Oct 22 2011
When I made my first batch of Hundred-Mile Oatmeal Bars I figured I had a winner. And others apparently thought so, too. The article describing their creation has proven to be one of this site’s enduring attractions. It’s even received the ultimate accolade—being copied verbatim and published on a website that bills itself as “the largest online diet and healthy living community,” albeit without credit or attribution. It would have been nice to see my byline attached to my words, of course, but I suppose I ought to be flattered that someone thought them valuable enough to steal.
I’m not, though. Still, the matter is now moot. Why? Because I’ve just developed a new and improved version of my old favorite. Call them Hundred-Mile Plus Bars. They’re as chewy, filling, and flavorful as their predecessors, but they now have—wait for it—added fiber. No, that won’t do, will it? It’s too reticent. Too understated. So let’s make it “Added Fiber!” instead. And this extra fiber is the real thing: wheat germ, wheat bran, flax, and sesame seeds.
Why is this important? Well, as anyone who’s had to live out of a pack for more than a day or two can attest, many concentrated, high-energy foods are sadly lacking in the dietary essential that my grandmother used to call “roughage.” And the effects of this shortcoming often start showing up (or rather not showing up) on or about Day Three of a trip, when you’ll probably find yourself wondering just how it is that bears find it so easy to do what they do in the woods.
But be of good cheer. Help is at hand. So to speak. At least it is if you have a stock of Hundred-Mile Plus Oatmeal Bars in your pack. And there’s more good news: You won’t have to run down to the HyperMart to stock up. You can make them in your kitchen at home.
Here’s how it’s done:
Hundred-Mile Plus Oatmeal Bars
(makes approximately 24 bars)
• 1 cup (2 sticks) room-temperature butter or margarine
• 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (either light or dark brown)
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda (NOT baking powder)
• 2 tablespoons flax seeds (golden or brown, your choice)
• 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
• 2 tablespoons wheat germ
• 2 tablespoons wheat bran
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3 cups uncooked old-fashioned OR quick-cooking oatmeal (NOT instant oatmeal)
• 1 cup mixed dried fruit, chopped fine (see Note below)
• 1/2 cup chopped walnut meats
NB You’ll also need two large mixing bowls and a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan that’s at least 2 inches deep. Alternatively, use two 8-inch- or 9-inch-square baking pans.
To business: An hour or more before you plan to start baking, place the butter or margarine in a large bowl and leave it on the kitchen counter to come to room temperature. Then, while you’re waiting, assemble your other ingredients. Once all is in readiness, move one rack to the center of your oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. As the oven is warming up, combine the softened margarine, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in one of the two mixing bowls and beat till you have a sandy paste. (A sturdy wooden spoon is the tool of choice for this job, by the way.) Next, add the eggs and vanilla extract and resume beating until all the ingredients are blended.
The flour, baking soda, flax seeds, sesame seeds, wheat germ, wheat bran, cinnamon, and salt now go into the second bowl. Stir with a clean fork until the contents are well mixed, then pour into the first bowl and beat thoroughly. The oatmeal, dried fruit, and walnut pieces are the last ingredients to be added. As before, beat well. The end result? A very thick, stiff batter. Spoon this out into your baking pan—there’s no need to grease the pan—and spread it as evenly as you can, being sure that there are no gaps between the batter and the pan walls. Use the back of a wetted soup spoon to push the batter around, if necessary.
Now it’s time to put the pan in the oven. After 15 minutes, check to see how things are doing. If the batter isn’t browning evenly, rotate the pan 180 degrees. Then check again after another 15 minutes, and every five minutes thereafter. As soon as the top is a uniform golden brown, you’re done. (This probably won’t take longer than 35 minutes.) Remove the pan from the oven and set it on top of the stove to cool. To avoid sticky situations, wait a few minutes before cutting into bars and use a sharp knife. Be sure to run the knife blade around the periphery, too.
Once the newly cut bars have cooled to room temperature, remove them from the pan with a spatula and stack them loosely on a cookie rack or paper-towel-draped plates, allowing them to sit for a little while longer. (If you store oatmeal bars when they’re even the least bit warm, they’ll soon become soggy.) Then, when you’re certain that the bars are as cool as they’re going to get, pack them in sturdy plastic bags, expelling all the air before sealing the bags and popping them in the freezer. The bars freeze well. They’ll keep for months. Just don’t forget to let them thaw before eating!
A note on dried fruit… You can use whatever dried fruit you like, provided that the pieces aren’t too large (a quarter of an inch is about right). I use raisins and dried apricots, adding other dried fruits as the spirit moves me.