Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie Granola Bars
The combination of peanut butter and oats is a favorite and I never tire of it.
And I’ll never tire of no-bake granola bars that taste like peanut butter oatmeal cookies, topped with melted butterscotch.
Granola bars with an abundance of hearty, oaty texture, shoot straight to the top of my list. It’s better to spend time chewing hearty oats than inhaling handfuls of caramel corn and these granola bars are loaded with texture.
And anything that’s robustly peanut butter flavored is another huge bonus for me. I love peanut butter and it makes a great binder for no-bake granola bars. What a fortuitously sticky stroke of luck.
Normally I make granola bars in the microwave or the food processor, but decided to use the stovetop to melt the ingredients. It was really chilly in my kitchen the day I made these and wanted to turn the stove. The recipe and method reminded me of a cold day over a year ago making Chocolate Peanut Butter Oat Squares. It’s funny how looking back at old recipes I can remember things like if the house was cold or not and my overall mood the day I created something.
In a large kettle, combine butter or margarine (to keep vegan), sugars, milk (regular, soy, or nut-milk) and heat over medium heat to melt the ingredients, stirring to encourage melting. After the ingredients are smooth and combined, allow mixture to come to a fairly rapid boil for 90 seconds, stirring intermittently and as often as needed so it doesn’t boil over. Put on a hot-mitt and use caution because the mixture is in the 220F degree range, and you don’t want this bubbling up on your forearm.
Everyone’s definition of ‘rapid boil’ is different, but the goal is to reduce and thicken the mixture slightly by boiling it. And in doing so, the beginning stages of a caramel sauce are being made; butter, sugar, cream (milk) is what caramels are. The sauce doesn’t turn as thick as regular caramel sauce, but it’s sweet, sticky, and will help the oats stick together and the bars to hold their shape.
After 90 seconds, shut off the heat and add the peanut butter, vanilla, and stir to combine. If the peanut butter is stubborn and doesn’t want to incorporate easily, turn the stove back on low just momentarily. After the sauce is smooth and combined, add the oats.
Use whole rolled old-fashioned oats and not quick cook or instant. Quick cooks oats are smaller, more broken down, and behave more like flour. You don’t want 3 cups of flour in this recipe, but 3 cups of whole-rolled oats is just dandy. Stir them in and then add the Rice Krispies or vegan crispy rice cereal. Adding rice cereal is a trick I learned when I made Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars. The crunchy, crispy effect in each bite adds another layer of texture and dimension. Plus, cereal soaks up excess caramely-peanut butter sauce.
The mixture will look a little on the soupy side, but as the bars cool and set up, it all soaks in. If you try to make the batter drier at this stage by adding more oats or cereal as I’ve mistakenly done, the finished bars set up too dry and are very prone to crumbling and don’t hold together. Some soupiness is welcome.
Transfer the mixture into a prepared foil-lined pan. Smooth and pack down the mixture quite firmly with a spatula to compact it. I used an 8-by-8-inch pan and although the batter will appear to come up fairly high on the sides of the pan, the sliced bars aren’t overly thick. I’d rather err on the thicker than thinner side, but if you prefer thinner bars, use a 9-by-9-inch pan. Thick, densely packed bars, like my favorite Browned Butter Rice Krispies Treats, and really being able to sink my teeth into a big mouthful is the best.
Place the pan in refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or overnight, before slicing. Remember how hot that boiling caramel mixture was and if you try to slice them too early, you’ll have a literal hot mess on your hands. Even after being in the refrigerator for 18 hours, the bars weren’t difficult to slice through. Some things turn into rocks in the fridge, but these don’t.
I made 12 bars, about 3/4-inch wide by 4-inchs long, but do as you wish. Because they’re dense and hearty, you really don’t need a big bar. I try to keep bars like this in the caloric realm of a snack, not a bar-as-meal, tasty as eating peanut butter and oats for dinner sounds.
Optionally, either before (easier) or after (prettier) slicing them, drizzle them with melted butterscotch chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips, or peanut butter chips to keep vegan. The sweet, smooth, melted butterscotch is a nice contrast to the hearty oats.
A tip when melting butterscotch chips, or white chocolate for that matter, is to add a dollop of butter to the chips. Both are notoriously easy to scorch and butterscotch will seize almost instantly without the butter. Heat in 10-second bursts in the microwave until the mixture can be stirred smooth and don’t over-heat. You’re only melting a quarter cup and it’ll melt very fast, 15 seconds or so. Drizzle that luscious creaminess over the bars.
I feel like I should hit a rugged trail with one of these hearty granola bars in my backpack. In that sense, they remind me of the Thick and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies I recently made. They’re not some flimsy little granola bar and are rugged and substantial. They’re dense, filling, and satisfying. Some granola bars are so wimpy and puny that after eating one, you pretty much have to have another to feel satisfied but not with these. One is good and gives me energy for hours.
I try to make as much of my family’s snack food for lunch boxes as I can, not only to control the ingredients, but to save money, and these are a very economical way to go compared to storebought. And taste-wise, they were a hit with my family. Then again, a granola bar that tastes like a peanut butter oatmeal cookie will generally be met with positive reviews.
The peanut butter flavor is pronounced and takes center stage. They’re definitely more peanut butter-oatmeal than oatmeal-peanut butter, which I’ll never complain about.
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie Granola Bars (no-bake, vegan, gluten-free)
Both peanut butter and oatmeal cookies are favorites. I incorporated the flavor of those cookies into these fast and easy, no-bake granola bars. A sweet, buttery, peanut butter-caramel sauce is made in minutes before drenching oats and crispy rice cereal. The bars are loaded with texture, very chewy, dense, hearty, and so satisfying. Finishing them off with a drizzle of melted butterscotch chips or peanut butter chips is a nice touch and rounds out the flavors. The bars are easily kept vegan and gluten-free.
1/4 cup unsalted butter (half of one stick) or vegan butter
1/2 cup milk (regular, soy, or nut milk)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 heaping cup creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned whole rolled oats (not quick cook or instant, use certified gluten-free if necessary)
1 1/4 cups crispy rice cereal (Rice Krispies or similar, use certified gluten-free if necessary)
1/4 cup butterscotch/peanut butter/semi-sweet chocolate chips melted for drizzling, optional (use peanut butter or semi-sweet chocolate to keep vegan)
1 teaspoon unsalted butter or vegan butter for drizzling
- Line an 8-by-8-inch (or a 9-by-inch pan for thinner bars; I used an 8×8) with aluminum foil, leaving overhang. Spray with cooking spray; set aside. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, combine 1/4 cup butter, milk, sugars, and heat to melt over medium heat, stirring until smooth and combined. Allow mixture to come to a boil and then allow it to boil fairly rapidly for about 90 seconds, stirring frequently so it doesn’t bubble over or scorch. Wear a hot mitt and use caution when stirring it because this is the beginning stages of caramel sauce and in the 220F range.
- Turn off the heat and add the peanut butter, vanilla, and stir until combined. If it’s challenging to incorporate the peanut butter, turn the burner on low momentarily to help it along. Stir in the oats, crispy rice cereal, and transfer mixture to prepared pan. Smooth it into an even, flat layer with a spatula, pressing firmly to compact the mixture.
- Cover pan with with another sheet of foil (or not, but I prefer to keep things covered in the refrigerator) and place pan in the refrigerator for at least two hours, or until bars have set up fully, before slicing (I usually leave them overnight). I lift bars out and place on cutting board to slice.
- Optionally, either before (easier and faster) or after (prettier results) slicing the bars, drizzle with melted butterscotch/peanut butter/semi-sweet/white chocolate chips. Melt chips and 1 teaspoon butter in a small microwave-safe bowl in 10-second bursts until mixture can be stirred smooth, noting that butterscotch scorches and seizes almost immediately without butter and can scortch very easily so don’t overheat it; 15 seconds is likely all it will take to melt. Drizzle melted mixture over the bars.
- Slice into 1 dozen bars, 4-inches long by about 3/4-inch wide, or into preferred size and shape. Wrap bars individually in plasticwrap and store them in a large ziptop plastic bag or airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, or in the freezer for up to 4 months.
- Recipe is kept vegan by using margarine or vegan buttery spread, vegan milk, vegan crispy rice cereal, and a peanut butter or semi-sweet chocolate drizzle. Recipe is kept gluten free by using gluten-free oats and gluten-free crispy rice cereal. Take care all ingredients use are suitable for your dietary needs.
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Do you have a favorite granola bar or no-bake bar recipe?
Fan of peanut butter or oats?
Tell me about your favorites and feel free to leave links.
Happy Valentine’s Day!