Crunchy on the outside but soft in the middle, sweet and nutty, and honestly a terrific and satisfying snack or breakfast! Many bars are either too sweet or not sweet enough, crumble when cut or too mushy. Nutritious and flavorful, this is the perfect bar.
High in protein and calcium, amaranth is a gluten-free grain and an important food source in South America and Mexico. If amaranth is hard to find, sesame seeds or quinoa are a good substitute. Don’t panic about the amount of maple syrup in the recipe, it gets reduced down with the dates, and provides the glue for the bars. It will take some self-control to keep from finishing the whole loaf!
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat an 8 1/2 x 4 inch loaf pan with non-stick spray and line it with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the long sides of the pan. Spray the parchment with the non-stick spray, as well.
Bring the dates and maple syrup to a boil in a small saucepan, reduce the heat to medium-high, and boil, stirring often, until dates are very soft and the maple syrup is slightly reduced, 8-10 minutes. Remove the date mixture from the heat, stir in the coconut oil (or butter) and mix until melted. Mash dates with a potato masher or fork until it is as smooth as possible. You can use an immersion blender too. You’ll have about 1 cup of this mixture.
Toss together the oats, almonds (or other nuts), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, amaranth and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the date mixture until evenly coated. Scrape half the oat mixture into a prepared pan and press very firmly and evenly (press really hard) with a rubber spatula to compress it as much as possible, make sure the corners are filled in. Add remaining oat mixture and press again until very tightly packed into the pan, even use another loaf pan to press down. This will ensure that the loaf stays together.
Bake the loaf, tenting with foil if it's browning too quickly, until the it's darkened in color and firm around the edges, and the center gives slightly when pressed, 45-50 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the loaf cool in the pan before turning it out to finish cooling. Cut into slices with a serrated knife. For crispier bars, lay the slices on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for another 8-10 minutes, until golden brown. The loaf is good for 5 days tightly wrapped and kept at room temperature.