When the month of September rolls around and school is back in session, everyone’s lives get a lot busier. With school comes after-school activities, staying after school for extra help, and less time to sit down for meals. Most afternoons, I come home starving, and have a little snack to hold me over until dinner. But, these snacks are not always healthy. So, recently, I created a recipe that gives energy, as well as a touch of sweetness, that I love and I think you will too. This snack is great for parents and children and will satisfy any mid-afternoon cravings.
My new snack, trail mix bars, are quick to prepare, delicious to eat, and fun to make with young kids. Prior to cooking, it is very important, especially in this recipe, to prepare all of your ingredients. The proper French term for this is mise en place, meaning literally putting in place. This is the stage where you chop, dice, and measure all of the ingredients, and put them into separate little bowls or measuring cups. We will be working with melted chocolate in this recipe, which hardens quickly. Re-melting chocolate affects the texture in a very negative way, so be sure to have all of your trail mix bar ingredients “in their place”.
Trail mix is really a make-it-your-own kind of recipe, but my favorite ingredients to add are ¼ cup each of golden raisins, roughly chopped pretzels, roughly chopped almonds, and broken-up pecans. You can use any dried fruits or chopped nuts, but the pretzels are what really make the bar. A salty piece of crunchy pretzel cuts the sweetness and adds body to the bar. Once all of the add-ins are ready to go, you may begin with the cooking, or should I say, melting.
To begin, set up a double boiler. A double boiler is a gentle heating method used for melting chocolate. You can buy a double boiler, but there is a simpler version that you can make with common kitchen tools. Fill a medium saucepan ¾ full with water. Fit a metal or glass bowl on top of the saucepan and turn on your stove-top to medium high. Wait for the water to come up to a boil. If you are using a glass bowl you will be able to see the steam and the water boiling. If a metal bowl is being used, pick up the bowl using a towel or an oven mitt and check to see if the water is up to temperature. Once your water is boiling, add ½ cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips to the bowl. If you would prefer a less-sweet bar, use dark chocolate chips. Stir continuously until the chocolate is fully melted. Do not leave unattended!
If left without stirring, the chocolate will burn. Once the chocolate is fully melted, add ½ cup chunky peanut butter. The whole peanuts in the peanut butter will add a nice texture to the base of the bars. Stir the peanut butter into the chocolate until it becomes fully incorporated. Turn off the heat and move the bowl onto a counter or trivet. Fold in all of the add-ins you have prepared in the previous step. Scrape the mix onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The parchment will allow the bars to release from the sheet with ease. Spread the chocolate mix in to an approximately 8x8 inch square. Cover with plastic, and refrigerate for at least a half hour.
After a half hour, use a pizza cutter to divide the huge bar in to six smaller bars. Wrap individually in plastic or parchment and freeze until ready to eat. Although these bars taste very sweet, remember there is only about a tenth of a cup of chocolate in each bar; and using semi-sweet or dark chocolate means there is less sugar than can be found in milk chocolate. The rest is nuts and fruit. These bars are easy to travel with and provide a boost of energy to last you the afternoon.