One of the things I’ve really missed, since starting a gluten-free diet, is the fruit and cereal bars I used to eat for breakfast. It was just so easy to grab one on the way out of the house in the morning, or to eat one in my office before I went to class–those cereal bars were a very convenient and reasonably healthy way to start the morning. Sadly, they were also loaded with wheat flour. I’ve since found some gluten-free granola bars that sometimes substitute for my beloved cereal bars, but they’re really not the same.
So, a few weeks ago, I started looking for a gluten-free alternative that I might be able to make at home. I found this recipe from Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom very easily, and I gave it a try. The breakfast bars it produced were delicious, to be sure–but they tasted more desserty than breakfasty, probably due to the use of cake mix as a primary ingredient. (Actually, their flavor reminded me of the Super Simple Cherry Cobbler I made a few weeks ago, which also makes use of a cake mix in the topping.)
That meant I had to keep searching for a starting place. I got a little closer with this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, although I wanted something with more of a jam-like filling–I have a ton of apricot-grapefruit jam in my freezer from last summer, and I’ve been looking for a way to put it to use. But this recipe did give me a starting place to begin making gluten-free breakfast bars from scratch–as long as you accept oats as a gluten-free option (and I know many people do not, which is why I haven’t tagged this one as a gluten-free recipe.)
Here’s what I came up with yesterday evening: Apricot-Almond Breakfast Bars.
No, they aren’t exactly the same as your favorite Nutri-Grain bars. They’re a little messier–but also, in my humble opinion, a little tastier. They’re rustic and hearty and full of good things: oats, almonds, and fruit. I don’t think I’d toss one in my purse (even after carefully wrapping it in plastic), but I certainly enjoyed having one with my coffee this morning.
As I mentioned earlier, I used some homemade apricot-grapefruit jam as the filling for these bars. (I used this recipe, if you’d care to make your own–it’s really simple, but of course you’ll need to plan ahead to make the jam before making the bars.) Store-bought jam will work just as well, and it doesn’t have to be apricot. Just choose a flavor you think will pair up well with almonds. You might want to add a tablespoon of warm water to store-bought jam, to thin it out and make it more easily spreadable. My apricot-grapefruit jam was a little more runny than I would have liked–which explains why it had been in the freezer since last summer–so I just used it as it was.
I used both sliced almonds and some almond flour in the crust, mostly to give the bars more stability and texture. I wanted them to be edible out of hand, not soft enough to require a plate and fork. Another change I made to the Smitten Kitchen recipe was to add more oats–again, to give the bars a little more stability. I think the use of brown sugar in this recipe, rather than white sugar, created a stickyness that really helps the bars hold together nicely. Finally, the original recipe calls for regular all-purpose flour, but I substituted the gluten-free blend I use in pretty much any recipe that calls for AP flour, and it worked just fine.
I gave The Hubs a bar last night, without telling him what it was. He said, “It tastes like . . . shortbread and jam, with oatmeal.” He’s been nibbling away at the bars ever since, and he agrees that this recipe tastes more like something he’d want to eat for breakfast than something he’d want after dinner. The bars are filling and substantial, in addition to being sweet and delicious. The Girl took a bite of the bar I offered her, then said “That’s gluten-free? It’s actually good.” The Boy, true to form, took the bite he was offered and said “It’s okay. A little sour. And kind of complicated.”
If you try this recipe, make sure to press the crumb mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of your baking pan. One thing I noticed this morning, while cutting up the bars, is that the crust was thin toward the center of the pan and, as a result, the bars in that region were a little soggy. And don’t worry that a cup of the crumb mixture won’t be enough for the topping; it won’t cover the bars completely, but it spreads out a little while it’s baking. Also, some of the jam will soak into both the top and bottom crusts.
Apricot-Almond Breakfast Bars
1 cup AP flour (wheat flour or gluten-free blend)
1/2 cup almond flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds, divided use
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup butter, melted
12 oz. apricot jam (thinned with 1 T. water, if necessary)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 inch pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough for overhang on both ends. (You'll use the overhang as "handles" for removing the bars from the pan later.) Lightly coat the foil with cooking spray and set the pan aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flours. brown sugar, oats, half of the almonds, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir the dry ingredients to distribute them evenly; add the melted butter and stir until everything is coated. Reserve 1 cup of this mixture and spread the rest evenly across the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Press down with the back of a spoon (or your hands) to create a firm, even bottom layer.
Spread a thin layer of jam across the top of this bottom layer. Sprinkle the reserved topping and almonds over the jam; using the back of a spoon (or your hands, if you don't mind getting them a little sticky), lightly press the toppings into the fruit.
Bake for 25 minutes, until browned around the edges. Let the bars cool completely before using the aluminum foil "handles" to remove them from the pan. Peel away the foil. Use a large, sharp knife to cut into strips about 1 inch wide, then cut in half to create bars about 4 inches long.