Crisp-chewy, scented with maple, and studded with dried fruit and grains, there is so much to love about these bars. Dried fruit is a great source of concentrated energy, and, along with the oats and multigrain cereal, is an excellent source of fiber. The protein from the oats, milk, nuts, and nut butter is not too shabby, either. Heed my advice and declare any time of the day morning-time.
Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil or parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spread the oats and pecans on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 6 to 8 minutes, shaking halfway through, until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a large bowl.
Place the dried fruit in a food processor and process until finely chopped (but not a paste). Transfer to the bowl with the oats mixture.
Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir in the cereal and remove from the heat; let stand for 2 minutes. Add the nut or seed butter, maple syrup, and salt. Cook and stir the mixture over low heat for 7 minutes and remove from the heat and stir in maple extract, if using.
Immediately add the cereal mixture to the oats mixture, mixing with a spatula until coated.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Place a large piece of parchment paper, waxed paper, or plastic wrap (coated with nonstick cooking spray) on top of the bar mixture and use it to spread, flatten, and very firmly compact the mixture evenly in the pan. Cool completely and let stand at least 2 hours until firm.
Using the liner, lift the mixture from the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 16 bars.