This year, my noble, brave husband and 7-year-old son both decided to give up sweets for Lent. I’m not sure which of us is having the harder time with it, them or me. As a dessert-making addict, it’s been awfully difficult for me to have two members of my family not eating the sweet treats I make. For me, dessert making is like the sixth Love Language. Not to mention the fact that with two fifths of our family not eating it, there’s way too much to go around when I do make some. So since the Lenten season began I’ve been trying to only make desserts that can be frozen, so that I don’t eat entire layer cakes or pans of seven-layer bars all by myself. (A very real possibility.)
Both my husband and son really have displayed amazing resolve in this Lenten fast, but last week my husband made a request. Could I make something “sweet-but-not-sweet”? I had to pick his brain a bit to figure out what this meant. What tastes sweet but doesn’t qualify as a sweet? He wasn’t really sure. He just knew he wanted something to curb the craving for sweetness without “cheating.” It set me on a mission to make the perfect non-treat treat. It actually kind of felt like one of those cooking show challenges. (“You have 30 seconds to make a dessert out of one tablespoon of barbecue sauce, three handfuls of popcorn, and a Fruit by the Foot–GO!”) In the end, I think I succeeded. I’d like to imagine the celebrity chef judge (can it be Curtis Stone? Let’s just say it’s Curtis Stone) proclaiming my creation the winner of the sweet-but-not-sweet challenge: these vegan peanut butter energy bars.
I tend to assume that when I see the word “vegan” in front of a recipe (especially a baked goods recipe) that it’s not worth my time. What good is baking without butter, eggs, or milk? I’m happy to say these bars prove me wrong. They are genuinely moist, tasty, and addictingly snackable. With mashed banana, whole wheat flour, oats, and just 1/3 cup of brown sugar, I think you could even get away with calling them healthy. I may have made them for my husband, but I ate at least as many as he did.
If you, too, are looking for a little something to stave off your sweet tooth without breaking the sweetness bank, look no further than these bars!
Vegan Peanut Butter Energy Bars
(Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
1/2 c. mashed ripe banana (about 1 small banana)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
Scant 1/3 c. almond milk (or 2% milk)
Optional mix-ins: 1/2 c. raisins or chocolate chips (vegan if you want to keep it vegan)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8 inch baking dish or line with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, mix brown sugar and peanut butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add mashed banana and vanilla extract, mixing well until smooth.
3. With the mixer on medium speed, add whole wheat flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Mix until almost combined, with a few floury streaks. Slowly add almond milk until the dough comes together completely. Fold in mix-ins, if using. Spread into prepared pan.
4. Bake 20-23 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing into bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Makes about 12 bars.