Carol H’s Review: The Pandemic has recently driven Cheryl to hunt down The Perfect Seedy Bar, regardless of what it takes or where it takes her. Follow our heroine’s latest adventures as she immerses herself into first one bar, then another.
I have a hard time understanding people who want their kitchen in the living room. It’s all the rage and perhaps that’s why I reject the very notion. I’d like to be able to enter my kitchen, seal the door and practice food-wise witchcraftery, with my favorite music on and the dog sleeping soundly in her crate. It’s my Zen, so to speak.
Of course, it was not always this way. When I was working full time and had a family to feed, I served healthy, quickly-made meals. I had little time for play, experimentation or invention. Now my time is my own and I am able to indulge in whatever fancy-ass cooking I’d like to try. I have moved from the mac and cheese phase of meal planning to the mixed grain casserole with roasted jackfruit tacos on homemade tortillas phase. In other words, the kind of meals in which I can invest two or more hours in the making.
Once I discovered the local food co-op, with its fabulous bulk room, my options for raw materials opened up. Only one ingredient (fenugreek leaves) stumped them, as well as just about every other store in town, until the Indian grocery opened just down the street and I found my personal Nirvana in their spice section. Sometimes I buy items because they amuse me (pickled mango from the Asian Market) or I am curious about incorporating something into my cooking or baking (local stone-ground rye flour). Most people have the recipe and look for the necessary ingredients, while I often buy the ingredients and hunt down a means of using it.
Sometimes, I try to replicate something someone else made. My current passion is seeds. Our good friends came for Thanksgiving weekend and gifted me with my latest obsession. Seed bars. David’s Seedy Bars to be exact. Sounds like a conglomeration of tacky, low-end honkytonks scattered throughout Appalachia, but these bars are actually a deceptively addictive, intoxicatingly delicious snack made in Clayton Georgia, which is not too far from here. The package stated I should use them by February of 2022. Who are they kidding? I ate them all in two days. Even that was using considerable constraint. I became wholly committed to finding a way to make them in my own kitchen.
Since Clayton is a two-hour drive away, and I doubt the company would share their recipe with just anyone, I started researching online for a recipe of a similar nature. Luckily, chef David Sweeney listed the ingredients on the package of his seedy bars, to aid in my own experimentations no doubt. There were many recipes out there for seedy things one might whip up in the personal kitchen, but none seemed to have these particular ingredients. I decided to start with a basic granola bar recipe from The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook written by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen. This is one of my favorite cookbooks since it uses alternatives to wheat products—making it fun to find uses for that spelt or besan I bought on a whim.
Of course, the first thing I did with this recipe was remove some of the oats (David’s has none) and replace them with whole wheat pastry flour. I found a nice list of spices on the back of the coveted bar’s packaging to guide me in creating a resemblance of the flavoring. The flavoring being the addictive ingredient here, I was not too concerned with reproducing the substance, mouth feel or construction of the thing so much as finding a starting point on taste. Among the coveted ingredients listed on the bag, I was having trouble sourcing puffed amaranth and anise seed in my kitchen cupboards. I scored some anise at a nearby Mexican market, but the puffed amaranth was more difficult to find locally. It was the one ingredient that really annoyed me because online wisdom states one can buy it raw and pop it like popcorn, but this would be a difficult task since it burns easily. Although I could have ordered some pre-popped amaranth for the price of a small yacht, I chose to forgo this particular component and rely on the oats to give my bars enough structure. I amended the written granola bar recipe by adding every other kind of seed I had at my disposal.
The last decision I had to make was between molasses, which is smooth, dark and sultry as a night in the tropics, maple syrup, which has lovely amber glow and a flavor that transports you to a crisp fall day in Vermont or brown rice syrup. I had never seen nor tasted brown rice syrup before my first attempt recreating these treats, and having none at hand, I opted for my tried-and-true tree sap. I measured out what I considered a proper proportion of each spice and carefully scribbled the amounts in my spiral notebook. I followed the instructions for the granola bars America’s Text kitchen had so painstakingly developed, and along with my own ingredient swaps, baked up some seedy granola bars.
With my first taste of the finished product, I swooned. Following the spice list had turned out to be the right strategy. I ate four bars in a row. As they cooled, and I began to transfer them to storage in my baked-goods Tupperware container, the bars crumbled under my manipulations. Drat. I made some notations in my record and sat with a cup of tea to further consider my next approach. More bulk was necessary in order for my bars to keep their shape. They were also rather thin and lacked a good binding agent. Perhaps the brown rice syrup was needed after all. Usually, an egg would suffice for that function, but David’s bars are vegan and I was committed to following that idea. I peeked at the package once more to see if I had missed something.
And there it was. Flax. I always keep some on hand and of course, it’s a seed! On my next attempt, I made a flax egg—1 Tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 3Tbsp water. I had gone out and bought a bottle of brown rice syrup. This syrup had the color and consistency of mud. It was so thick, I had to slap a spatula at the top of the jar to cut off the flow without it oozing down the side of the container like cooling lava. It was also very sticky. In a pinch, you could probably use it to repair a hole in your roof. Its languid viscosity gave me hope it would deliver the mortar needed to hold the seeds in my bars together with all the other ingredients. I strong-armed a good portion of it into the mix, and once incorporated, used a greased knife to even out the batter in my foil-covered pan.
Round-two bars came out with better binding, but I had to chisel them apart in the Tupperware container in order to eat one because that sticky brown rice syrup retained its adherent quality even after roasting in a 300-degree oven for an hour. As a result of this snacky, tacky wrestling match, the bars lasted a few days longer than the previous ones. The taste was still wonderful, but I had to scrub my hands every time I enjoyed eating one. Note in record: adjust the quantity of goo.
So now, after a good cup of huckleberry tea and a meditation session, I have decided to switch tactics. Here in my sealed kitchen, away from the bustle of the rest of the household, I will try using a biscotti recipe as my starting point for the seed bars. More flour, no oats and only the faintest whiff of brown rice syrup, I will once again wave my magic wand and produce something resembling a scrumptious seed bar. Maybe.
Live, love, bake,
Guest Editor Carol had her work cut out for her since she edited my story about something scrumptious to eat without even getting to taste the deliciousness of my seedy bars. I plan to bring her some on our next hike! I should have them perfected by spring.