Friday, March 11, 2022

Hudson's Bay Bars

We like the Hudson’s Bay Bread, but we’ve been looking for a way to make it so that it comes out more chewy and less crumbly, especially in the field. Crumbly bars are harder to transport intact, harder to eat (especially when they’re in large and small chunks), and are more prone to having traces fall into the water or in camp. There are plenty of chewy granola bars, what can we do to make Hudson’s Bay Bread more like that?

Before doing any research, we tried some experimentation. We added chocolate chips, hoping that when they melted they would increase the bond (a little, not very much). We put the oats and peanuts in a food processor and ground them up, hoping that smaller particles would bond better and be more resilient, kind of like particle board. This was not an inspired choice, as the result had the consistency of particle board - and ironically, the ground-up version held together far worse than the original. We tried adding more honey and even maple syrup, hoping that the evaporation of the liquid would help with the bonding; it added flavor, but didn’t do anything for the consistency.

Then we came across a Cook’s Illustrated magazine from July/August 2018 that features granola bars, and specifically how to make them so that they are more chewy and less crumbly. To make their granola bars chewy, they made a paste out of dried apricots and brown sugar, to which they added vegetable oil and water (in lieu of honey). We integrated the apricot paste into the standard Hudson’s Bay Bread recipe. The result is a different kind of bar than Hudson’s Bay Bread, so we’ve renamed it Hudson’s Bay Bars.

An earlier post details the standard Hudson’s Bay Bread recipe that we use. The apricot paste consists of the following:

  • 1 cup of dried apricots
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 tbs water

To make the apricot paste, put the apricots and brown sugar in a food processor and pulse for about 15 seconds. The mixture should have the consistency of meal. To that, add the vegetable oil and the water. The author of the article figured that the moisture would make a better bonding agent, something she had never before seen in a granola bar recipe. She substituted water for honey, figuring that the water would be better for moistness (and thus bendability) than honey (where the sugars would crystalize). She was right: it does.

Now, a paste sounds great, but we have to reconcile it with the Bay Bread recipe that doesn’t have apricots, but does have sugar and butter and honey. In addition, the paste goes into a granola bar that doesn’t have chocolate chips.

We kept the paste recipe intact, only we like the honey of the Bay Bread recipe, so we added 3 tbs of water to the paste and another 3 tbs of honey to the overall mix.

One other difference we picked up from this recipe is to toast the oats. Lightly toasting nuts brings out the oils and gives them a bit more flavor. We had never done that with the oats before, but were pleasantly surprised with both the taste and color that it added.

We field tested these on a canoe camping trip in the Bittersweet Lakes Wild Area in Northern Wisconsin and were pleased with how well they held up in the field. We also kept some of the bars in a plastic container in the kitchen for 2 weeks while we had them occasionally for breakfast or as a snack (on days when we were not sedentary). They kept remarkably well.

The recipe ended up looking like this.

  1. Take 3 cups of rolled oats and toast them for 12 to 15 minutes in the oven at 350F. This brings out a little more flavor from the oats.
  2. While those are toasting, use a food processor to combine 1 cup of dried apricots, 1 cup of brown sugar, and 3/4 tsp of salt. Combine this until the apricot is small. The recipe says 15 seconds but I went a good 30 seconds+. It will have the consistency of meal.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and 3 tbs (or 1 1/2 oz) water to the apricot-sugar-salt and blend until it forms a puree, about 1 minute. Add the liquid to the solid while the food processor is running. It’s pretty obvious when the transformation happens.
  4. Combine the toasted oats with the apricot puree. This helps absorb the moisture.
  5. Heat 3 tbs of honey to loosen it up and add it to the puree and oats. You can probably omit this, but we still wanted the honey.
  6. Add a generous ½ cup of peanuts (separated) and 1/2 cup of milk chocolate chips to the puree and oats. Semi-sweet might be a better choice for the chips. Raw, the apricot-chocolate combination was a little unusual.
  7. Place the mix in the usual glass baking sheet, but line this with aluminum foil (length wise and width wise) to create a sling to make it easier to remove. Press the mix down using parchment paper.
  8. The recipe says to bake for 25 minutes at 300F. We baked this for 40 minutes at 300F. Sides should just start turning brown. The chocolate chips (which melted in the mixing stage) make it hard to see when that happens.
  9. Cool for 1 hour in the pan on a cooling rack. Take the aluminum foil sling out and cool for a further hour. Then cut.

The combination of apricots and chocolate chips won’t be to everyone’s liking. You could leave out the chocolate chips of course, but we find the chocolate is a crowd pleaser in the backcountry. Raisins are part of the base Hudson’s Bay Bread recipe, so we will try a variation by making a paste with raisins rather than apricots. We’ll also tried dried cherries.

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