Spiced Pumpkin Granola Bars

It's that time of year again. Pumpkin-lovers, rejoice! Fall is just around the corner and pumpkin-flavored everything is here to usher in the season. Pumpkin beer, soup, bread, pie. You can try to fight it, pretend summer isn't over, but really, why not just embrace the spiced, delicious goodness and all that it stands for? After all, fall ain't so bad. Think boots, crunchy piles of leaves and cozy sweaters. Plus who needs all that humidity anyway? Not me! 
Just the smell of these bars baking in the oven triggers about a million memories: back-to-school shopping, memorizing a new school schedule, calling up friends to figure out who else has fourth period with Mrs. So-and-So and the glorious first week of class when all we did was goof off while teachers tried their best to hold our attention as they went over their syllabus. New beginnings and so much eager anticipation have always always been wrapped up in this time of year and these smells.

All this nostalgia is just part of what makes me love these granola bars, though. They're also just straight up delicious and healthy to boot. Between the nuts, seeds, oat bran, flaxseed meal and oats, these bars are packed with protein and fiber that will keep your tummy full and curb sugar cravings. The pumpkin and honey add a touch of sweetness that will satisfy your sweet tooth AND they have heart- and brain-healthy omega-3s. I like to make a batch Sundays and them keep them in the fridge for a grab-n-go breakfast or snack to take to work.

Spiced Pumpkin Granola Bars

Serves 20-25
Prep time: 15 min.
Baking time: 20-30 mins.

1 1/2 cups steel-cut oats
1 cup puffed amaranth 
1 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds 
2 tsp. cinnamon*
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground all spice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
3 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 cup honey
*or replace all the spices with 1 T. pumpkin spice

1. Preheat oven to 350F (175C). In a large bowl, mix all dry ingridents except the salt. In a smaller bowl, combine pumpkin, salt, vanilla, eggs, melted coconut oil and honey. Pour wet mixture over dry ingredients and mix until evenly coated.

2. Line a baking pan with a large piece of parchment paper. Pour the mixture onto one side of the baking pan as a single batch of the mixture only covers about half of the pan.

3. Use a spatula to press the mixture down as best you can so that it is about 1-1/4-inches thick. Make sure the bars are packed down so they stick together later and evenly spread out so some parts don't bake faster than others. I do this by folding the edges of parchment paper over and pulling it back over the bars and pressing down. You can also take a second sheet of parchment to put on top and roll over the bars with a rolling pin. Cut the edges of parchment off before baking otherwise the small amount of batter on the paper will burn.

4. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the edges start to become golden brown. Let cool for an hour, slide the parchment paper and bars off the baking pan and onto a cutting board. Slice into desired shape or, for extra crisp edges, refridgerate the bars for an hour before cutting them.

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