Anyone who’s bonked — that abrupt drop in blood sugar that makes you feel dizzy and sick — while out exercising can appreciate the benefit of having a good power bar stashed in your pack.
The first time I bonked badly after moving to Jackson I was hiking up Table Mountain with my husband and some friends. Since I was 12 weeks pregnant, my chivalrous husband offered to carry my pack. Then he scurried up the steep trail ahead of me, taking with him my arsenal of energy bars. When my blood sugar started to plummet, my vision blurred and I had to sit down. A wave of nausea hit me that could only be cured with food.
These days, I’m a lot more careful to bring food with me when exercising in the mountains; my blood sugar tends to dip even when I’m not pregnant. I’ve tried just about every energy bar on the market, but most are too dense and too sweet for my taste. Inevitably, I had to start making my own bars from whole foods I love.
There’s a real art to designing a good homemade power bar. It should be easily quaffable — not too chewy, chunky or sweet. It should be a bit salty, a bit crispy, and it should stay soft even when the temperature hovers around zero. And it should be packed with tasty whole foods that provide simple carbohydrates for quick energy. I love putting dried figs, ginger and chocolate in mine.
Many packaged bars are held together with high fructose corn syrup, but I prefer to use brown rice syrup or Lyle’s golden syrup. Both have a more interesting, malty flavor and aren’t derived from processed corn. Find them at Jackson Whole Grocer next to the honey.
That’s what’s so great about making your own bars: you get to choose what goes in there. And you’ll save a ton of money at the grocery store.
In the next few months, I’ll be sharing my repertoire of bar recipes so you can stock your pantry and freezer with yummy homemade bars. Not all of them are sweet. I’ve become a big fan of a rice-based savory bar laced with bacon and soy sauce. Stash one in your pocket when you head out skiing and never fear bonking again.
This Backcountry Bar is one of my favorites, and my kids are always begging me to make a batch. The ingredients are easily swapped out with whatever is in your pantry. Depending on your choice of cereal, these bars can be gluten-free and vegan. (Lyle’s Golden Syrup is often used as a vegan alternative to honey.) As you’ll see from the ingredients, these bars are packed with calories. Enjoy them after a hike up Glory, not when you’re sitting on the couch!
Recipe: Backcountry Bars
- If I don’t have time to make my own granola, I grab a bag of the Bunnery’s Original Granola — it has just the right texture and flavor for these bars.
- 1 ¾ cups creamy peanut or almond butter
- ½ cup brown rice syrup
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 ½ cups crushed whole wheat cereal, like Total, or granola
- 2 ounces (1/3 cup chopped) dark chocolate, melted
- Generous pinch of crunchy sea salt or Máldon salt flakes
- Cooking spray
- Rice Krispies cereal (or gluten free crisped brown rice cereal) + ½ cup chopped dried figs + ½ cup chopped crystallized ginger
- Crushed Total cereal + 1 cup chopped roasted peanuts + ½ cup currants
- Granola + ½ cup chopped dried apricots + ½ cup chopped dried cherries
- Karo syrup can be substituted for the brown rice syrup
- For bars that are smothered in a layer of chocolate, pour 8 ounces of chocolate chips over the top of the bars, set in a warm oven just until melted, then spread in a thin layer. Chill and cut into bars.
- Mix peanut butter, brown rice syrup, and sugar in a large saucepan over low heat. When the mixture starts to bubble, stir continuously for about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Add crushed cereal (fill a large Ziploc bag with cereal and crush with a rolling pin) or granola, and any additional ingredients you are using.
- Mix well so all the ingredients are uniformly distributed throughout the peanut butter base.
- Pour onto a 13 x 9 inch rimmed baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking oil. Press evenly into the pan. It helps to cover the pan with wax paper or plastic wrap then press down with a metal spatula or another pan.
- Chill in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.
- If drizzling with chocolate, microwave chopped chocolate on low power at 15-second increments until melted. Stir to smooth. Drizzle over the bars. While the chocolate is still set, sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Cut into 2-inch squares once the chocolate is set, and wrap individually with wax paper or plastic wrap. Keeps 7 days in the fridge or 4 months in the freezer.