Fruit and Oatmeal Bars (From the White House to Your House)

My version of White House Fruit and Oatmeal Bars

As if we didn’t have plenty of reasons to love First Lady Michelle Obama already, here’s one more: she’s upgrading the quality and downsizing the quantity of desserts served at the White House. An article in the New York Times about White House pastry chef Bill Yosses explains her approach.  Yosses recalls, “Mrs. Obama stipulated that desserts would be a rarity, not routine, at family meals, and that portions would be scaled down.” Of course Yosses, a veteran of high-end New York kitchens, still turns out elegant desserts for all sorts of occasions, but  the consciousness has changed.

One thing Mrs. Obama requested was something healthier than the previous administration’s bottomless cookie tray. After a lot of experimentation, he came up with “White House Fruit and Oatmeal Bars,”  a recipe also included in a Times’ article. Try Yosses’ recipe if you like, but after the jump you’ll find my version, upgraded a bit, I think, by eliminating the brown sugar and changing out honey for rice syrup.

Later note: a couple of people have commented   that there’s something wrong with the recipe in the Times.  I see no mention or correction on the Time’s site.  I suggest trying my recipe.  It’s delicious, but keep the bars in the fridge until you want to eat them, as they tend to soften up at room temperature.  I’m still working on this recipe, so let me know how it works for you.  Gary

Further notes: Click here for a nutritional analysis of the White House recipe in a New York Times blog (hint: it’s pretty high in calories).

Click here for my recipe for energy bars, which has gotten good reviews from those who’ve tried it.


While retaining nearly all the same ingredients as the White House recipe, I’ve simplified it by substituting granola for the rolled oats  (use a relatively plain, naturally sweetened granola).The most difficult thing about this recipe may be waiting until it is thoroughly cool before cutting and eating.

Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare an 8 or 9-inch square cake pan by lining it with aluminum foil or parchment paper and brushing that thoroughly with oil.

2 cups plain, naturally-sweetened granola

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds

1 1/4 cups toasted pumpkin seeds (reserve 1/4 cup for garnishing the top)

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds (optional)

1 1/2 cups dried fruit of your choice, preferably at least 3 kinds  (I used raisins, dates and apricots)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup canola or similar oil

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup rice syrup

pinch of salt

Chop the dried fruit coarsely in a food processor, add a tablespoon of water if the fruit seems too dry–you want the fruit to be sticky.

Combine the seeds and granola in a mixing bowl with the dried fruit and cinnamon.

Meanwhile, combine the maple syrup, rice syrup, oil and salt in a sauce pan, place on high heat and bring just to a boil.  Immediately pour this into the bowl with the other ingredients, stir well.

When well mixed, pour this into the prepared pan, dampen your fingers and press the bar mixture evenly and firmly into place (sprinkle the reserved pumpkin seeds and push into place while smoothing out this mixture). Bake in a 350º F oven 20 minutes or until the edges appear ever so slightly caramelized.

Cool to room temperature then chill in the fridge at least one hour before attempting to cut with a sharp, serrated knife. Keep in fridge until serving (if allowed to get too warm, the bars may become soft). Yields 1 1/2 dozen bars.


11 responses

  1. Much to my disappointment, I tried Yosses original recipe today and found it much too sweet and too gooey. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup mixed seeds. Your version calls for two cups of seeds total. I am curious, was there a misprint in recipe in the Times on 5/12? Btw, I used apricots, cherries, cranberries, figs as well as candied ginger and the combination was lovely in color and flavor.

    • Beth, I’m not aware that there was a misprint in the New York Times version of the recipe. I didn’t test it as they claimed it was a well tested recipe. I increased the amount of seeds in my version because I felt that would make it crunchier and more interesting. My version, I admit, is still a work in progress. I made three versions before coming to the recipe I put up, but I’m going to try to improve my recipe as well. I’d like it to be crisper and a little less sticky. Any ideas?

  2. Gary, I have made another recipe for breakfast bars that calls for condensed milk. It is not perfect, either. The condensed milk tends to make the granola bar sweeter than I like and the condensed milk tends to pool on the bottom layer. I am very fond of Maida Heatter’s recipe for Multigrain and Seed Biscotti which has many of the same ingredients as your granola bar recipe. My research for the perfect granola bar has yielded recipes with butter, brown sugar and honey, another with eggs whites, light brown sugar, honey, oil, and mashed banana. Might it be possible to use the egg, honey and brown sugar combination Maida Heater uses to achieve the crispier texture we crave?

    • It’s possible that combination provides more structure, eggs tend to do that in baking. I kind of keep the recipes here vegan, not because I personally am strictly vegan, but I want people to come to this blog having an idea of what they’re going to find. And generally there is a work-around which will make vegan baked goods equally good (if not the same) as their non-vegan counterparts. Looks like I haven’t quite found it yet, but in terms of taste, I fully vouch for my recipe. Gary

  3. I was suspicious when I read the White House recipe, but tried it anyway. My fears proved justified. Too sweet and too gooey. Plus, it really isn’t a particularly healthy recipe–way too much oil. I have a much better recipe for so-called Russian fruit bars (Mazurki). They don’t have oatmeal, but they also don’t contain any added oil or sugar.

  4. Too sweet, too gooey and the pan called for in the NYT was way too small to make the crisp little bars pictured in the paper. But of course there is an up-side: we had a lot of fun at our house saying “yo, we’re from Noo Yawk, we don’t cook that much! So sue me!” I’ll try your recipe next time.

  5. I also tried the NY Times recipe,and I am certain it has an error in it, but it’s not one corrected in Macrochef’s recipe, sadly. Because no flour is included in the list of ingredients, there is no reason to think baking the mixture would turn it into anything other than a gooey mess, as it was described by other writers (and no, the oats aren’t fine enough to substitute). It’s possible if one heated the mixture of sweeteners long enough for it to reach soft or medium ball stage, it would make an ok fruit/nut bar, but still, no baking would be needed,just cooling. And, finally, with all due respect to Mr. Yosses and to Mrs. Obama, whose intentions I do greatly admire (I also have a doctorate in nutrition), the sweeteners aren’t any healthier than sugar.

  6. I made the NYT recipe. My only substitution was to use 1/2 cup aliced almonds to add with the oats (instead of two full cups of oats). I didn’t see the point in baking it, but I did and at least the house smelled amazing! I would tweak the recipe in the future so the “glue” isn’t so overloaded with sugar, but other than that, I was pretty satisfied. I have made granola bars with rice syrup before and there’s something about the taste of that I don’t like. But I’m glad we’re having this conversation. Anything that’s homemade is wonderful for your waistline and your wallet!

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