Earlier this week, I stared into my pantry and refrigerator, wondering what to do with my odds and ends. I felt like baking, and wanted to make a snack rather than a full-fledged dessert. Besides, I felt compelled to use my dried fruit “stash.” Inspiration struck when I saw this David Lebovitz post on a holiday treat. He adapted an Alice Medrich recipe and called it fruitcake bars. I turned David’s recipe into a template for Homemade Dried Fruit and Nut Bars.
David’s post specifies the types of fruits and nuts to use. His mouth watering photos of ingredients include moist-looking dried dates and apricot morsels. He artfully arranged them in bowls and cups, a tempting prelude to the finished bars. What I found in my pantry, however, were leftover bits of this and that. Some were a bit moist. But others were well past their prime. And as for the nuts, which I keep refrigerated after I open them, those were no better.
Luckily, though my beloved used to criticize me for overbuying, he doesn’t now. What he considered borderline hoarding behavior in the past, he now appreciates. My past buying sprees mean that we have a variety of potential ingredients for these Homemade Dried Fruit & Nut Bars. And he gets to munch on the bars as we contemplate which show to binge-watch next.
They are deliciously dense and chewy. Simple too. I added a top layer, because I can never leave well enough alone. If you’re in my camp on that, use chocolate to satisfy the chocoholics (like my Grownup Homemade Granola Bars), or use another topping, like coconut. Or keep it simple, with just the dried fruit and nuts. Either way, you’ll enjoy these.
While I have provided a recipe, think of it as a template. Improvise with what you have and be creative. All that matters is that you have some dried fruit in any condition (see the note for moistening stale dried fruit), nuts of any type, sugar, and the other ingredients or a reasonable substitute. You can even add a few pumpkin seeds if you have them.
Let them cool completely in the pan, then cut into small squares with a cleaver like the one pictured below or a large sharp knife. I got my cleaver from an incredible store, The Wok Shop in San Francisco, thanks to a recommendation from Grace Young. And though you may not have an in-person visit in your future, you can spend hours virtually there, shopping at their online store.
Want to try it with almond flour instead of wheat flour? Sure – go ahead and try it. Make it vegan with an egg substitute? I haven’t tried but you definitely should if that’s your preference.
Homemade Dried Fruit & Nut Bars
These simple bars are a fabulous way to use up bits of dried fruit and nuts. Think of the recipe as a template and get creative as you use up what you have.
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour 50g
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
- 6 tablespoons brown sugar, packed 80 g. Either light or dark sugar.
- 2 cups nuts (any variety or mixed), toasted & coarsely chopped
- 1&1/2 - 2&1/2 cups dried fruit, chopped into bite size pieces if larger than raisins or dried cranberries - preferably a mixture of at least 2 types approximately 170g - 340g
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-2 handfuls chopped chocolate or another topping such as shredded coconut
Line the pan with parchment or aluminum foil. Cover the sides at least halfway up on 2 sides and over the edge by about 1-inch on the other 2 sides. The longer sides create handles to lift the 8-inch square after it cools.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F/160 degrees C, with a rack in the center of the oven.
Whisk the flour, baking soda and powder, and salt. Add the brown sugar, and mix until the ingredients are well combined. Mix in the dried fruit and nuts, using your hands. Toss everything together until the fruit and nuts are well-coated with the flour and sugar mixture.
Lightly beat the egg and vanilla together in a small bowl, then add them to the floury dried fruit and nut mixture. Using a fork, mix the liquid into the dry ingredients, until the mixture is uniformly moist and no flour/sugar remains untouched.
Spoon the mixture into the pan and press it in evenly, so that the mixture forms a compact layer. Add a topping of chopped chocolate or sweetened coconut and gently press it in.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until the topping is lightly browned. Hopefully the bars will pull away slightly from the sides, but you may not notice that. Cool the uncut bars in the pan. When completely cool, remove the entire 8-inch square, using the overlapping parchment or foil "handles." Place it on a cutting board and cut into small squares. Because the square is dense, (carefully) use a cleaver or large, sharp knife.
If your dried fruit is not moist and fresh, you can freshen it up a bit after cutting it into small pieces. Microwave a small amount of juice or water in a bowl for about 1 minute on high, then soak the dried fruit pieces until they absorb some of the liquid.
It's fine to use a mixture of types of dried fruit or nuts. You can also add candied or crystallized ginger or even homemade candied orange peel.
For the chopped chocolate, I prefer dark, but semi-sweet works too. Bar chocolate is better than chips if you want it to melt because chips contain an ingredient that helps them retain their shape during baking.
If you want to sweeten unsweetened coconut, try this method.
To store the bars, tightly wrap them in foil or place them in a tightly covered container. They should remain fresh for at least several days, up to a week.