Lemon Poppy Seed Energy Bars

IMG_1293I don’t have time to make every little snack we eat, from scratch. That said, I hate spending two to four bucks on an energy bar. I don’t eat a lot of energy bars, but they can be the perfect little something to get you through the morning or late afternoon when you’re having a little blood sugar dip, but don’t want anything too substantial because a meal is right around the corner.

There’s a bar I love, and I’m not going to name the company, because they are small, and we do want them to stay in business. And to be honest, I haven’t totally cracked the case. These are good, but they are not as soft as the ones they are based on, probably because I couldn’t bring myself to add as much fat as it would take to soften them up. I’m reminded of traveling through the south-west of Ireland years ago, and having buckets of mussels stuffed with garlicky, buttery bread crumbs. They were one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, and I still remember the little pool of garlic butter at the bottom of every mussel shell–perfect for dipping your chips… When I got home I tried to replicate the recipe, but no matter how much butter I used, they were too dry. Lesson learned–some things are better to have every once in a while, and let someone else make them and worry about the ingredients. So, basically, these bars are crunchy, but in a good way.

I do recommend using lemon extract instead of fresh lemon juice, because the flavors are very different, and the extract–to me–lends itself more to these bars. If you only have lemons, I would substitute lemon zest (as much as it takes to get the flavor you like) over the juice because the juice imparts a unpleasant sour taste and aroma.

Lemon Poppy Seed Bars (makes 9 bars)

1-1/2 cups (360ml) barley flakes or rolled oats (not quick cook)
1 cup (240ml) skinless almonds
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml)  xantham gum*
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. (75ml) coconut palm sugar or 1/4 cup regular sugar
1/4 cup (56g) unsalted butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, melted
3 Tbsps. (45ml) coconut oil, melted if not liquid
1-1/2 teaspoons (7.5ml) lemon extract
Scant pinch of salt if using unsalted butter
2 teaspoons (10ml) poppy seeds

*It might be difficult to get your hands on xantham gum. Guar gum can be used. You can also try to go without. The bars will be a little more delicate without the ingredient, which helps baked goods–especially gluten-free foods–hold together.

Preheat the oven to 300F/150C degrees. Place a wire baking rack on top of a baking sheet. You can bake the bars on a parchment-lined baking sheet, but having them on the rack allows them to bake evenly and color on all sides.

Pulse the barley flakes or oats and almonds in a food processor or blender until broken down, but not floury. It will be an irregular, sandy texture.

Add the sugar, butter, coconut oil, lemon extract and salt and process until the mixture starts to come together and everything is well blended. Add the poppy seeds and pulse until they are evenly distributed.

Place the mixture on a cutting board, and using your ever so clean hands, flatten and shape into a square about 1/2 inch thick. It will be about 9 by 9 inches. I found it helpful to use a spatula to flatten the top and shore up the sides. Try to make the formation as compact as possible.

Using a sharp knife, cut the square into 9 bars. Using a spatula, carefully transfer the bars to the baking rack. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the bars are light golden brown. They are best once cooled and kept in an airtight container overnight.

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