Friday, March 2, 2012

Sesame Crunch Bars

When I first started getting interested in cooking, I was mostly interested in health foods, not “retro” recipes, and one of my favorite books of that time is called Uprisings: The Whole Grain Bakers’ Book. I’ve got the “revised edition” of 1990, which was published by the Cooperative Whole Grain Educational Association. This fun book features recipes from eighteen cooperative bakeries across the nation—many, alas, which are now closed.

Some apparently are still in operation, such as Blue Heron Bakery in Olympia, Washington, and Open Harvest Bakery in Lincoln, Nebraska. Hooray for them! And one of my favorites, though not represented in the book, is Small Planet Bakery in Tucson, Arizona (their “vegie bread” is the best!) Most of these kinds of bakeries were started in the 1970s.

Although the book is out of print, a former member of the Uprisings collective in Berkeley has been digitizing portions of it and posting them online, at For more information, click here.

I encourage you to get a print version of the book, because it’s very fun—all the recipes were written out by hand by members of the collectives and cooperatives supplying the recipes, with lots of cute drawings, too. There is also a lot of good introductory stuff about baking in general, and baking with a variety of whole grains, in particular. Plus, there’s a helpful index to recipes by major ingredients, and recipes separated by dietary characteristics (such as “no eggs or dairy,” “no wheat,” and “low- or no-fat”). This book is a treasure.

The recipes make delicious food you can feel good about eating, and if you have warm memories of eating or working at health food coops, you’ll particularly adore recipes such as Carob Chip Cookies (with tahini and tamari, yes, tamari); Carrot Celery Bread, “Peanut Minus” cookies (“eggless, dairyless, wheatless, but NOT peanut-less!”), 7-Grain Currant Muffins, Ozark Barley Bread, Banana Rice Cupcakes (wheat-free), and the best damn whole-wheat pizza crust you ever had (it’s spiffed up with oregano, cayenne, and basil—yum, yum!).

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is from the section contributed by Uprisings Baking Collective, formerly in Berkeley, California. You can read about that collective online here.

These sesame crunch bars are sweet, but not overly so. They keep well. They’re a terrific snack or light breakfast. They’re a perfect hiking snack! You can alter the flavorings a bit with other nuts, dried fruit, and so on.

Note that in the recipe below, transcribed from the book (page 224), I’m offering some comments and ideas for substitutions (which are in brackets).

Sesame Crunch Bars

Makes about 30 2-inch squares. Use an 8 x 14 inch pan, or similar.
[I use two 9 x 13 inch pans and spread dough to about 1/2 inch high, which yields 48 bars, each about 2 1/2 x 2 inches.]

  • 5/8 cup peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 cups honey
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups oats [rolled is what I use, as in Quaker]
  • 1 1/4 cups cashews [I don’t care much for cashews, so I use raisins or chopped dried apricots]
  • 1 cup wheat germ [I was getting low, so I substituted some crushed breakfast cereal flakes]
  • 6 1/4 cups sesame seeds [rather hard to find; I finally scored these at an international/ethnic grocery; by the way, sesames can get rancid quickly, so when buying, check for freshness, and refrigerate or freeze them when you get home]
  • 5/8 cup sunflower seeds [raw]

Cream together peanut butter, honey, and vanilla [it helps if you heat the honey and peanut butter; heating softens it up and makes it easier to stir]. Add the rest of the ingredients [in a big bowl!] and mix well with your hands—it works best and saves on dishes [if you heated the goo part, you can stir it with a spoon]. With wet hands or rolling pin, flatten mixture to uniform thickness on oiled pan. Dough will be stiff—be patient. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes [my oven runs hot and my bars are thinner, so I go for about half this time; watch it; if it gets too toasty and tan, it will be hard; and if you use raisins, don’t let them scorch]. Let cool [then cut into bars and store in a closed container, separated with waxed paper].


Patricia Lichen said...

Hey, I've been to Blue Heron Bakery! (Used to live in Oly, WA.)

The sesame crunch bars look yummy. It's been awhile since I baked anything new...may just have to give them a try.

Julianna Schroeder said...

Hi, Patricia! I've never been to Olympia, though I'd like to see it someday. In the early 1990s I had a book-editing client (she was an author/photographer) who lived there, and it sounded like a lovely place.

Now if you're into baking, especially healthy-type baking, I do encourage you to get a copy of "Uprisings." You'll have to find a used copy, as it's out of print, but last I checked, there are some available through Amazon. It is a true celebration of those (sadly disappearing) cooperative establishments.

Thank you for commenting,

Linz said...

5/8 cups?? Do you have weight conversions? I don't have a 5/8 measuring cup!! Thanks!

Julianna Schroeder said...

Hi, Linz, this isn't particularly rocket science. It's not like we're making some kind of persnickety pastry. We're making bars: a bunch of gooey stuff and miscellaneous solids squished together, tamped down on a baking sheet, and baked until toasty. So feel free to interpret "5/8" as "a little over a half cup" or even "a little handful, to taste." I didn't make up this recipe--this is how it appeared in the book!