It’s that time of year again for cookie swaps, luscious seasonal treats, and some clever behind-the-scenes cooking secrets designed to lighten up and health-ify our holiday tables. For December’s Recipe Redux cooking challenge, we used the humble chickpea — a fiber and folate-rich legume — for Lightened-Up Seven Layer Bar, a recipe that’s been a huge hit with our families, friends, and online community ever since we pulled our first batch out of the oven earlier this month.
The bottom layer of our bars calls for chickpeas (AKA garbanzo beans), a nutritious ingredient that we sometimes use as a fat replacer in desserts. Legumes are a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, and soybeans. They recently made big news when the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommended the following: Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas.
Every year around this time, Janice attends her annual neighborhood cookie swap. Last year, she brought our Ginger Drizzle Cookies from No Whine with Dinner. The year before, it was Our Favorite Chocolate Cookie from The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers. Last week as a dozen friends gathered to exchange cookies and gossip, Janice treated her fellow cookie swappers to something new: our latest makeover for sticky, gooey, over-the-top decadent Seven Layer Bars. On this week’s Cooking with the Moms podcast, we bake up a batch of Lightened-Up Seven Layer Bars and serve up a taste of Janice’s sweeter-than-ever swap.
Dried cranberries give our updated, better-for-you layer bars a holiday flare.
Seven Layer Bars are typically made with 2 cups of chips — chocolate and butterscotch, sweetened condensed milk, nuts, lots of shredded coconut, and a crust of graham cracker crumbs with melted butter or margarine, so they’re typically high in fat, saturated fat, and calories. For our makeover, we slimmed ‘em down and boosted the nutrition with a bottom layer made of oats, chickpeas, wheat germ, just 2 tablespoons of butter, and 2 tablespoons of heart-healthy canola oil. In a million years, you would never know there were beans in the crust! We cut back on the chocolate chips and coconut and used dried cranberries. We kept the sweetened condensed milk (though we switched to the low-fat version) because, well, they wouldn’t really be Seven Layer Bars without it.
Janice gets ready for her cookie swap with two batches of our Lightened-Up Seven Layer Bars.
One of our bars has 160 calories and 2.5 grams of saturated fat. Not bad for a sweet holiday dessert and a lot better than traditional Seven Layer Bars with 200 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat.
Lightened-Up Seven Layer Bars
Makes 30 Servings
You can easily modify our recipe to be gluten free by eliminating the wheat germ (or switching to ground flaxseed) and by using gluten-free oats. For a nut-free recipe, nix the walnuts and replace them with 1/2 cup roughly chopped toasted, unsalted pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas). To cut back on the sugar, replace the sweetened shredded coconut with unsweetened. Two tablespoons of sweetened coconut has 5 grams of sugar — that’s over a teaspoon — while the same amount of unsweetened coconut has 1 gram.
- 1½ cups old-fashioned oats
- 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/4 cup wheat germ
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- One 14-ounce can low-fat sweetened condensed milk
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil or coat a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
2. Spread the oats evenly on a baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure even browning. Remove and set aside. Place the walnuts on the same baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. (Keep a watchful eye on the nuts so they don’t burn!) Remove and set aside.
3. Place the toasted oats in the bowl of a food processor and process for 10 seconds. Add the beans, wheat germ, butter, canola oil, and salt and pulse until well combined. Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, and smooth down evenly with your fingers or palms to form a bottom crust.
4. Top evenly with the chocolate chips, cranberries, walnuts, and coconut. Pour the condensed milk evenly over the layers.
5. Bake 22 to 25 minutes, or until the coconut is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and cut into thirty 1¾ x 2-inch bars. Best if stored in the refrigerator.
Nutrition Information per Serving (1 bar): 160 calories, 7g fat (2.5g saturated, 0.5g omega-3), 50mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 14g sugar, 3g protein
For comparison sake, here’s what you’ll get in a traditional Seven Layer Bar: 200 calories, 12g fat (7g saturated, 0.4g omega-3), 85mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 18g sugar, 3g protein.
Cookie swap fun. Everyone got to take six of every cookie.
(left to right) Chris, Molly, Janice (in her dashing sweater vest, circa 1992), Patti, and Mary.
Wishing everyone a festive and fun-filled holiday season
Here are a few other lighter holiday treat recipes from our website and blog that you may want to bake for your friends, family, or Santa: