Sticky Pretzel Cereal Bars
The benefits of having kids are too many to list. Let’s start with the obvious: the being madly in love part, the tax write offs, and the feel good aspect of raising responsible citizens.
Then there are the “under the radars” you never consider before actually having kids: the open access to Halloween bags after bedtime, the “cleaning” of ice cream cones when the melting outpaces the licking, and the baking of ooey, gooey treats “because I need to…for the kids.”
The latter is just how these healthy Cheerios bars came to be.
It was an hour before I was due to pick up a crew of six girls for lacrosse practice when it dawned on me that an after school snack was in order, the perfect excuse to bake a batch of the chewy sort of treat I’d been mulling over all day.
A Notch Above a Rice Krispy Treat
After foraging through the pantry for inspiration, I settled on cereal bars in the order of a rice crispy treat, only built on a base of “O” cereal along with wholesome add-ins for good measure.
The result is a pan of super satisfying Sticky Pretzel Cereal Bars that hits all the right sensory buttons: sweet, chewy, nutty, crunchy, and a little salty. Yum. All this at less than 100 calories a pop, a reasonable indulgence paired with a glass of milk for an after school treat.
Swap out the Corn Syrup
Eschewing the corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, and marshmallows that are typical of bars, I relied largely on organic brown rice syrup for the “glue” to hold it all together. This mild-tasting, viscous sweetener is available in many specialty stores, organic markets such as Whole Foods, and the “health food” section of some supermarkets. I use it in place of corn syrup in much of my baking, sometimes in combination with honey or maple syrup.
Since the bars are full of both whole-grain cereal and whole oats, they have a pleasing crunch and enough soluble fiber to make you feel like there’s some good in there. Whole peanuts and peanut butter help to make the bars filling with a hit of protein. The pretzel and chocolate combination makes these bars a true winner.
The recipe makes 25 bars, which means once you drop those six kids off for practice, there are 19 left over for you to choose from…along with a cup of tea and quiet house.
If you like this, you may also like Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars or Whole Lotta Love Bars
Sticky Pretzel Cereal Bars
This is effectively a "no bake" bar, except for the fact that the oats get lightly browned in the oven before the mixing begins. What's important is to 1) Get the syrup good and hot before adding it to the cereal 2) Stir it together very quickly so that the syrup coats the dry bits before it starts to cool and 3 ) Press the mixture very firmly into the pan so the bars hold together well.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 ¾ cup “O” cereal, such as Barbara's or Cheerios
- 1 cup salted pretzel sticks
- ⅓ cup roasted peanuts or other chopped nuts (feel free to toss in a tablespoon of pepitas as part of the mix)
- ⅓ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup organic brown rice syrup (see notes)
- ¼ cup peanut butter (substitute another nut or seed butter, if desired)
- ½ cup dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread oats in the bottom of an 8-inch-square baking pan and toast in the oven until fragrant and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
While the oats brown, put the cereal, pretzel sticks, peanuts, and dried cranberries into a large bowl.
Heat the brown rice syrup and peanut butter in a small bowl in the microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir well and pour over the cereal mix. Stir to blend completely. Add the chocolate chips and stir again.
Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with enough parchment that it drapes over two sides. Transfer the cereal mixture to the pan and use your hands to press down on the mixture until it is one solid block that fills out the pan evenly. Put a piece of parchment between your hands and the bars to keep them from sticking as you press.
Leave it to cool for 30 minutes. Lift the bars from the pan and cut into 25 small bars.
Store in an air-tight container.
If you can't find brown rice syrup, you can use honey, though the bars won't stick together quite as well. You can also look for organic corn syrup.