Barack Obama and his family undoubtedly eat well at the White House. Cristeta Comerford has been Executive Chef there since 2005 – she’s the first woman to be selected for the post. There’s also a resident Executive Pastry Chef – Bill Yosses – who with training in classical French cooking and 30 years of experience (including stints with Chefs Daniel Boulud and then Sous Chef Thomas Keller at Polo Restaurant in New York City) is undoubtedly skilled in the art of pastry and other baked goods. So when I came across his recipe for granola bars – something almost every parent of a school-aged child is in hot pursuit of a good recipe for – I tried it right away.
What I love about these (besides the fact that they’re sweet, chewy and delicious) is that they’re packed with seeds – not nuts, which are banned from many schools. Seeds pack the same nutritional wallop nuts do – they’re loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals and heart-healthy fats, in a conveniently portable package that doesn’t need to be kept hot or cold. Pumpkin seeds – buy the small green ones (also known as pepitas), not the bigger off-white ones that are still in their husks – are particularly high in protein and lower in fat (and thus calories) than most seeds. Although this looks like a small batch, it cuts into enough squares or bars to wrap and stash to grab and go for breakfast or pack into a lunchbox all week long. Don’t skip lining the pan with foil or parchment – I got lazy and had trouble getting the cooled bars out of the pan.
White House Fruit and Oat Bars
Adapted from Bill Yosses, White House pastry chef, via the New York Times, May 11, 2010
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup mixed seeds, such as pumpkin, sunflower, flax and sesame
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups mixed dried fruit, such as raisins, cherries, apricots, blueberries, pears, figs and cranberries (use a few kinds, and chop them up if they’re big)
a shake of cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350F and line a 9×9″ baking pan with parchment paper or foil, letting a few inches hang over side of pan. Spray with nonstick spray.
Spread oats and seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven just until golden and fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes, shaking pan once.
In a small saucepan, combine brown sugar, oil, honey, maple syrup and salt over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until smooth and starting to bubble. Transfer the toasted oats and seeds to a mixing bowl. add the dried fruit and cinnamon and pour the hot sugar mixture overtop. Stir well with a heat-proof spatula, then spread into the prepared pan.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Using the overhanging foil or paper, lift out of pan and place on a cutting board; cut into squares or bars. Makes about 2 dozen bars.