candy bars [made from healthy things.]

candy bars.

Experts say re-entry is one of the most difficult and critical parts of space travel. Get your trajectory wrong, and you’re subject to a whole host of problems, the biggest of which is drag. The FAA states that the reentry of spacecraft isn’t all that much different from a skipped rock entering a placid lake:

“[Astronauts] must plan to hit the atmosphere at the precise angle and speed for a safe landing. If they hit too steeply or too fast, they risk making a big “splash,” which would mean a fiery end. If their impact is too shallow, they may literally skip off the atmosphere and back into the cold of space.” -Federal Aviation Administration, section 4.1.7, Returning From Space: Re-Entry


I screwed up my re-entry, people – too big of a splash – and I experienced significant drag upon returning from vacation. I noticed at some point during the first morning that I was actually moving in slow motion as compared to a normal day, and no matter how hard I tried to snap out of it, I couldn’t. Once the inevitable migraine hit, I just knew I was done for and tried my best to act human until the next morning, with varying results.

It’s been a few days now, and I’m way better; I feel settled, the house has been rid of the debris which tends to gather when Mr. Table is left home alone for too long, and my mind is clear. I’m working because I want to work, which is exciting: being home gives my writing the proper perspective, whereas vacation just makes it feel awkward and out-of-place.

I wanted to tell you about these bars I made during my time away; easily the most notable thing I…”cooked” or “baked” are the wrong words to use, because I did neither here. Rather, I assembled these: a blissful no-oven, semi-good for you treat which requires no hot stuff beyond the heating of cream for chocolate ganache, which is really nothing, right? Technically, nothing gets cooked.

candy bars.

I’d say they were healthy, but with the ever-growing amount of news pieces out there devoted to the Paleo-izing and/or vegan-izing of desserts out there, I’ll spare you that lie; I’d rather just give you the facts, anyway.

Fact: These bars are made from a combination of nutty things: cashews, almonds, almond butter, alongside some unsweetened coconut and maple syrup – the real kind. Yes, there are dates in here, date-haters, but I implore you to give dates a chance here: they’re here solely to hold it all together (dates are truly nature’s superglue), and you wouldn’t even know they’re in here.

As for the chocolate tops, the original recipe called for using only chocolate chips melted with coconut oil. I tried to make them like that, but really didn’t love the results; the color was uneven and spotty, and the texture was, well, pretty lame. Alternatively, they’re draped in my absolute favorite chocolate ganache/chocolate sauce, seen covering these chocolate chip cupcakes, and used repeatedly in this house as an ice cream topping and food gift. It’s perfect here, and gives the bars the coating they deserve; satiny and dark with a soft finish. If you’d rather go straight-on chocolate here, be my guest, but I’d suggest a high-quality melting chocolate (like the Chocoley I used for these ice cream sandwiches, because it has actual flavor as opposed to those weird candy melts in craft stores) for this project.

To sum it up, these bars have mostly good intentions covered with a little bit of sin on top for. They last forever in the fridge or freezer, and actually seem to improve as they age. Even though you’re not going to want to, cut these in smaller squares: you can get 25 out of an 8 x 8 pan easily, if not more; they’re very dense and satisfying, so a little goes quite a long way.

In other news, I saw my first pumpkin spice-related post this week and died a little inside. Because it’s August, people, and no one gets a rush off of school supply lists, fall weather and baking smells more than I do, but come on now. Let’s do summer for a little bit longer.

Adapted from It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen. Roll thine eyes if you must, but Julia Turshen? She’s a chef and she rocks this book.

Candy Bars

for the bars:

  • 2 cups raw cashews
  • 1 1/2 cups dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 2/3 cup almond butter
  • 1 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut shreds
  • 1/2 cup Grade B maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (use less if you’d like; this amount gives the bars a solid almond flavor)

for the chocolate ganache:*

  • 2 ounces 72% chocolate, roughly chopped (I use Ghirardelli)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • fat pinch kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

*although I myself can not imagine a world without my chocolate ganache, feel free to leave it off altogether if you’re not into it; the bars are still very good.

Make the bars:

Line an 8 x 8 square pan (Pyrex or metal, whatever) with parchment paper, long enough to hang over two sides like handles. For slightly flatter bars (and 36 versus 25 of them), use a 9 x 9 pan.

In the bowl of a food processor, add cashews, dates, almond butter, coconut, maple syrup, and almond extract, and pulse until you have a sticky, blended ball of dough. Seriously, it’s that easy; you may need to run a spatula through the mixture to scrape some straggler ingredients down from the sides, but that’s about it. It’s a workout for the processor, to be sure, but it can handle it.

Remove the ball of dough from the processor and press evenly into prepared pan with your hands or a rubber spatula; I like to finish things off with a flat-bottomed measuring cup to make sure everything is flat. Slide that pan into the refrigerator to chill for 8 hours or overnight; the firmer the better.
When you’re ready to cut the bars…

Make the ganache:

In a medium bowl, add the chopped chocolate, cocoa powder, and salt.

Combine the corn syrup, sugar, and heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. As soon as you see it begin to boil, remove it from the heat and pour the cream mixture over your chocolate mixture and allow to sit undisturbed for 1 minute.

Slowly begin to whisk the mixture by hand, for as long as it takes to dissolve everything together. Then pick up your speed, whisking at a decent clip and increasing your speed as you go (think of it as a cardio endurance challenge) for about 4 minutes, until your mixture is glossy and completely smooth. I say “completely” here because you will begin to get tired, and you will try to pointedly ignore the tiny granules of undissolved sugar still staring at you from the bowl. Do not leave them undissolved, people, because grainy chocolate fudge sauce does nothing for your presentation. Keep going until you can truthfully say you see no grains. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool and thicken slightly.

Assemble the bars:

While the ganache cools, remove the chilled bar mixture from the refrigerator; it should be very firm and not at all bendy when you lift it. Lift carefully out of the pan using the parchment handles and place onto your work surface. Using a sharp, clean knife (keep a damp towel nearby to clean knife after each slice, a la brownies), slice your bars into small squares: 4 slices horizontally and vertically will make the size you see in the photos, but you can push that to 5 and 5 if you want to.

If your bars have gotten warm while doing this, place them back in the fridge for a half hour or so to firm up (you can always reheat the ganache when you’re ready.) If your bars are still firm and your ganache has cooled and thickened slightly, start the dip.

Place the ganache in a small bowl to give yourself a nice, deep chocolate pool. Dunk each square into the ganache (as deep as you see pictured, so maybe 1/4-inch down) once, lift for a few seconds, then dunk again. Hold upside down over the bowl to let any excess chocolate fall, then spiral your wrist around and up to settle any chocolate drips. Transfer to a small sheet pan (or something you can easily slide into the refrigerator) and repeat until all the bars are coated. Slide your bars back into the fridge and let them chill for 1 hour or so to set up.

Keeps very, very well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for a month. This goes without saying by now, but store them in an airtight container.

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  • Reply Matt August 4, 2014 at 8:37 am

    Your condition (referred to here as re entry) is something called Post Vacation Depression – PVD, or Post Vacation Syndrome – PVS. It is an insidious, paralyzingly affliction that if left untreated, can cause you to retreat into the deep recesses of your own mind…forever on the beach sipping piña coladas while the real world crumbs around you. Somehow, you have combatted the destructive nature of this disease with this genius creation…bravo!

    You are saved from having the thousand year stare, shuffling around the store in slippers and pajamas…mumbling about how the mangos and coconuts look better on the trees at the beach, than here at the store.

    • Reply shannon August 4, 2014 at 4:42 pm

      Matt, i KNEW there was a name for my condition, and i knew you would be able to pinpoint it. These candy bars were obviously the only way to go in terms of treatment. I can’t believe how close i came to permanent pajamas and incessant mumbling about tropical fruit. I’ll never make that mistake again: next time, candy bars prescribed for the entire vacation.

  • Reply Willow @ Will Cook For Friends August 4, 2014 at 8:39 am

    NO. Not the pumpkin posts. Not yet… I can’t even… I haven’t even gotten on board with it being August yet, okay? I just… no.

    In other news, these bars sound delicious. No bake, easy, and covered in chocolate? Sounds perfect. Glad you’re getting back into the swing of things after your vacation. I always feel like I’ve had a crash-landing when I return from a few days away… so hard to get back to “normal me” when I’ve just adjusted to “relaxing-on-vacation-me”.

    • Reply shannon August 4, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      There should be some sort of blog law surrounding seasonal food posts, pumpkin spice being the biggest offense. and i LOVE pumpkin things, to be clear, but in the middle of summer? I…I can’t. I can. not.

      All the things you want in a candy bar, right? Thanks, Willow: getting my act together really took me a second there; hard to do, for real, and the longer the vacation, the more difficult it becomes. Had to laugh at having to adjust to “relaxing-on-vacation” you: i have the same problem! It’s like i loosen up riiiight around week 2. We’d obviously be great on vacation together: not annoying at ALL. 🙂

  • Reply natalie @ wee eats August 4, 2014 at 11:55 am

    I like how even though I own the book, you always find ways to bring recipes to my attention while it lays gathering dust on my way-too-crowded bookshelf. I must make these. STAT.

    • Reply shannon August 4, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      Seriously: dust that book off, because you KNOW you like everything you’ve made out of it. I even made these easier than the book did for you…JUST for you.

  • Reply John@Kitchen Riffs August 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    I’ve missed the pumpkin spice posts, thank goodness. Way too early to be thinking about that. But chocolate ganache? I’ll think about that any month, day, or hour! We use it on ice cream too — so good, isn’t it? Looks perfect on these candy bars. Thanks.

    • Reply shannon August 4, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      Consider yourself lucky re: premature pumpkin posts. It’s much easier to deal with in September than smack in the middle of hot, hot August, when i don’t want spiced ANYTHING, much less pumpkin. I like how you’re living, John: ganache + ice cream = perfection, any time of year. Thanks!

  • Reply Ashley August 4, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Dates are nature’s glue – ha! Love it. I’d argue dried plums and figs could serve a similar purpose, based on how sticky my paws are digging them out of the bag. These bars sound perfect, a balance of virtue and sin. 😉 By the way, I bought this cookbook recently, after hoarding it from the library for over a month. There’s just too much good and easy stuff in there, things you can break into components if you don’t want to go all in. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Reply shannon August 4, 2014 at 4:31 pm

      Ashley, totally true! In fact, i’m going to test-drive the dried plums and figs in these to see if the results are similar, and i’ll edit the post accordingly; i can completely see those being viable alternatives to dates. I’m so happy you got this cookbook! I did the same – hoarded it from the library forEVER – and i’ve never regretted the purchase. You hit the nail on the head: good stuff, and lots of it is easy, which is always awesome. I like how it’s very mix/match in terms of components as well: i have several dressings i use on things beyond their original purpose, and lots of the recipes are things you can alter or build on; definitely all good things. 🙂

  • Reply Dana Staves August 4, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Oooooh my goodness, these look marvelous. I don’t know if it’s JUST the ganache, but ganache just makes everything look heavenly, right? I can’t wait to try this recipe – looks like a perfect work snack to sneak at intervals during the day. 🙂

    • Reply shannon August 4, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Ganache is really the way to sexy things up, yes? YES. I completely agree that it makes everything just look that much more appealing. These are a pretty great snack: not super-sinful, but sinful enough to satisfy those little late-afternoon cravings, for sure.

  • Reply Brianne August 4, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    I severely dislike unvacationing. I always think I’m ready to go back into work at full speed, but within the first couple of days I realize I’m fooling myself. I’m on vacation this week, and next week it’s go, go, go back in the field. Ugh. And my in-laws will be here when I return. Oh, I hope the guy cleans the house when I’m away! But eventually we get back into the swing of things! You certainly have!

    • Reply shannon August 4, 2014 at 4:26 pm

      It’s horrible, the unvacationing, isn’t it? ugh…embarrassing, really. I don’t know how people travel all the time and manage to live life. You’ve got so much going on too! Summers, man; fun but always busy. Tell the guy that his parents = his responsibility for cleaning (although that’s yet to actually work here, so…) have a great vacation, Brianne! I wish you a happy and peaceful vacation come-down, as well. 🙂

  • Reply Deb August 4, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    I just haven’t felt the urge to buy the Gwyneth Paltrow book but if this recipe is any indication I might have to reconsider my hasty decision! I’ve been making a similar no-bake energy bar without ganache and may have have missed the point entirely. What’s a day without chocolate?

    • Reply shannon August 11, 2014 at 9:27 am

      You know. Deb, i completely understand not feeling the urge to run out and by the book, for sure. But: this is a pretty good indication of the dessert section, and i would add that the savory items are equally delicious. Maybe someday rent it from your library and take it for a little test drive; you may like what you see. 🙂

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog August 5, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Welcome back, Shannon! I’m not grounded enough to write on vacation. I’m too busy thinking about my next meal or outing. I usually just suck up the inspiration and bring it home to use in my writing at a later date. These bars look wicked delicious. I’m not a fan of dates by themselves, but I use them all the time in my raw balls and healthier treats. They’re pretty darn good when they mingle with other ingredients. I just borrowed It’s All Good from the library, and I’m loving it. I know the book kind of received less than favorable reviews, but I really like it. I can’t wait to dig in and try some recipes. I think I’ll have to start with these. I’m always hungry mid-afternoon, so these will be perfect for my snacky cravings.

    • Reply shannon August 11, 2014 at 9:31 am

      Thanks Jennie! evidently i’m not grounded enough either; SO hard to focus for some reason, especially this year, and i don’t know that it was entirely a bad thing. I feel like i definitely got some inspiration to bring home with me, and i think just the act of NOT trying to work is making my work right now go really well! At least for the time being. 😉
      I’m so happy to hear you’re loving the It’s All Good book! it really is like, all pretty good – at least the recipes i’ve made (and i’ve made lots of them) have been pretty fantastic and easy to put together. These are very raw-ballish: i’m happy you said that, because that’s truly what i suppose they are, just in bars versus rounds. I swear the dates in here serve as glue ONLY…no date-like appearances in the finished product.

  • Reply Abbe@This is How I Cook August 5, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    “These keep really, really good.” Not in my house. They’d be gone in a jiff! Lately, I’ve felt the need for a vacay and would happily suffer through the re-entry! In any case, i always find it amazing that life does get back to normal, though I’ve never quite figured out what normal is!

    • Reply shannon August 11, 2014 at 9:32 am

      I meant that theoretically, Abbe: although i kept a few around for knowledge purposes (hidden), ours disappeared pretty rapidly too! Certainly in my opinion they don’t need to keep that long based on how fast they’ll get devoured.

  • Reply Monica August 8, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Welcome back from vacation! I’m sure your kitchen on home base missed you. We just got back from vacation ourselves – it was a short one but we still had to wait a bit to get our equilibrium back. : ) It’s always so good to be home though.
    I love your nutty bars! I can’t get enough nuts and, of course, I love the ganache on top…oh my!

    • Reply shannon August 11, 2014 at 9:34 am

      Thank you! it’s great to be home, and i feel like it’s really the beginning of a good late summer/fall cooking period for me, which i’m so thankful for; guess the vacation was good for me! I hope it lasts.
      I thought of you when i made these, because chocolate + almonds are always favorites, i know. These definitely (thanks to the almond extract and actual almonds) have a nice, strong almond presence that i think you’d really love.

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats August 26, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Aw, migraines suck 🙁 Glad you’re back to your old self now and the house is clean. These bars look super delicious. I can’t say I usually attempt healthy snacks, but I do love all the ingredients in these…esp that frosting. YUM. Maybe I should give them a try 🙂

    • Reply shannon August 31, 2014 at 8:06 am

      Migraines DO suck; i agree. Thankfully, all gone now! and i’m hoping they stay away for awhile. 🙂

      i promise you that you’ll forget these are healthy if you make them: they certainly don’t taste healthy.

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