Entering baking competitions is nothing new for Amy Ellenberger of St. Paul. And neither is winning.
Ellenberger's blue ribbon in the new UnitedHealthcare Healthy Cookie Contest category is her 45th Minnesota State Fair ribbon — she's entered baking competitions each year since 2009.
"I have been baking since I was a kid, I've always enjoyed the process and giving baked goods to my family and friends," said Ellenberger, who was involved in 4-H growing up and also has won more than 20 ribbons from the Freeborn and Ramsey county fairs.
The UnitedHealthcare Healthy Cookie Contest debuted this year as one of the fair's special contests curated by the Blue Ribbon Group, and challenged bakers to create a sweet treat with a health-minded twist using "good-for-you" ingredients. Ellenberger's recipe for Healthy Power Bars includes nuts, oats and seeds — sweetened with Medjool dates, raisins and maple syrup — which provide a chewy, crunchy texture.
Ellenberger likes the recipe's ease and flexibility — you can cut them to any size or shape, and change up the flavors with your favorite nuts, seeds and spices. In addition to the ribbon, she also won $200. (Find more special contest winners at BlueRibbonGroup.net.) Curious who won ribbons in the other baking and canning competitions this year? Find the list at mnstatefair.org/competitions.
Healthy Power Bars
Makes 8 large bars.
Note: From Amy Ellenberger, winner of the 2023 UnitedHealthcare Healthy Cookie Contest at the Minnesota State Fair. These portable bars are perfect for camping and hiking (skip the chocolate drizzle to avoid melting). They also freeze well, before or after baking. You'll need to make this recipe in advance to allow for time to chill.
• 2 1/2 c. raw whole cashews
• 1 1/2 c. rolled oats
• 1 c. pitted Medjool dates
• 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
• 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 1 1/4 c. raw whole almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
• 1/2 c. raw shelled sunflower seeds, toasted
• 3/4 c. golden raisins
• 2 tbsp. chia seeds
• 1/2 c. maple syrup
• 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
Line a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, with edges overhanging for easy removal. Set aside.
Place cashews, oats, dates, salt and cinnamon in a food processor. Process for 20 to 25 seconds, until it's the consistency of a fine meal.
Move mixture into large bowl. Add the almonds, sunflower seeds, raisins and chia seeds. Mix to combine. Add the maple syrup and mix until evenly moistened. Using your hands, squeeze and clump the mixture together to ensure that it is evenly mixed and moist, about 2 minutes. Press the mixture firmly and evenly into the loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 6 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the power bar mixture from fridge, remove from pan and unwrap. Cut into 8 even pieces, place on baking sheet, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, flipping the bars over halfway through baking. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Drizzle with melted chocolate and allow to set.