Slightly obsessed by these Chocolate & Cardamom Muesli Bars lately – enough to make them a total of eight times and counting. I’ve been searching for the Bar that ultimately satisfies, you see, and each time I’ve done something a little different. Almost every weekend for the past two months I’ve pulled nuts and chocolate out of the cupboard, tweaked the method, trialled different combinations of nuts and reviewed the pro’s and con’s of each result. I’m not usually the type to fuss and labour and fine-tune like this, but these muesli bars got under my skin and I just had to keep working on them. Happily, I think I’ve done it: these are damn fine muesli bars.
The original recipe comes via Heidi from the delightful blog, Apples Under My Bed. Heidi is a dietician, so you can count on her for healthy recipes, but what makes Heidi’s blog so appealing to me is her clear enjoyment of living life to the fullest. Her food is wholesome but, refreshingly, nothing is off limits. She loves butter and pie and ice cream, and she even loves coffee so much that she infused it into honey and poured it over her porridge. She’s my kind of girl.
I first made Heidi’s muesli bars to take to a picnic brunch in the park. The combination of nuts, cardamom and chocolate produced such a complex, spicy flavour that the bars disappeared quickly. I loved them as well, but couldn’t shake the feeling that they were close but not completely perfect to my tastes. The next weekend I had another go, replacing some of the almonds with pistachios, grinding the oats more finely, dialling back the cardamom slightly and increasing the chocolate (everything in moderation, right!). These changes produced such an addictively toothsome snack that we almost ate the entire batch on our weekend away at the beach (um…so much for moderation).
I could have stopped there, but I had been thinking about activated nuts for a while and decided to incorporate this process. “Activation” involves soaking nuts in water to break down the enzymes that prohibit nuts from sprouting but which also make them difficult to digest (Michelle provides a handy guide to activating nuts here). The theory is that soaking nuts before eating them is easier on your gut and it also makes the nutrients more absorbable. I thought it was worth a go, but once I started soaking the nuts, it changed the flavour and texture of the muesli bars. I had better luck once I started drying the nuts out prior to baking with them and I eventually settled on the best combination of soft nuts (cashews and pistachios) which only require soaking for 4 hours and drying in a 65°C oven for 8 hours, following this guide here. Michelle is right – activation actually improves and concentrates the flavour of the nuts.
You don’t have to activate your nuts for this recipe, but if the science convinces you it’s worthwhile then you might want to give it a go. It’s a lengthy process – there’s no way to sugar-coat this – however, most of the time the nuts are just soaking in water or drying on an oven tray and if you get into the habit of doing large batches at a time, you can have activated nuts on hand. You could save yourself the labour and buy activated nuts from health food shops but you’ll pay 4-5 times the price of raw nuts. It’s really not that hard to do it yourself and I’m convinced it’s worth it. Enjoy!
Chocolate & Cardamom Muesli Bars
1 & 2/3 cup rolled oats
1 cup cashews (raw or activated)
2/3 cup pistachios (raw or activated)
2 Tbsp sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/4 tsp sea salt
100g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids
1/3 cup runny honey
2 Tbsp tahini
1 & 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 Tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F. Line a 15x25cm baking pan or similar sized tin with baking paper.
In a food processor, chop the rolled oats until they are ground to a fine flour, then transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the nuts to the food processor and pulse until roughly ground (a mix of fine and chunkier pieces is ideal). Add the chopped nuts to the bowl along with the sunflower seeds and salt.
Measure the honey, tahini, ground cardamom and olive oil into a small saucepan. Place the pan over a medium heat, and whisk until smooth then pour over the oats and nuts. Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl, then add them to the oats and nuts. Add the chocolate to the food processor and blitz it until roughly chopped. Add the chocolate to the bowl also.
Stir all ingredients together to combine thoroughly. If the mixture is too dry and crumbly, add 1 Tbsp water to moisten. If it is too wet, add a little extra ground oats (or another flour) to absorb the excess moisture. Press the mixture into the prepared pan, using fingertips moistened with water to firmly pack and smooth the mixture.
Bake for 25 minutes until golden and firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the pan, then slice into bars. Store in an airtight container in the fridge to maintain the freshness of the nuts.