Homemade Granola Bars

So today's an anniversary of sorts. While Pass the Cocoa is only one and a half years old, Monica and I started food blogging exactly 2 years ago on our high school newspaper's website, under the blog name Just Desserts.

Neither of us had any idea what we were doing. We had almost no experience in baking, and even less in photography (as some of these early pictures bake quite clear) or blogging. But we both loved dessert, and so we started writing about it.

It's been quite a journey these two years with learning a ton about baking, challenging ourselves making new foods, trying to pick up photography, struggling with crappy point-and-shoot cameras, getting pictures rejected from Foodgawker, juggling freshmen college schedules, dealing with less than ideal college kitchens, trying and enjoying and sharing new recipes, and meeting tons of sweet, kind, and amazing people in the food blogging community.

The very first recipe I posted was granola, because, as I said two years ago, "Monica and I thought we’d go ahead and make ourselves feel all righteous by starting with something at least kind of healthy, and decided to make granola."

This isn't the same granola post; the recipe tastes better, I think, and the photos are better, I think, and we sort of know what we're doing now, I think. But I know we've kept that same excitement about making, eating and sharing food. There's something so personal about sharing recipes, and making other people food, and it has yet to get old.

But enough sentimentalism. Let's make granola!

Mix together the oats, salt, and melted butter.

Evenly spread the mixture on two large baking sheets. I cut the recipe in half, so I only used one. Bake for about 15 minutes. Take the pans out about halfway through and mix the oats, to prevent them from burning.

Once that's done, put the sugar, honey, and apple juice in a pot and heat to a low simmer. I made peanut butter granola, so I also added in about 1/4 cup peanut butter, but feel free to leave it out. Take the mixture off the heat, and stir in the vanilla. A dash of cinnamon here would be nice as well.

Chop up some nuts.

Pour the cooked oats back into the mixing bowl, and add the nuts and cereal. The only cereal I had on hand was Honey Bunches of Oats, but I'd suggest using something with less sugar, like Rice Krispies.

Pour the syrup mixture over the oats, and mix together. It'll be really sticky. This means you're doing it right (:

Pour the oats onto a large greased jelly roll pan. Grease your hands with oil and pack down the oats to form an even layer. (This should take up the whole pan and be thicker, but I halved the recipe. And then I wished I hadn't because this stuff is ridiculously good. So don't halve it.)

Bake it for about 20 minutes. Let it cool, cut into bars, and try not to eat it all at once.

Enjoy, everyone!

Homemade Granola Bars

Yields about 40 granola bars | Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

6 cups rolled oats (see notes)
4 tablespoons butter
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
⅔ cup brown sugar
¾ cup honey
¼ cup apple juice
¼ cup peanut butter (optional)
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cup cereal, such as Rice Krispies
1 cup wheat germ (see notes)
1 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, peanuts, or pecans

Quick oats can be used in place of rolled oats. Just reduce the toasting of the oats from 15 minutes to about 7, and the second baking to 12- 15 minutes.

The wheat germ can be substituted by using an extra ⅔ cup of oats in the second step.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Toss together the oats, butter, oil, and salt. Spread evenly over two large jelly roll pans and bake for 15-20 minutes, shaking the pan two to three times during the baking.

Reduce the heat to 325 degrees.

In a saucepan, combine the sugar, honey, apple juice, and peanut butter. Heat over low heat until the ingredients form a smooth mixture. Take off the heat and add the vanilla.

Pour the oats into a large mixing bowl. Add the nuts, cereal, and wheat germ. Pour the liquid over the oats, and stir. The mixture will be very sticky and thick.

Grease your hands with vegetable oil and press the oat mixture into a large jelly roll pan lined with foil that has been greased.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool. Cut the granola into bars and enjoy!