Technique Guide: Homemade Lara Bars

Protein bars are such a dilemma. The idea of something portable and satisfying, with lots of protein and good fats, is so appealing. Yet so many of the commercial ones are loaded with sugar and weird ingredients. Even Lara Bars, which I really like because of their simple ingredients, are pricey and waste so much packaging.

But now there's no excuse for carrying around boring snacks or to spending a bunch of money on bars. This guide contains everything you need to know to make your own infinitely customizable Lara Bars at home! The flavor options are endless. Peanut butter cookie? Apple pie? Chocolate ginger? Find all the details below.


The basic concept here is to have a 2:1 ratio of "sticky stuff" to "nutty stuff" (see details below). In this guide, I detail a lot of ideas for both. You have to achieve enough total stickiness to get them to come together as bars, but you can play with ingredients and flavors endlessly within that rule.

In terms of amounts, I usually do about 3 cups of "sticky stuff" and 1.5 cups of "nutty stuff". This amount fits nicely into a bread pan and makes 6-8 large bars. You could certainly do more if your food processor can accommodate it, just maintain the 2:1 ratio.

The "Rule of Total Stickiness"
Ultimately, you want to create a mixture that will stick together. I think of this as the "total stickiness" of the bars, and it's important to keep in mind as you choose ingredients. It's a give and take. For example, if you sacrifice some stickiness by adding a ton of chocolate (a perfectly justifiable choice!), compensate by using a stickier fruit. Or, if you use a less sticky fruit mixture, beware of too many non-sticky add-ins.



Flavor combinations
The sky is really the limit for ingredients and combinations. To get you started, here are some of my favorites that I make again and again. These photos show the chocolate ginger flavor. You can get a sense below for how each obeys the "rule of total stickiness", making concessions in one area and compensating in another area.

Peanut chocolate cookie: Dates, salted peanuts, dark chocolate chunks
Chocolate ginger: Dates, crystallized ginger, peanuts, dark chocolate chunks
Fruitcake: Dates, tart cherries, pecans, orange zest, cinnamon
Italian-inspired: Figs, toasted almonds, lemon zest
Southern-inspired: Dates, peaches, pecans
Fall feast:  Figs, apples, cranberries, walnuts
Tropical: Dates, mango, cashews, coconut, lime zest
Apple pie: Dates, apple, crystallized ginger, peanuts, cinnamon
Coffee break: Dates, peanuts, chocolate covered espresso beans, espresso powder


Step #1: Choose your "sticky stuff"
This is what will make your bars stick together. Dates and figs are by far the most effective, but using just dates all the time can get boring. Adding some other dried fruit in small amounts can definitely work. In order from most sticky to least sticky, here are some options. Note that these all refer to the DRIED variety of the fruit (regular dried, not freeze-dried).

Dates. These work the best. Make sure they're pitted! Double check! I've found pits in supposedly pitted dates many times.
Figs. They work almost as well as dates.
Crystallized ginger. Super tasty and sticky, but a little goes a long way, so keep it as a small portion of the total.
Tart cherries. Expensive, but divine. They're very tart, so only use a small amount.
Apricots.
Raisins. The big "Flame" ones are stickier than the little "Thompson" ones.
Cranberries. Beware of sugar, some kinds are loaded; look for juice-sweetened.
Apples.
Mango. Again, stick with non-sweetened.
Peaches.

Step #2: Choose your "nutty stuff"
This is where all the good protein and fat come from. You're working with a 2:1 ratio, so you need about half as much of this category as of the previous. Moderately oily nuts work the best; ones that are super oily or on the drier side make a bar that crumbles more easily. In order from most to least effective, here are some options.

I prefer to use roasted nuts since they impart more flavor into the bars; you can roast your own or buy them pre-roasted. Raw will work fine in terms of texture, but they won't be as flavorful (which might be a good thing if you're not a nut-lover). You can use salted or unsalted depending on your flavor and dietary preferences.

Peanuts. Definitely the best texture, and budget-friendly.
Cashews. They work almost as well as peanuts, although they're a lot pricier.
Almonds. Because they're on the drier side, they don't work great, but you can make them work if you have a lot of other sticky stuff, i.e. all dates or figs, or if you combine multiple nut types.
Pecans. I love pecans so much, but they're a little bit too crumbly and oily to excel here. Same as above, they can work with the right ingredients.
Sunflower seeds?? I haven't tried this, but I think they would work if you have a nut allergy.

Step #3: Choose any add-ins
You can add in some other tasty bits here. Just keep in mind that it will effect the overall consistency of your bar, so keep the total amount relatively low, especially if you have a less sticky fruit mixture.

Chocolate. Obviously! Just made sure to add it toward the end of the time in the food processor so that it doesn't melt. I prefer dark since there's a lot of sweetness coming from the fruit.
Chocolate covered espresso beans.
Cacao nibs.
Coconut. I've found that the more finely shaved stuff works best; look for unsweetened.
Banana chips.

Step #4: Choose any additional flavors
These are the flavor bombs that will really make your bars unique, and thankfully they won't affect the texture much since they're generally used in small quantities.

Lemon zest.
Lime zest.
Orange zest.
Espresso powder. I always have this on-hand for baking, and it's so good in these bars. I've found that it turns your fingers a little bit brown when you pick up the bar, but that's a small price to pay.
Cinnamon.
Cardamon.
Ginger root powder.
Matcha powder. Especially good when combined with ginger.


Step #5: Make your mixture
If you have any chocolate, set it aside for now. Likewise, if you'd like to keep a very small portion of the nuts or fruit in larger pieces, set aside at most a small handful.

Otherwise, put all your ingredients in a food processor and blend. It will take several minutes and maybe as much as five minutes depending on what ingredients you've chosen and how much you have. Keep running the food processor just until the mixture starts to make big clumps. Try to avoid over-blending because the nuts will release their oils and your bars will become oily (in which case they're perfectly fine to eat, just a little messy).


Now, grab a spoonful and assess your mixture. First, is it tasty? It's not too late to add a pinch of salt or a little more citrus zest. Does it stick together? You should be able to roll a ball of it between your palms; if not, give it more time in the food processor. If you can't roll it into a ball now without having it fall apart, your bars won't stay together.

At this point, add in any chocolate or a last handful of nuts that you want to keep in larger pieces and pulse the food processor a few more times until you've reached your desired texture.


Step #6: Press and chill
Line a baking dish with waxed paper. I prefer to use a bread pan, which is just the right size for ~3 cups of "sticky stuff" and ~1.5 cups of "nutty stuff". An 8x8 baking dish is also a good option if you have more mixture than that and/or if you want squares instead of elongate bars.

Dump your mixture in and press it down hard. You want to force it into every corner, leaving no gaps or air holes. The harder you press, the better your bars with stick together and maintain their shape. Chill the mixture for at least a couple hours or as long as overnight.

Step #7: Slice
Carefully remove the bars from the baking dish. I find this is easier if I've left ample wax paper on the edges and can pull it out using the paper. You should have a big square or rectangle of material that is nicely stuck together and not crumbly.

Cut them how you wish. I usually make 6-8 slices if I've used a bread pan, and 9 or 12 squares if I've used a square baking dish. Your decision might depend on how thick your bars have ended up and how much you want in a single serving.

Congratulations, you've made your very own Lara Bars! They're cheaper, fresher, waste no packaging, and can be made in infinite flavor combinations. Store your tasty bars in an airtight container in the fridge. They'll keep in the fridge for a week.


Troubleshooting: What if your bars don't stick together?
Occasionally, I'll end up with a mixture that doesn't stick together well. It's okay! If you can't get it to come together in the food processor, it will still make an excellent crumble to put on top of yogurt or ice cream. (Pretend the crumble was exactly what you intended to make from the beginning.)

Then learn from it as you move forward. You probably violated the "rule of total stickiness". Maybe you went crazy and added too much chocolate, or you didn't have a high enough portion of dates/figs, or maybe those darn pecans were just too oily. Adjust accordingly next time and you'll have well-formed bars.

***

I hope you enjoy these bars! We make them about once a week. They make for such great portable snacks and lunch items. Varying the flavor combinations keeps them exciting and even seasonal.

Looking for another healthy, portable snack? Try this crunchy, oh so satisfying Banana Bread Granola. It uses banana in place of most of the fat and sugar, and includes all your favorite banana bread add-ins.

Please share your creation so I can see how you've interpreted the concept! Tag "The Rogue Brussel Sprout" on Facebook or hashtag #theroguebrusselsprout on Instagram.

Comments

  1. One of my favorites - these make great trail snacks without the packaging waste of the store-bought kind. Love the customization options too!

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    Replies
    1. The Rogue Brussel SproutAugust 12, 2020 at 10:30 AM

      I'm so glad to hear you're finding them useful. And you're totally right about the packaging waste... yet another benefit of making your own!

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