When I started coming up with recipe ideas for this book, I asked the exceptional weelicious Facebook community which recipe they would most want to see. Whole-Grain Fruit-Filled Bars was one of the most requested, and I totally agree with the consensus. My kids adore those popular soft grain and fruit-filled store-bought bars, and they’re certainly great for the lunchbox or a quick breakfast in the car. But when you’re buying box after box, the price can really add up—almost double the cost of making them on your own. When you taste this homemade version, I hope you’ll agree it’s totally worth the effort.–Catherine McCord
LC Fun With Fruit Fillings Note
Raspberry. Rhubarb. Strawberry. Plum. Blackberry. Blueberry. Mixed berry. That’s the short list of fruits we’ve found to be quite fulfilling as fillings for these whole-grain bars that, we gotta say, are just like—nay, even better than—Nutri-Grain bars. And we’re thinking they’d be just as lovely with any other preserves you can think to use, whether fig, apricot, peach, cherry, or heck, you name it.
Whole-Grain Fruit-Filled Breakfast Bars
- 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 1 1/2 cups quick-cooking or old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter chopped into 1/2-inch (12-mm) cubes, plus more for the pan
- 2 tablespoons cold water plus more as needed
- 3/4 to 1 cup fruit preserves stirred
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, line it with parchment paper, and butter the parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, and salt. Pulse for 30 seconds. Add the butter and dribble the cold water over the crumbs and pulse until the dough holds together when pressed. (If the dough does not cling together when pressed, add a little more cold water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it does.)
- Divide the dough mixture in half and press half into the prepared baking dish, using the back of a spatula or your fingertips to press it evenly into the pan.
- Spread the preserves evenly on top of the dough. Sprinkle the remaining dough evenly on top of the preserves and ever so gently press down on the dough using the back of the spatula. (It’s okay if the fruit peeps out in places.)
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Let the bars cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into 1 1/2-by-4-inch bars and serve. (The bars can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days or refrigerated for up to 1 week.)
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
These homemade Whole-Grain Fruit-Filled Bars were better than any store-bought bar I’ve ever had! Not only were they delicious, but I like the fact that any jam flavor will do—whatever you happen to have in the refrigerator or whatever homemade variety you feel like making. I happened to be making a batch of blueberry-rhubarb (blue-barb, if you will) jam yesterday afternoon, so this recipe really appealed to me. Also, the rest of the ingredients are so simple that I already had everything at home needed to make these bars. My only revisions would be to add 1 cup jam, not 3/4 cup. I think there needed to be a touch more filling in each tasty bar. Second, I found that when I halved the recipe for the dough, I needed an 8-inch square baking dish, which seemed to work well. The baking time was exactly 45 minutes for a tender, lightly browned crumbly crust. I really loved the use of whole-wheat flour here; that plus the hearty taste of oats really works for a nice crust. In fact, I’m tempted to tinker with this recipe as a possible pie crust. I enjoyed one of these delectable bars with a warm cup of coffee for breakfast, which was a delightful way to start the day, but I could see these being a great after-school snack for the kids or a nice addition to a plate of afternoon goodies with tea.
My family loved these, as did my coworkers. We all agreed they’re similar to, but even better than, their store-bought relatives. I made mine with strawberry preserves and can’t wait to try them with other flavors such as peach, blackberry, blueberry, and cherry. Using the food processor made it super easy. I did have to add about 2 more tablespoons water to get my dough to come together, but everything else was spot-on, including baking time.
I made these little treats for a party and they were a hit. The comments ranged all over the place for these granola bars. Some people would’ve liked them crunchier, some would’ve liked them chewier, and some wanted a thicker layer of preserves. But all in all, everyone thought the bars were delicious. I’d add more preserves next time, so instead of 3/4 cup I’d add a full cup. Also, watch the timing. In my oven, the bars were ready in about 40 minutes, not 45 minutes. Use your nose, and they’ll tell you when they’re ready! The night I made them, they were crispy. It was humid in Santa Monica so by the next day they were chewy—the weather will make a difference. But you can’t go wrong by making these.
I loved the recipe when I read through it and it didn’t call for my mixer like almost every other recipe I bake. Instead everything was made in my food processor—so neat and easy. The recipe took at most 15 minutes to put together. I admit I didn’t use a spatula to press the crumbs in the pan; I just used the empty butter wrapper and my hand. I let them bake and then cut them into neat squares. Finally, a fruit-filled bar that does not crumble but has an amazing crisp and tender texture! I’ve made similar fruit-filled bars with oats or other types of crusts many times before, and my family always enjoyed them, but one problem always exists: They fall apart, first when you cut them and even more when you eat them. These bars finally solved that problem AND tasted amazing! I had homemade mixed-berry jam that I used for the filling. Everyone agreed these were the best jam-filled bars I’ve ever made. A hit with the entire family!
Cereal bars are a quick on-the-go breakfast. The convenience of portability is even more so with this pocket-friendly recipe. And you can make it in flavors that are your family’s favorites. We chose blackberry. I’d suggest stirring the jelly first so the consistency breaks down a little and is easier to spread. I tried the stated method of spreading the dough mixture with a spatula but I found it worked better to use a piece of parchment paper and push it around with my hands. I didn’t want to press the top layer very hard so it was a little speckled with jelly showing through in places. I left a few bars out for the week and froze the rest. The next time we need something on the go, I imagine a quick zap in the microwave and the bar will be ready to eat.
These received a unanimous “these are good!” response all around. Part of what was so good was that they weren’t cloyingly sweet and the balance between dough and fruit was just right. I used white whole-wheat flour, old-fashioned rolled oats, and raspberry preserves, all organic. I figured if these were going to be better than store-bought bars, I’d do my best to start with top-notch ingredients. I’m afraid I may never know whether they’ll keep 3 days or a full week, since they’re not likely to stick around that long! Technically, they were done and golden brown right at the 45-minute mark. I think the recipe could easily make more than 16 servings by cutting smaller but still satisfying portions, though this failed me since, so far, everyone has eaten more than one. After making the decision while shopping to go with raspberry preserves, I now want to try the recipe out with lots of other flavors, including fig, apricot, and blueberry.
This recipe delivers. It’s a cinch to make, is accurate in its instructions, and yields a good result. Think homemade Nutri-Grain Bars. It’s not so much that they surpass the taste of store-bought bars by leaps and bounds, but that they’re just as good while also being more economical and affording you the assurance of knowing what’s in them. I took them out at 40 minutes, when I noticed that the edges were about to start burning. I’m glad I did, because they were quite crumbly, and I anticipate them being more so on day 2. It’s a little bit hard to distinguish a “golden brown” hue since the whole-wheat flour, oats, and brown sugar are nearly that to begin with. I’d probably add slightly more butter or water next time for a touch more moisture in the dough, and ideally would make my own preserves or compote. I used a strawberry-rhubarb preserve that was tasty, but its large chunks made for an uneven spread and I don’t think the dough needed to be as sweet given all the sugar in a store-bought preserve. I also wonder what the result would be using quick-cooking versus old-fashioned oats, or dark brown sugar versus light. All in all, I was quite happy using this recipe to check off making my own cereal bars, as it’s long been on my to-do list.
I love customizable recipes! Here you get to pick what preserves your team loves, no matter how zany or super simple. I chose a plum preserve, and alongside the nutty whole wheat and oat, I found a winning match. As I write this I’m imagining how some daring yet intuitive soul is just going to run with it and make a nut butter and strawberry version. Yum! One thing to note if you’re weaning yourself off the store-bought versions: The surrounding pastry isn’t springy or cakey like you find in the store. This pastry is short and buttery with just the right crumble.
Testing notes: Be aware that the dough makes just enough to create a thin layer above and below the fruit preserves. This is doable on the bottom layer, because you can spend some time evening it out, but when you try to use the same precision on top of the preserve layer, you’ve got to take a different approach. You can take two routes—cut a clean sheet of parchment and butter it, then spread the remaining dough across the paper, approximating the size you’d need to cover the other layer. Once you’ve packed and tightened up the pastry, use “the force” to flip it onto the preserves as your top and final layer. The other route is to take the dough and very finely sprinkle and scatter it over the preserves, doing your best to tighten it up while accepting there’ll be some fruit peeking through. (When the fruit shows throughout the top you get some instability in the finished bars, so rather than cut them into rectangles, cut the lot 3 rows lengthwise by 4 columns widthwise to get 12 squares. The serving is a bit bigger but the bar will be lunchbox strong.) Enjoy and get creative!
I must admit to being a bit skeptical when I first came across this recipe. I’ve tried more than a few granola bar recipes and for some reason, I’ve found that this seemingly simple concoction is exceedingly difficult to make well. Most recipes I’ve tried have resulted in bars that are either dry as a bone and crumbly or so sticky and gooey that I’d felt the need to wear surgical gloves when handling them.
Not so with these little treats, which strike a nice balance of slightly crisp at the outer edges but soft and malleable inside. They’re quite easy to make, require no special equipment or ingredients, and I imagine they take on an entirely different character depending on what type of jam you decide to slather in their center. I used some store-bought raspberry preserves and loved the way the bars came out.
I found that the amount of dough made didn’t quite fill the 9-by-13-inch pan I used, so my bars were somewhat thinner at the edges, resulting in the outer perimeter being somewhat overcooked and the jam oozing out and caramelizing slightly at the side of the pan. I personally found the chewy caramel-jam pieces to be perfectly delicious, but if you’re looking for uniformly cut and cooked squares, you might want to trim off the very edge of the mass of bars before cutting them into pieces. If you do decide to go that route, send me your scraps—I’ll eat them!
It’s like a whole-grain Pop-Tart (in a good way). The crust is lightly sweetened, in nice contrast to something you’d buy at the store, and was great made with raspberry jam. Perfect for breakfast, snacks, or as a treat in a lunchbox.
Originally published September 25, 2013