Wednesday, April 10, 2013

(Magic) Bars. And Paleo Diet.

My state is known as the drunkest state.  It's a fact that I'm not so proud of, and certainly one that bears no bragging rights in my opinion.   My city is founded on capitalizing breweries and brewers, Eastern European immigrants taking advantage of our excellent water resources and creating an environment where it's pretty easy to find a good beer, if not a few too many good beers.

Perhaps working in tandem with the drunkest state moniker are the  numerous corner bars dotting the city.  They give us the feeling of a being larger city than we are, and if you are not participating in the binge culture, there is also a sense of civic pride in our hand-craftiness.  Good things are indeed made in Wisconsin.

Not the least of which are bars of another sort, the cookie type hastily pressed into pans to avoid the more time consuming labors of shoveling drop cookies into and out of the oven every 12-15 minutes.  I assume it's a trend passed down by the same ingenious Midwestern predecessors, that at every church potluck and every summer picnic someone brings a pan of bars.  I think I took this for granted (or maybe didn't even acknowledge it) until a dear out-of-town friend visited years ago with her boyfriend at the time.  He had never been to the Midwest, and it was he who first mentioned the connection about bars and the Midwest to me.  And, wouldn't you know, my mother-in-law came over that very afternoon with a delicious pan of "Hello Dollys", a classic bar cookie for me to serve to my company...  I remember he was thrilled.

Paleo magic bars.

In my own kitchen, where I can't really spend too much time, cookie baking usually rules outright.  But cookies also run the risk of being too easily snatched and hastily eaten by yours truly.  They also have a lot of sugar, usually both white and brown to tame the tenderness issues often plaguing them.  I'm still dutifully trying not to give in to sugary temptations, and this results in not baking so many cookies anymore.  And then there is the business of all that grain...

I am endlessly interested in health as it pertains to staying out of the mainstream medical system.  That is probably the most driving force in my personal sugar reduction:  I know that nothing good can come from sugar.  Lately I see an increasing interest in the Paleo diet, or other similar diets that preach the exclusion of glutenous grains, adopting a more primal way of eating.  In general, I'm never going to subscribe heart and soul to a diet that leaves me devoid of all carbohydrates, especially when I am a baker at heart.  But more and more I can really see the appeal and benefit of these diets to mainstream America.  It's good to spread the gospel of heavy helpings of fruits and vegetables, and it's good to demonize the processed food industry.

So many people are so much busier than I am, and have far less time to soak, sprout, and obsess over what kinds of grain should be eaten.  In these cases, perhaps it is better just to cut grain out altogether?  Most people can benefit from eating more vegetables, and even more quality (well raised and sourced) meats too.  After all, paleo diets really are just whole food diets that focus on raw materials and not packaged cheats - and that is what is most important.  I'll support that type of diet!

Aside from health issues, I find it a great challenge to bake healthy, low or no-sugar desserts that satisfy both my need to bake and my desire for sweets.  I'm finding that desserts labeled "Paleo" fit that bill nicely.  One of my best recent finds has been a Facebook link called Just Eat Real Food.  It is exactly what it purports to be, real food links from across the Internet where it seems I'm spending less and less time.  It's nice to have a resource of links like that, one where I found this recipe for Paleo Magic Bars the other day.  Last night after supper I mixed them up and baked them, and I could barely get the kiddo out the door to school fast enough this morning to finish them up.  Our stormy morning was good for cracking a few more of the in-the-shell pecans my neighbor gave me anyway.

Paleo magic bars

For the date or date/fig paste called for in this recipe, I used leftover from the raw/vegan fig bars I made recently.  To make it, soak dates (and/or figs) in boiling hot water for about a half hour, then run them through a food mill or food pro with a bit of the soaking water until they have a jammy consistency.  I would think a half cup of dried fruit would give you more than enough paste for this recipe.  Also, make sure that your honey is "runny" and not crystallized and you will have an easier time of things.

Paleo Magic Bars (barely adapted from the Healthy Foodie)
makes 1 9x9 inch pan

bottom layer:
  • 1/3 cup date (or date/fig) paste(see note above)
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 T. raw honey
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 2 T. coconut flour
  • heaping 1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. cream of tartar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • handful (50 g. as the Healthy Foodie suggested) sprouted almonds, medium chopped
top layer:
  • 1 1/2 c. unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 2 T. melted coconut oil
  • 2 T. softened coconut "manna" or butter (like this, or make your own)
  • 1 T. raw honey
  •  2 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks in a medium sized bowl
chocolate drizzle:
  • 1 T. melted coconut oil
  • 1 heaping T. cocoa powder
  • 1 T. raw honey
  • handful of toasted and chopped pecans for garnish
Preheat the oven to 365.  Brush a 9x9 glass pan with coconut oil, and line with crisscrossing sheets of parchment paper.  (This aids in removing from the pan later.)

In a food pro, combine the date paste, avocado, 3 eggs, honey, and vanilla.  Process until very well blended, about 30-60 seconds.  In a small bowl, mix coconut flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt with a fork until well blended.  Add to the contents of the food pro, and pulse just until combined, about 5 good pulses.  Spread the bottom layer into the prepared pan, taking care to smooth into the corners.

Rinse the food pro container out well, and add the coconut, coconut oil, coconut manna, and honey and process until well blended, about 1 minute.  Add this mixture to the soft peaked egg whites, and fold in gently until well combined.  Spread this mixture carefully in an even layer over the chocolate layer.

Bake in the preheated oven for 22-25 minutes until lightly browned across the top.  Cool on a rack for an hour (until room temperature) then refrigerate overnight or until well chilled (about 6 hours).

When chilled, make the chocolate drizzle by combining the coconut oil, cocoa powder and honey in a small bowl.  Add a little extra coconut oil if it seems too thick, you are looking for a thin drizzle consistency.  Drizzle across the top of the bars, and sprinkle with the pecans.  Store in the fridge, in part so you don't eat them all right away.

Paleo magic bars

These bars are much less sweet than traditional sweetened condensed milk versions of magic bars... but they still really satisfy.  I won't claim that they satisfy as much as a giant wedge of traditional magic bar, but they do not leave you feeling guilty and with a "why-did-I-just-eat-that-whole-thing" kind of feeling.  And, they are made entirely with real, whole foods.  I especially like that my picky kid liked them, and that they sneak in avocado, which is tremendously underused in chocolate bakery...

Paleo magic bars.

So what about you?  Are you also seeing a shift to more healthful, whole foods with less refined carbohydrate emphasis?  I think the Paleo trend is here to stay for awhile, and I am kind of glad.  I'm not about restriction and arguing over the color of my potato (though for the record, I do prefer sweet potatoes), but there are a lot of valid ideas surrounding this more natural way of eating and viewing food.


  1. Those look really amazing. I started following Just Eat Real Food because of you, and I always pull little goodies off their feed.

    I think the paleo craze is interesting and do believe it's heart is in the right place. I just have a hard time with anything that's so dogmatic. I really believe grains and legumes are good for us. I think where we went wrong was processing the life out of everything. In fact, that's why I like the name Just Eat Real Food, because that's what I try to do.

    1. Agreed, Julia... and I believe grains and legumes are good for us too!

  2. Oh my goodness, these look so delicious! I love that they are paleo, too! :) I want to try these!

  3. I think this is a good application for Paleo... anytime you can replace a sugary treat with something better it's a win. Like you, I have no intention of ever going all-out Paleo, but there's plenty of good to be gleaned from the trend and so many good recipes. If they weren't labeled "paleo" I'd probably just think they were good, whole food recipes.

    1. I almost think I like "Paleo" because it helps weed through some of the recipe clutter. Generally, if it's labeled Paleo, (for desserts anyway) it is naturally sweetened, contains good fats, and not heavy on gluten!


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