I realize that Pumpkin Granola Bar Cookies sounds a little confusing. Is it a bar, or is it a cookie? Well, when I started putting together this recipe, I was going for a bar, but then I had the genius idea to make them into perfect circle cookies. If I would have taken the bar approach, I would have yielded about a dozen. But taking the cookie approach, I was able yield 24. I'm not sure how fast homemade desserts get eaten in your house, but in my house, they vanish pretty quickly.
I had three goals with this recipe:
- Make it clean: real unrefined food only
- Include pumpkin: it's that time of year
- Pass the kid taste test: my kids have no idea how to "fake like" food
The first step in clean oat-based cookies
I wouldn't say this recipe was labor intensive, but from start to finish, it took a little more time than a traditional cookie or bar recipe. When I make a recipe using rolled oats, I like to soak them before eating them. Most people don't give this a second thought, but to me it's a very big deal. Oats, like many grains, are digested much easier if they're soaked. Beyond digestion, the amount of phytic acid in soaked oats is greatly reduced. Our bodies need a little phytic acid, but we get way too much in our grain-centric diets. Excessive phytic acid acts like a sponge toward other minerals our body needs, and drags them out. This can and does have a long-term effect on our body if we eat too many grains that have not been sprouted/soaked. We risk running deficient on vital nutrients our body would otherwise absorb. Soaking and sprouting foods is essentially the same thing.
I don't want to guilt anyone into soaking oats, but it's worth it to me. All you need to soak your oats is a little extra time, some water and an acid medium (more on than in a minute). Here's how you do it:
- Fill a bowl with the oats you plan to use
- Fill the same bowl with water. Just enough to cover the oats.
- Stir in one tablespoon of an acid medium like buttermilk, apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Any will work and you'll never be able to taste it. This "unlocks" the grain and allows you to actually get the benefit of the minerals!
- Let it sit on your counter for 8 to 24 hours (24 is optimal). That's it.
Drying the oats
The first time I tried to make granola using soaked oats, it was a disaster. The soaking was no problem, but I wasn't patient enough when it came to drying them out (or dehydrating them). I made the mistake of piling an enormous amount of oats onto a baking sheet (about a half-inch thick), then stuck them in the oven for what seemed to be half the day. The oats weren't dry after several hours and I didn't want to wait anymore, so I made the granola with soggy oats. Guess what? They didn't really turn out and no one in my family ate them...except me.
This time I simply loaded up the oats on multiple baking sheets covered with parchment paper, spread the mixture really thin (about 1/4 inch), popped the sheets in the oven for 90 minutes at 250 degrees and voila! They were done. Perfectly toasted, if fact. I did flip them once at 45 minutes, but beyond that, everything worked out just fine.
If you've never sprouted or soaked your grains before, you probably think I'm crazy to go through all this. In fact, you could skip all this soaking business, use regular oats and follow the recipe below. It will probably taste great, too! I promise soaking grains is well worth it, but what fun is a recipe that causes too much stress? Give it a shot either way.
Making the cookies
When it finally came down to making the cookies, I was still thinking I was going to make bars. I wanted something with the consistency of a granola bar; a happy medium between chewy and crunchy.
Right away you'll notice the chocolate chips. As it should, chocolate takes center stage in the photo. It's only 1/2 cup, and some people might argue that it's not truly a "clean" food. These chunks of chocolate are 70% dark chocolate. I contemplated adding cacao nibs instead (probably half the amount), but I wasn't sure how that would go over with my kids. Given that I used so little and dark chocolate is very good for you in small amounts, I kept it in.
Another ingredient I will use until the end of time is coconut oil. It's the white stuff in the upper right corner of the picture. on warmer days, this will appear liquid as it melts at 76 degrees. Coconut oil is great for baking and quite healthy. It's a medium chain triglyceride, which means it gets converted to energy much faster than most common pantry oils. I highly recommend using it over any other oil, particularly unhealthy corn, canola or soybean oils.
After mixing together all the wet ingredients, then combining them with the dry ingredients, this is what my granola concoction looked like. As I reached into the cabinet for my 8 x 8 pan, I saw a cupcake pan. An idea popped into my head! Instead of making granola bars, I would make perfectly round granola bar cookies! I lightly greased the bottoms of a couple cupcake trays, added about two tablespoons of the mixture to each form, then pressed the bottom of a glass over the top of the mixture to make flat cookies.
Using parchment paper over the bottom of the glass prevented the mixture from sticking. I knew the cookies wouldn't rise, so the flat, circular shapes would stay in tact. I tried just holding the parchment paper in place. But it was moving around, so I grabbed one of my daughters pink hair bands and placed it on the glass. It worked. And as you can plainly seen, it did not make contact with the cookie mixture.
Keep in mind, the thinner you make the cookies, the less time you'll need to bake them. Mine were about 1/4 inch thick. I baked the cookies for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees. After cooling, they held their shape and turned out great.
Clean Pumpkin Granola Bar Cookies
3 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. dark chocolate chips
1/2 c. pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/3 c. honey
1/4 c. apple sauce
3 tbsp. sunflower seeds
2 tbsp. coconut oil + 1 tsp for greasing bottom of trays
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cupcake tins. Set aside. Combine pumpkin pie spice, salt and oats. Set aside. In a separate small bowl, whisk together, coconut oil (melted), pumpkin puree, honey and apple sauce. Combine the mixture into the larger bowl containing the oats. Finally, add the chocolate chips and sunflower seeds. Toss gently. Spoon about two tablespoons of the granola mixture into the bottom of the cupcake tins, and depress with bottom of glass. Bake for 25 minutes, remove and allow to cool.
Note: pushing the cookies in place allowed them to stay together. If you want to make cookies without the cupcake tins, make sure that the cookies are packed tightly and not loosely balled onto a cookie sheet.
Traci is a nationally recognized health and fitness expert, author of The Belly Burn Plan and has been featured on The TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and wellness coaching, as well as private training. Contact Traci here.