Whole Lotta Love Bars (Whole Grain Blondies)

healthier blondies

Cooking is my therapy. It always picks me up, calms me down, and makes me feel creatively quenched.

Sometimes eating is a little therapeutic, too. I know, I’m a dietitian, which means I’m only supposed to eat perfectly portioned, nutritionally balanced meals, and only when I’m supremely hungry.

But occasionally, cooking, and eating are for pure comfort. Like today, for instance, when I got some sad news from a friend who is going in for some pretty un-fun surgery (as opposed to the fun kind which results in a perky new set of boobs or a dynamite remodeled nose).

I was facing a mountain of work and a mile long “to do” list, but all I could think about was baking: for my friend, and for myself.

So I fished out a recipe I’ve been meaning to get to for a few weeks — whole grain blondies — from Los Angeles pastry chef Breanne Varela. I gathered my ingredients, pleased that for once I had everything on hand; no need to run to the neighbors for an egg or a stick of butter.

I set to work on these bars, which I’ve renamed “Whole Lotta Love” Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Bars. When I was stirring together the sugar and flour, walnuts and dried cranberries, I put a whole lotta love in there. It’s the secret ingredient to good baking. It’s true.

Turns out, this is a great recipe, well worth sharing. Some of the butter is replaced with canola oil saving a few grams of saturated fat, and the flour is whole wheat pastry, which means more fiber, more staying power. If you don’t have whole wheat pastry flour, it’s worth adding to your pantry. You can trade out all-purpose flour, or at least some of it, quite seamlessly in a lot of recipes. Baking the dough in a big pan rather than portioning it out like cookies is a time saver.

When the bars came out of the oven, I wrapped most of them up for my friend. I cut the remainder of the squares into quarters: little sweet bites to tuck into school lunches or serve with milk and fruit for an afternoon snack. My kids will love them.

The last bar was for me. I wasn’t especially hungry (what with all that batter), but I ate it anyway, with a cup of black tea, and let myself be comforted. The diet gurus warn us against eating to make ourselves feel better. And it’s good advice since food is a way for a lot of folks, and I think women in particular, to hide out, to distract ourselves from our emotions.

But if we can feel our feelings most of the time, and take refuge in a warm cookie once in a while, that seems ok.

No worries, I’ll be back to “perfectly portioned, nutritionally balanced, only when I’m supremely hungry” meals come dinnertime.

"Whole Lotta Love" Whole Grain Blondies

This is a great recipe and well worth sharing. It's a healthier twist on the classic blondie. Some of the butter is replaced with canola oil saving a few grams of saturated fat, and the flour is whole wheat pastry, which means more fiber, more staying power. And here's another plus: baking the dough in one big pan rather than portioning it out like cookies is a time saver.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter , softened to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons gently packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ cups dried cranberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9X13-inch baking pan with parchment paper so it drapes over two sides.
  2. In an electric mixer, beat the butter, canola oil, sugar, and brown sugar together until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until smooth and creamy.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, stir together the pastry flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Mix until smooth.
  4. Add the chocolate chips, walnuts and cranberries and beat until just combined.
  5. Scoop the dough into the baking pan and press until it spreads evenly covering the entire bottom of the pan. It might help to put a piece of parchment on top of the dough and press down to spread the dough out.
  6. Bake until golden brown all over, 20 minutes.
  7. Allow it to cool for 15 minutes. Use the two sides of the parchment to lift the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into squares. Store in an air-tight container or freeze in a ziplock bag.

Recipe Notes

Adapted from a recipe by Breanne Varela. Published in Food and Wine, March 2011.

Comments

04.08.2011 at 2:05 AM #

Patti

Katie

I love this post! I also love the name of these bars! I can’t wait to try them – not only as a treat for my family which will be wildly appreciated, as my girls think it is Christmas when I decide to bake- but also as a gift, as you have described when someone is in need of a “whole lotta love”. Thank you for this and all of your brilliant advice!

04.08.2011 at 2:05 AM #

Barbara

Katie, can you tell me what the difference between whole wheat pastry flour and whole wheat flour is.
Your recipes call for WW pastry flour, all I have on hand is WW flour. Can I just substitute?
Thanks.

04.08.2011 at 3:11 PM #

Suzanne

I am feeling a whole lot of love from you right now as I enjoy a bar with my coffee – there is healing magic in these bars!!! Thanks, Katie xoxoxo

04.10.2011 at 7:24 PM #

Michelle

I have two questions for you that I am hoping you might address on your blog at some point, but you can feel free to ignore this request if I am taking advantage of your free expert advice!

1) I noticed in the images in one of your posts from a few weeks ago that you store your food in glass. Do you store in glass (or metal) exclusively, or do you use some plastic? My husband and I have made efforts in the last few years to move away from plastic for food storage, but there are some things that are sticking points for us. For example, every week or two I buy a rotisserie chicken, and after we eat much of the meat, I boil the carcass for chicken broth and the remainder of the chicken. I have long frozen my chicken broth in reused 32 ounce yogurt containers or 24 ounce sour cream containers, but now with our effort to move away from plastic, I am trying to figure out an alternative. Do you have a suggestion? I also freeze a fair amount of items in ziplock bags–things such as shredded cheese, nuts, bread, etc. Do you have a suggestion for an alternative, or do you think plastics are not so terrible for food storage?

2) In our family (four boys age five and younger), we are pretty strict about what constitutes a meal and what constitutes a snack. For a meal, we always have a fruit/vegetable, a protein, and a carbohydrate, and we try to have the fruit/veggie as the largest portion. We define a snack as two of the three (fruit/veggie, protein, OR carbohydrate). As a mother/dietician, do you give more of something they want whether or not they have eaten any of the other parts of the meal? For example, today our lunch was boiled egg, buttered rosemary bread, cucumbers, and strawberries. A couple of our kids ate all of their strawberries and asked for more without eating anything else. I never know what to do in this situation. Should I give them more strawberries, or should I insist that they eat everything else before I give them more of anything? If I give them more strawberries, there would be a lot of meals that would just consist of apples or strawberries or cucumbers. For some reason, our kids much prefer fruits/vegetables over proteins. What would you do?

Thanks so much, and if it is inappropriate for me to ask these questions in this forum, I apologize!

Michelle

04.10.2011 at 7:24 PM #

momskitchenhandbook

Hi Michellei

Both great questions which I will probably address at some point in the future. In the meantime, I’ll give you quick answers. To your first question, while I’ve switched over to glass for a lot of my food storage, I still use plastic for freezer items. I look for BPA-free plastics and be sure to cool foods completely before putting them into the containers. It is my understanding that both Ziplock and Glad brand bags are BPA-free. As for your second question, my general rule is that it is a parent’s job to put out the healthy food (which it sounds like you are doing a wonderful job with) and the children’s job to choose what they are going to eat. That said, if I notice one of my kids filling up on a particular item, I will ask them to incorporate another food before they take seconds. For example, if they are going for a second slice of bread before digging into chicken or vegetables, I give them a little nudge to take a crack at those foods before eating additional bread….all in a very matter of fact, unemotional way…no different than saying put on your shoes before you go outside. Hope that helps.

04.11.2011 at 12:41 AM #

Cecil Craft & Martha

Hi Katy. I just read your writeup in Foodsy Neat–very complimentary. I will try making the bars. Hi to the girls. Cecil

04.13.2011 at 12:53 AM #

Sissy

I bake for comfort and cook for a sense of accomplishment (the only exception being a layer cake which provides both).

One interesting thing: when I’m in a bad mood, my cooking tastes bad; whereas when I bake in a bad mood, that sugar and butter treats me very kindly. For all those who say baking is an unforgivable science, I beg to differ.

04.13.2011 at 4:27 AM #

Kim

Hi Katie, I just made these bars last night and they are indeed super yummy. This was my first time using pastry flour in bar cookie and I loved the lighter texture (too easy to eat too many). The only issue I ran into was that my batter didn’t seem to fill the entire 9×13 pan. I did use your parchment paper on top suggestion to help spread and this helped. Best-

04.13.2011 at 4:27 AM #

momskitchenhandbook

Hi Kim

Thanks for the feedback. I agree that the pan seems to be too large for the batter and you have to spread it quite thin. That said, it does rise enough to make a proper bar. Alternatively, you can use a slightly smaller pan and just cook it a little bit longer.

04.14.2011 at 8:21 PM #

Jennifer

I just made these as well (had same pan size issue as Kim but they still tuned out great) and the kids loved them! I had never used whole wheat pastry dough and I’m so glad I snuck it past the kids without them noticing. For some reason, they have started associating the words “whole wheat” with “doesn’t taste as good.” After they have finished the entire tray (could be sooner rather than later), I’ll let them in on the fact that they just happily devoured a whole wheat product ;o)

04.26.2011 at 10:02 PM #

Melissa K.

Mine came out yummy, but pretty dry. Any thoughts?

04.26.2011 at 10:02 PM #

momskitchenhandbook

Hi Melissa….hmmm, my best guess is maybe scale back a tiny bit on cooking time. Ovens do vary a bit so perhaps yours runs hotter than mine. Worth a try.

05.02.2011 at 8:25 PM #

Nikki Pearl

Katie- Loved this recipe. I’m always trying to cut down on sugar and have been experimenting with cooking with Stevia. For this recipe, I cut the sugar in half and used a heaping tablespoon of powdered stevia. I’m never quite sure on how this will affect the consistency but it worked fairly well. The batter was not as sweet but the chocolate and cranberries covered for the that. They were maybe a little less moist but it was mostly a success and I felt better about giving them to the kids as a snack. Thanks for sharing this! xo Nikki

05.02.2011 at 8:25 PM #

momskitchenhandbook

Thanks for sharing that, Nikki.

08.12.2011 at 6:10 PM #

breanne

I’m so glad you liked the recipe! I hope you will try more. Beautiful pics, by the way.

Thanks,
Breanne

08.12.2011 at 6:10 PM #

katiemorford

Thank you Breanne! Glad you like the photo.

01.17.2013 at 3:35 PM #

Barbara

Katie,
can you tell me what the difference between whole wheat pastry flour and whole wheat flour is.
Your recipes call for WW pastry flour, all I have on hand is WW flour. Can I just substitute?
Thanks.

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