There are some ingredients that keep so well in your freezer. Flours, polenta, homemade cookie dough rolled into individual balls and ready for the baking. Nuts too. If you are someone who packs away bags of raw nuts–we’re not talking about Planters here–then you know what it means to have protein-packed snacks on hand at any time. The unfortunate thing is that nuts can spoil, so as the temperature starts to rise, keep your nuts in the freezer. Their natural oils will prevent them from actually freezing, and you’ll be able to toast, chop and grind away without worrying about potentially rancid ingredients. Just don’t forget they’re in there. Then, when you feel like baking up a sweet treat, you can make these walnut bars.
It happens to everybody, right? You put something in the perfect place because it makes sense, because it is the right thing to do. Two prized bags of monstrous walnuts were tossed in the freezer a few weeks ago, and when the time came to do some baking, hands poked along pantry shelves and cabinets searching for the nuts. Where were they? After minutes of sheer confusion, a trip to the freezer for flour revealed those pesky, runaway walnuts. They were where they should have been, where they were supposed to be. The only thing missing was memory.
Once out of the freezer, it only takes a few minutes of room temperature rest to bring your nuts to ready-to-go status. Now, these bars have all the characteristics of a nutty dessert that you may love. Brown sugar adds depth and moisture, the mixture of coconut, oats and whole wheat flour add a hint of sweet heartiness, and the mixture of warm spices adds a homey essence that might remind you of December in May. These were perfect for an impromptu get together with friends complete with dinner, cocktails and favorite television shows. Some people had more than two. One person–she will remain nameless–took half the pan home. The walnut bars speak for themselves.
Spiced Walnut Bars – Makes 16-20
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon maple extract
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup sweetened grated coconut
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/3 cup chopped cranberries, optional
1. Lightly spray an 8″ x 8″ baking dish along the bottom and sides with nonstick spray. Line with parchment paper to create handles on all four sides. Spray the paper long the bottom and sides.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy and light, approximately 3 minutes. Add the egg, maple syrup and maple extract, mixing until smooth. Set aside.
2. Pour the oats and coconut into the bowl of a food processor. Blend until you reach a fairly fine powder. Add the whole wheat flour, baking powder, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt, and pulse until combined.
3. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. Pour the walnuts and cranberries, if using, into the bowl, and mix everything until incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and side into an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until browned along the edges and cooked through the center.
4. Remove the pan from the oven and cool for 10-15 minutes. If the paper isn’t too hot, carefully lift the square out of the pan and cool on top of a cooling rack. Once cool, cut into bars and serve.
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