I’ve been refining my granola technique for several years now, starting with the revelation that was my first taste of Alta Lodge Granola, which I posted about four years ago. That granola is still incredible, better than (dare I say it?) any other artisan or packaged granola I’ve tasted (though Udi’s will do in a pinch). It is miles better than boxed cereal.
I’ve experimented with granola bars as well, and these cherry-almond ones are delicious (swap the almonds and almond butter for peanuts and peanut butter, and the cherries for raisins, and they may be even better). Generally, though, un-barred granola is easier, has a better yield, and I like it better. So that’s what I almost always make.
The granola I want to tell you about today isn’t much different in technique from my trusty old Alta Lodge granola, and the general rules that make that old standby exceptional still apply. They are:
1. Moisten the oats. A bit of juice, or plain water, softens the grain so it really cooks in the oven, rather than just hardening. It has to dehydrate again in the oven, so the cooking time can be longer, but the toothsome crispness of the oats is worth every minute. Especially since
2. Use plenty of fat. This also contributes to crispness, as well as providing flavor and richness.
3. Bake to a very deep brown. Every bit of visible brownness is due to the flavor-building effect of the Maillard reaction, or caramelization. The browner the better. Browner granola is also crisper.
4. Leave out the fruit. In case you hadn’t noticed, to my mind crispness in granola is absolutely paramount. So please, don’t add raisins! Dried fruit is moist, which is lovely – except when you put it in a bag with your beautifully dry, crisp granola. Over a few days, the fruit will render your granola soggy. Unfruited granola, well sealed, stays crisp for weeks (in Albuquerque’s dry weather, it stays crisp indefinitely). I add the fruit on top just before eating, which allows customization and looks prettier anyway. If you must include fruit, use freeze-dried fruit, which has a very low moisture content.
With these guidelines in mind, you can play around with different nuts and sweeteners and flavorings all you want. This particular version is exciting to me because it has a more savory quality than any I’ve made before. The olive oil gives it just a whisper of bitterness and a hint of umami. I love the dairy richness of butter, but I don’t miss it here. Limiting the sweetener to a bit of honey lends a brightness of flavor that melds beautifully with the olive oil. Lastly, a bit of salt amps up the flavors and the savory effect. I found this to be a middle-of-the-road level of salt; increase or decrease it to your liking. Use coarse sea salt if you have it; if not, use what you have, but remember that coarse salt is less dense than fine, so a teaspoon of fine salt is more actual salt than a teaspoon of coarse.
Oh! One last note: Regular rolled oats (as opposed to thinner quick oats) are great in granola, but not a requirement. Oats seem to be ranked in a hierarchy in cooking circles: Steel-cut are most highly regarded, then regular rolled oats (the thicker the better), then quick, and at the bottom the lowly instant oat. But they are all just oats, mechanically manipulated in different ways. They are all whole grains. And if you’re looking for crispness, thinness is a virtue. I haven’t tried granola with all quick oats yet, but I think it might be awesome. (Instant oats can be ground nearly to dust, and I wouldn’t try them for this purpose.) For this granola I used a combination of 2 parts rolled oats to 1 part quick-cooking mixed grain cereal from Trader Joe’s, and it was terrific.
Salted Honey and Olive Oil Granola
Yield: 5 cups Time: 60 to 90 minutes Hands-on: 15 minutes
3 cups oats or mixed rolled grains
3/4 cup coconut
2 c mixed nuts (I used 1 cup pecans and a half cup each almonds and cashews)
1/3 cup apple juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup honey
Dash cinnamon or other spice (I think a hint of cardamom would rock)
1 tsp coarse salt, divided
Heat oven to 325. Spray a large rimmed cookie sheet or half-sheet pan with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the oats (or other grains), coconut, and nuts. In a medium bowl or 2-cup glass measure, combine the apple juice, olive oil, honey, spice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Pour over the oats and stir well to coat. Spread out on the cookie sheet and place in the oven.
Bake the granola for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and stir, being sure to pull the mixture at the edges toward the inside, as the edges brown first. Return to the oven and bake another 30 to 60 minutes, depending on your oven and the humidity, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes (more often as the granola gets closer to done).
Your granola is finished when it is very brown and mostly dry. It will not seem completely dry when it’s hot, no matter how done it is. To test doneness, remove a few grains from the cookie sheet and let cool for a few minutes, then taste. When it’s very brown and crisp when cool, remove the cookie sheet from the oven and sprinkle on the 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt. Let the granola cool completely on the cookie sheet, then transfer to an airtight container. (I usually just use a plastic zipper bag, but it looks gorgeous in a big glass jar!)