These Coconut-Strawberry Granola Bars (of the chewy variety) are just awesome! This recipe contains a few firsts in the kitchen for me. One- This is my first time ever making granola bars, I've made granola lots of times, but never bars. Two- It's my first time ever buying or cooking with coconut oil, and I can tell you it won't be my last, yum! And three- I made homemade dried strawberries. I made them twice for this recipe, the first time they never made it to the recipe, because my husband and I kept snacking on them. They're really good, they are kinda tart like a dried cranberry, and the strawberry flavor is really intense.
I got the idea to make the dried strawberries from something I saw on Pinterest. Maybe you've seen it too, it's a pin that shows you a pile of these beautifully plump dried bright red strawberries that look almost like a combination between a gumdrop and a gummy candy, and I think that someone even said something along the line of them being a good replacement to Twizzlers candies. Well as the saying goes, most things that seem too good to be true usually are, that's not really what happens to strawberries when you dry them out in a low oven for 4 hours. But the good news is that the result is a good one. And I was skeptical, so I did some research beforehand to find out what does happen when you dry strawberries in the oven. Looking around, I saw some fails and some successes, so I tried to glean what knowledge I could and came up with a method that yielded good results.
First, you want to make sure your strawberry pieces are small, they take a long time to dry and having fairly smallish pieces makes them ready in the 4 hour timeline for baking them. Second, you want to start them out, cut-side up, if you start them cut-side down they will release liquid and steam rather than dry out. Beginning them on the skin side first allows partial dehydration, then halfway through you flip them over and let them finish cut-side down. Lastly, at the 4 hour mark you turn off the oven and just leave them in there for a while, this is an optional step, but it helps them to firm up a bit. You don't exactly want them to be dry, you want them to still have a little squish to them, and they should still maintain a bit of red color, when they have gone too far they become brown, and that's not good.
So there you have it, of course if you want to make life easier on yourself, you can always just use a cup of store-bought dried fruit of your choice. But if you have the time, I'd recommend giving the dried strawberries a try. Even though they take a long time in the oven, they require a very minimal amount of effort.
Strawberry-Coconut Granola Bars
makes an 11x7-inch pan of granola bars
1 lb. of strawberries, preferably small berries, (smaller berries halved, larger berries cut into thirds or quartered if very large)
1/2 c. coconut oil (butter can be substituted)
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/4 c. light brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. sweetened, shredded coconut
2 1/4 c. quick oats
1 3/4 c. rice krispies, (I really wanted to make these with the brown rice variety, but couldn't find it)
1. Make the dried strawberries: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees f. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and distribute the strawberries evenly on the sheet, cut-sides up. Bake for 2 hours, remove from oven, flip the berries cut-side down and continue to bake for another 2 hours. Turn the oven off. The strawberries will have shrunk considerably, but they should still be a bit squishy feeling and be a dark red color. Flip the strawberries back to their cut-side up position and put back in the (turned off) oven and just leave them there (alternately you could just leave them out on the counter at this point too). If not using right away, store the berries in the fridge until ready to use.
2. Make the granola bars: Line an 11x7-inch baking dish with foil. Coarsely chop the dried strawberries (this is easily done using scissors). In a large microwave bowl add the coconut oil, corn syrup, brown sugar, granulated sugar and salt. Microwave on high for 90 seconds. Remove from microwave and stir well. Microwave an additional 90 seconds, remove and stir well again. Stir in the vanilla extract.
3. Meanwhile, in a separate large bowl add the chopped, dried strawberries, shredded coconut, oats and rice krispies. Toss well to combine evenly. Add the sugar mixture and mix well. Scrape into the foil-lined pan and press down on the mixture firmly to compact. (I used the back of a measuring cup, it created a nice, flat top.) Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. Remove the bars from the pan, peel away the foil and cut into bars.