part 3 in a series on the theory and practice of exceptional energy bars
The Sweet Taste of Simplicity
If you’ve been reading along since the start of the series, you’ve heard my elaborate theoretical manifesto and detailed design analysis of the portable food blocks we call energy bars. And I dearly hope you have, if only to set up what I hope will be a jarring anticlimax: for all that high-minded rumination, the very best1 bar is as simple as this:
Really? All that, for just this? Resoundingly yes. This is simplicity, indeed—but the kind beyond complexity, for which Mr. Wendell Holmes Jr. would give his life. Fortunately for this hungry adventurer, a full lifetime was not required: merely the better part of a year, and likely no more than a score of batches. What then is so special about this recipe?
The Revel is in the Details
Following our design framework, Pepe’s Tri Bars comprise two concrete-analogous components: a cementing binder and a chunky aggregate. Let us start, as we will in the recipe, with the binder—a pulverized blend of whole foods we’ll dub savory cement.
- Eggs: binding power, energy-dense fats, and exceptionally high quality protein2
- Dates: additional elastic binding power and baseline sweetness
- Nuts: activity-sustaining fat and protein; salted varieties contribute enough salt to boost flavor throughout the bar, without adding extra.
Blended and baked, this straightforward mixture yields a remarkably sound matrix that will reliably hold together—and complement the flavors of—the next set of ingredients. And it accomplishes this with pristine nutritional credentials; especially compared to commercial bars, which derive their stability from unpronounceable ingredients and overwhelming applications of sugar.
Having optimized the binder, the remainder of the bar is freed from design constraints. Nuts, seeds, dried fruit… Pretty much anything you’d find in a trail mix will flavor-align, and savory cement will keep it together. Prefer all nuts, no fruit? Go for it. Care to meticulously curate your choices for flavor complementarity? Be my guest. Unleash your creativity…or see what a pantry scrounge turns up.
There’s some procedural flexibility here as well. It works well to mix in your choice of aggregates by hand, but if you used a food processor for pulverizing, it could be even easier to pulse in the remaining ingredients. Depending on the extent of the pulsing, you’ll get a finer-grained bar that could have more structural stability and mastication-friendliness.[recipe title=”Pepe’s Tri Bars” servings=”for a small batch, 1 part = 1 cup” time=”swift” difficulty=”easy, but don’t cut corners” print=”true”]
- Prepare savory cement by pulverizing together:
- 1 part eggs
- 1 part dates
- 1 part nuts
- Mix in up to 5 parts assorted aggregates3. This could be as simple as:
- 3 parts nuts & seeds
- 2 parts dried fruit
- Bake: thick & lined, low & slow.
- Press firmly into parchment lined baking dish to a depth of at least 1″.
- 300°F for 30-40 minutes.
- Cold-cure until thoroughly chilly.
- Let cool to room temperature.
- Chill in refrigerator for several hours.
- After carving, store in the fridge or freezer.
Notesif you need ’em
- The process of pulverizing:
- Food processor: fastest and easiest.
- Blender: if you have the fancy kind with the tamper.
- Fork: doable with soft (or soaked) dates. Dice the dates; mash to a paste; work in the egg and nut flour if you have it.
- About the aggregates:
- Mix it up: nuts, seeds, dried fruit—in truly any combination and proportion.
- Avoid peanuts: their smooth, slick surfaces bind poorly.
- Beware chocolate: it will get melty-messy in all but the coolest of climes.
- Carve carefully:
- Support the slab as you invert onto a cutting board.
- Cut bars with firm presses of a large chef’s knife. Serrated sawing is a riskier alternative.
Join the Virtual Potluck
They say you taste first with the eyes, and if you've given this recipe a go, we'd all love a visual nibble. What aggressive improvisation did you apply? Did it succeed brilliantly or fail spectacularly? To show off your marvel (or mess), dust off your smartphone:
A Note on Naming
“Pepe’s Tri Bars” were so dubbed while couchsurfing before the 2015 New Jersey State Triathlon. There I made a particularly successful proto-batch4; I was (and remain) Pepe; a race was the occasion; thus, when the bars proved popular and the recipe requested, “Pepe’s Tri Bars” seemed an appropriate moniker. The recipe has come a long way since that (exceptional) visit and (grueling) race, but the name endures because it operates at another level: as a keyword for construction. Three ingredients make up the savory cement; the final product too comprises three parts—this and two more of your choice. Whether or not they’ll fuel running, biking, or swimming, “Tri” bars show the way.
A Note on Testing
Many superlatives have been used, in this and the previous posts, regarding the durability of these bars. While months of real-world experience has demonstrated their mettle, something more rigorous seemed necessary to back these claims beyond any doubt. So I wrapped up a trio of Tri Bars, strapped them to my chest, and ran up and down a mountain. Verdict: The bars are bombproof.