These delicious “anytime” bars are vegan, lunchbox-friendly, gluten-free, and made with a refined sugar-free strawberry-vanilla chia seed jam. (With the chia jam, the bars will be lightly sweet; if you use store-bought jam, they’ll be much sweeter.) It’s hard to resist gobbling them up once you slice them, but I actually find that they taste better the following day, after the flavors have had a chance to meld in the fridge overnight. I also recommend making the chia jam in advance, so it has time to cool in the fridge before you begin making the recipe.
Once chilled, the bars firm up (thanks to the coconut oil), but at room temperature they soften and will virtually melt in your mouth while you eat them.
Either way, you are going to go crazy over the roasted sunflower seed “cookie” crust. Enjoy these as a quick breakfast with tea or coffee, as an afternoon snack when you need a boost, or warmed up for dessert with a scoop of ice cream (it’ll remind you of a berry crisp!). —Angela Liddon
If desired, roast the sunflower seeds: Preheat the oven to 325° F (160° C). Spread the seeds over a large rimmed baking sheet in an even layer. Roast for 9 to 12 minutes, until lightly golden in some spots. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Increase the oven temperature to 350° F. Line a 9-inch square pan (or an 8-inch pan for a slightly thicker bar) with parchment paper, leaving some overhang, which will make it easy to lift out the bars later.
In a food processor, combine the sunflower seeds, oats, and salt and process until you have a coarse flour.
In a small pot, melt the oil over low heat. Remove from the heat and whisk in the maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and sunflower seed butter until combined. Pour the wet mixture on top of the oat mixture in the food processor and process until the mixture comes together, 10 to 15 seconds. The dough should feel quite heavy and oily, and there shouldn’t be any dry patches. If there are, process for 5 seconds more. If for some reason it’s still too dry, try adding water, a teaspoon at a time, and processing again until it comes together.
Set aside 1 1/4 cups of the oat mixture for the topping. Crumble the remaining oat mixture over the base of the prepared pan in an even layer. Starting at the center, push down with your fingers (you can lightly wet them if they stick) to spread out and pack down the crust. Press the dough down tightly. Even out the edges with your fingertips. Prick the crust with the tines of a fork about 9 times to allow steam to escape.
Par-bake the crust for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. (If the crust puffed up while baking, gently press down on it to release the air.) Spread the jam in an even layer over the crust. Crumble the reserved 1 1/4 cups oat mixture evenly over the jam.
Bake, uncovered, for 14 to 18 minutes more, until the topping is lightly firm to the touch. The topping will not turn golden in color; it will remain the same shade as it was before baking. Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 45 to 60 minutes, then transfer the pan to the freezer for 30 minutes until completely cool. Lift out the slab and slice it into squares or bars. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for several days, or wrapped up and stored in the freezer for 4 to 5 weeks.