Wednesday, February 10, 2010

“Larabar” Universal Formula Hack

I like Larabars. They are awesome, tasty, simple and completely vegan. You can get more information here [Larabar] and they look like this:

cinnamonroll

The key information on the Larabar website is the nutritional information. For this particular hack, we’re going to make our own Larabars by reverse engineering the ingredient lists.

Background Information & Basic Rules

Food scientists do this all the time and what we’re doing here is basically what every competitor does when imitating a food product. Thankfully, Larabars are SUPER simple and they use natural ingredients that we can actually buy (no chemistry set required). The objective is to get as close to the original food as possible but also leaving room to adjust to personal tastes.

What we’re going to do is apply the following four basic rules:

  • Ingredients are always listed in the order by mass from the most to the least
  • Dates have double the mass of the next nearest ingredient because dates are the “glue” that holds the bar together.
  • Spices are generally added sparingly and added to recipes last based on taste preferences
  • The “Ratio” of ingredients to each other will always be constant.

So… let’s do an example…

Re-inventing the Larabar

Look at the ingredient data for the Coconut Chocolate Larabar. The ingredient list (from most to least) is:

  • Dates
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • Unsweetened Coconut

So, like almost all Larabars, they are mostly dates and bits of other things. In this case, let’s quickly infer that the ingredients are distributed in the following manner (guessing things in a way that honours “the Rules”):

Dates

Almonds

Walnuts

Cocoa

Coconut

4 2 1.5 1 .5

What we’ve done here is get a starting point for a Larabar formula. If you wanted to make about 9 cups, then the ratios above would be “cups”. In most cases, you won’t want to make more than about 4 cups so your ratios will stay the same and the actual volumes will decrease. Note that while ingredients are listed by mass, we can assume that volume correlates to mass as all the ingredients are roughly the same density (unless they come up with a Lead flavoured Larabar :-) )

Making your first Larabar

Actually, assembly of the larabar from your ingredients is pretty simple, you basically need a good food processor, a rolling pin, some waxed paper, and a VERY good knife. For the “dates” you’ll need pre-pitted dates (available in bulk pretty much at any bulk store). The other ingredients will get “processed” so save yourself some time and get things pre-chopped if possible. Your food processor (and ears) will thank you for getting the pre-chopped walnuts and almonds. Here’s how you make a Larabar:

  • Take the “non-date” ingredients (excluding spices, see below) first and combine in a food processor. Process until the bits are very small but remain distinct bits (for example peanuts should be small bits and not “peanut butter”). Remove from the food processor.
  • Add the dates slowly (a few at a time) to the now-empty food processor and process until they are a clumpy mess. You’ll likely have to pause many times during this process as the clumpy mess tends to form a ball and not get mixed very well. If you have “balling” problems, just divide the ball into thirds, distribute evenly in the food processor and resume adding new dates. Once you’re done adding all the dates, evenly distribute the date paste around the food processor bowl before adding back the other ingredients.
  • Add back the ingredients from the first step and mix until all the ingredients have combined evenly with the date paste.
  • IMPORTANT – YOU WILL PROBABLE SCREW UP THE MIX OF INGREDIENTS AND THIS IS WHERE YOU ADJUST. If the “flavour” ingredients are weak, add more while honouring the rules. If the dates are insufficient to hold everything together, add more here. Add any spice ingredients at this stage to taste.
  • Once combined, remove the ball of dates and ingredients from the food processor. Place the ball on a chopping board lined with waxed paper and put a piece of wax paper on top of the ball. Then press flat using another chopping board. Once relatively flat, roll to the desired thickness with a rolling pin while maintaining the top piece of waxed paper. [HINT: If you want a particular thickness,use a dowel or other wood to keep the rolling pin off the chopping board. Cake makers know this trick for working with fondant.]
  • Form the flattened paste into a DENSE rectangular shape and then chop through the waxed paper with a knife to create long “bars” about an inch wide.
  • You should now have a lovely dense "larabar" that you can cut down to your desired length and then wrap in plastic wrap. They keep in the fridge for a very long time (long enough that I've never actually seen one go bad... but I do eat them quickly too).
Enjoy!

1 comment:

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