Before we fled the coop, my parents would take my sister and I to San Francisco each summer en route to visiting my grandma. While getting a view of the ocean was exciting enough for us Montana girls, we were also fascinated by the bustling ado of Chinatown. We were the predictable tourists, buying trinkets and personalized keychains in little shops that filled the Chinatown streets. While our trivial purchases have long been forgotten, I still remember the smell and taste of the fried sesame pastries we would find on our visits.
These pastries, known as jian dui, are made with rice flour and sesame seeds and filled with a sweetened paste, often black bean. I am still not sure what provoked my picky younger self to try this treat. Regardless, my adult self is thankful because jian dui opened up to me the wonderful world of sesame seeds. They are nutty, healthy and versatile in cooking and baking. While not a huge candy fan, I still can't resist a sesame seed sweet and gomasio is one of my staple seasonings.
I have never attempted to make jian dui or any sesame candy for that matter. Instead, I've been adding sesame seeds to some of my healthier treats. I used to make this oat peanut butter recipe, but rather rolled the "batter" into balls to keep in the fridge. It was a great energy snack or dessert when I didn't feel like making something else. To switch it up, I've recently been making them in bar form and have tried adding sesame seeds. The result is absolutely fantastic. While I won't pretend that this recipe is sugar-free, I still find it to be a healthier dessert option than cookies or brownies. Plus, I find these bars to be much more satisfying. I think it is because there is something magical that happens when oats, peanut butter and chocolate come together. With the addition of sesame seeds, the finished product is nutty, complex, and conjures up the taste of the nostalgic sesame sweetness I love.
I have made many variations to this recipe. The original calls for chocolate chips, but I find that the bittersweet baking chocolate bars tend to be darker in flavor, so I usually add in chocolate chunks.
I have also tried this recipe with maple syrup instead of honey. Despite my love for honey, I am reluctant to use it in large quantities when baking. It is expensive and inevitably creates a sticky mess on every surface of my kitchen. However, when I substituted it with maple syrup, I was disappointed with the results. Because maple syrup is thinner, it prevented the bars from firming up in the fridge. I have concluded that honey creates a superior finished product, making the mess worth it.
I have also found that it is much easier and less time consuming if I mix everything in the square pan instead of a separate bowl. Also, I feel like I lose the peanut butter honey goodness between each vessel transfer, so I like to prevent any unnecessary loss if possible. It may be a bit trickier to stir everything together, but it is certainly doable.
It is not necessary to grease the pan before adding the oat mixture because the refrigerated bars should come right out of the pan. However, if you want some insurance, place a sheet of parchment paper in the pan before mixing everything together. That way you can lift out the bars without worry.
Oat & Sesame Peanut Butter Bars
adapted from Melanie in the Middle
makes 2 dozen small bars
2 c old-fashioned oats
1/3 c raw, hulled sesame seeds
1/2 c shredded coconut
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c natural peanut butter (no sugar added)
1/2 c honey
1.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small chunks (or about 1/4 cup)
In a 8-inch square pan, mix together the oats, seeds, coconut and salt. In a small saucepan, combine the peanut butter and honey. Warm on medium-low until the peanut butter and honey are melted and uniform, about 2 minutes. Pour the peanut butter mixture onto the oat mixture in the pan. Carefully fold the wet mixture into the dry until well-mixed. Add the chocolate chunks. Press down mixture with the back of a rubber spatula or a measuring cup.
Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before cutting into bars. They must be very firm to cut and successfully lift out of the pan. Once cut, the bars do not need to stay in the fridge to stay firm, though they will keep longer if refrigerated.