercream. Refrigerate the cake until the frosting is firm, at least 15 minutes, before serving.  

For the mousse filling:

1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1/2 tablespoon water
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
4 ounces milk chocolate, melted and cooled 
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand until softened. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the cream until softly whipped. Refrigerate until chilled, about 10 minutes. In a small, microwave-safe bowl, heat the coffee liqueur at high power until hot, about 45 seconds. Stir in the softened gelatin until dissolved. In another medium bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and salt at high speed until pale and thickened, about 5 minutes. While beating the yolks, beat in the coffee-gelatin liquid; scrape the side and bottom of the bowl. Beat in the melted chocolate. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped cream in 2 additions. Scrape the mousse into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours or overnight. 
 For the white chocolate buttercream:

1 cup sugar
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (9 ounces), cut into tablespoons, at room temperature
 In a blender or food processor, pulse the sugar until powdery. Transfer the sugar to a medium heatproof bowl and whisk in the egg whites and salt. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is completely dissolved, 5 minutes. Transfer the warm egg-white mixture to the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk. Add the vanilla and beat at medium-high speed until stiff and glossy, about 8 minutes. Beat in the butter a few pieces at a time, making sure it is fully incorporated before adding more. The buttercream should be light and fluffy; if it appears runny at any time, transfer the bowl to the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes, then return it to the mixer and continue. Beat in the melted chocolate until fully incorporated, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl. Remove the bowl from the mixer and beat with a wooden spoon to remove any air bubbles. 

 Brown butter cake. There's nothing like it!


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Homeade Cliff Bars

Bet you didn't think you could make homemade cliff bars now did you? I know I didn't, so when I saw a recipe for a homemade cliff bar, I knew I had to try it! I am always looking for new ways to make some of my favorite workout snacks at home and with no preservatives. Of course you don't have to just eat these before a workout - they also make a great meal replacement (for those morning where you are running out the door to work or school!) or if you need a good snack to get you through the afternoon and keep you going strong. No matter how you choose to eat these, I promise you will love them. Double promise.

The captain and I both enjoy Cliff Bars. Maybe more so him than I, but that's just because I am a calorie snob and don't want to spend over 200 calories for a snack. That's just me though. The average Cliff Bar has about 250 calories give or take, but is loaded with all kinds of good stuff for you and will keep you going like the energizer bunny after you eat one. They are also free of high fructose corn syrup and have tons of organic ingredients. Not to mention, they have tons and tons of flavors. Some are so good that they taste like big cookie. I am not even kidding. Some energy bars out there taste like cardboard, but Cliff Bars definitely do not. For those who have eaten a Cliff Bar, I know you know what I am talking about. One of my favorite flavors is their peanut butter and chocolate chip bar. I am a total sucker for anything peanut butter and chocolate. There is just something that make those two taste so darn good together that it makes them pretty much irresistible. Who's with me?

So, when I saw a recipe for homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cliff bars I just had to try them. Homemade and my favorite flavor? Winning! I headed to the grocery store down the street to gather everything I needed to try this bad boys out. The great thing about one of my local stores is that they have a huge bulk section so I can just get a little bit of what I need instead of a huge bag or box. This is especially good for chocolate chips as I have been known to eat extras straight from the bag. Maybe even with spoonful of peanut butter, but I didn't just tell you that. The first thing you need to do to make these bars (which take all of five minutes to throw together) is to melt peanut butter and brown rice syrup on the stove until it forms a nice liquidy sauce. Once the "sauce" has come together, you will mix is with everything else - rice cereal, oats, peanuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, chopped dates (natural sweetness!) and cinnamon. When you are mixing everything together, be careful not to touch your hands directly to the hot peanut butter and brown rice syrup mixture - you will burn yourself. Ouch! Use a big spoon to help you mix, but be careful not to crush all the rice cereal. No one likes crushed rice cereal. Once everything is really well coated, mix in the chocolate chips and place in the pan for cooling. After a good hour or two, you can remove the bars from the pan, cut them up and enjoy! If you are not eating them right away (ya right), you can keep them in the fridge or even the freezer for later. That is if they even last that long. I gave samples to both the captain and my kickboxing instructor and they both loved them. That must be a good sign they were pretty darn good. Just saying.

fresh ground peanut butter is the best

all the dry ingredients

pb and brown rice syrup

sticky sticky

adding in the best part - the chocolate chips!

pressed in the pan. don't worry if the chocolate chips melt a bit.

so yummy!

Homemade Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cliff Bars (slightly adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

1 cup dates (pitted)
1 1/4 cups crisp rice cereal
1 cup quick-cooking oats

1/4 cup coarsely chopped peanuts
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed

2 tablespoons chia seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Spray an 8x8-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Place the dates in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Combine the pureed dates with the cereal, oats, peanuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Combine the peanut butter and brown rice syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until melted and completely blended. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the peanut butter mixture over the oat mixture and stir until well combined. Gently stir in the chocolate chips. Turn the mixture into the prepared pan and press firmly to pack the mixture into the pan. Let the mixture sit until completely cool and set, at least 1 hour. Cut into bars, then wrap individually in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

A little chewy, a little sweet and a whole lot of deliciousness. These bars are also sweetened with brown rice syrup, there are no added sugars, and they are even gluten free!