I’ve been experimenting with granola for years now, as long-time readers of my blog know: I’ve posted two recipes for it, as well as one for granola bars. Granola is my favorite weekday breakfast; I’ve taken to making it every other week or so, and I think my flavorful, deeply brown, super-crisp granola is the best out there.
During all those repetitions, I realized that the recipe I’ve been using and riffing off of is really simple to remember: 3 cups rolled whole grains, 2 cups mixed nuts and seeds, 1 cup liquid ingredients (divided into 1/3 cup juice or water, 1/3 cup oil, 1/3 cup liquid sweetener), and optional flavoring agents as desired.
That’s all there is to it…. But of course, each of those parts needs a bit of explanation. Let’s break it down.
3 cups rolled whole grains
Usually this is plain old-fashioned oatmeal. For years I thought granola required regular or even extra-thick rolled oats, but one time I ran out and tried quick oats, which are smaller, thinner pieces. To my surprise, I really liked them: They cook up into a very light and crisp granola.
Of course, your grains don’t have to be oats at all. You can use whatever flattened grain you find in the store: barley, rye, wheat, triticale. (Triticale is a wheat-rye hybrid that I love for its pretty name, pronounced “trih-tih-KAY-lee.”) Whatever floats your boat. Lately I’ve been using about 2 cups regular rolled oats and 1 cup of a quick-cooking multi-grain blend from Trader Joe’s.
2 cups mixed nuts and seeds
You have just as much leeway here, maybe even more. I’ve used all kinds of nuts in my granola. I almost always include slivered almonds and pecans, because they’re my favorites; pecans require a little more care than most nuts because they burn easily, but their rich flavor and crisp texture are worth it. I also usually include pepitas – pumpkin seeds – because they have a delightful pop when bitten into, and their green color makes for a prettier granola. Since I don’t include fruit in my granola, it can be a little monochromatic.
There are tons of other nuts and seeds that are great in granola: cashews, pine nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, pistachios, sesame seeds, flax seeds – whatever you enjoy. Coconut is a popular granola ingredient too, and in fact the first two recipes I posted both had a lot of it. But I discovered I was out of it once when making granola (yes, that happens embarrassingly often), and I didn’t really miss it, so now I only use it when I make coconut-almond granola.
1 cup liquid ingredients
The liquid is composed of three equal parts: water or juice, oil, and liquid sweetener.
Water works fine to moisten the grans so they cook up crisp instead of just hardening in the heat. It’s always available and lets the flavor of the grains shine through. However, juice makes for a sweeter, richer-flavored granola. I often use apple juice, but white grape juice or coconut water work very well too. Spiced cider is terrific in an autumn granola.
For the oil, you can use a neutral oil like canola or a more flavorful one like peanut or olive. Peanut granola is one of my favorites – it’s especially delicious served with raisins – and I use peanut oil in it (as well as peanut butter to amp up the flavor; I’ll discuss nut butters as a flavor addition below). Olive oil has a distinct flavor that goes beautifully with honey, especially in a salted granola. Or, for an especially rich and divine granola, substitute melted butter for some or all of the oil.
Honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar are the sweeteners I use most often. I like agave for a light, simple flavor. Honey is always delicious; maple syrup gives a rich bass note and is especially fabulous in peanut granola. 1/3 cup makes for a pretty lightly sweetened granola, especially if you use water instead of juice. Feel free to increase the amount if you prefer your cereal sweeter.
The three ingredients above are all that’s absolutely required for delicious granola. However, there are lots of things you can add to make your granola more special. A little vanilla extract goes into most of my batches, and sometimes a lot (up to two teaspoons). I also love almond extract. And feel free to add sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
A few tablespoons of nut butter affects not just the cereal’s flavor, but its texture as well, making it a little crisper and richer in mouthfeel, and encourage it to develop clumps (especially if you use quick-cooking grains). I often use peanut butter or almond butter, and have been meaning to try cashew. To fully incorporate a nut butter, heat the water or juice and whisk the nut butter into it before adding it to the granola mixture.
You can also add ingredients such as wheat germ or oat bran to amp up the nutritional content of your granola, though such finely textured ingredients often wind up as a powder at the bottom of the storage container.
Of course, ingredients are of little use without a method. Once you’ve mixed all the ingredients together, spread them on a large baking sheet – I use cooking spray sometimes, but it really doesn’t need it; I’ve never had granola stick – and place in a 350-degree oven. Bake for 20 minutes, stir, and replace in the oven. Stir again after 15 minutes, and again after 10.
At this point the mixture should start to brown. Keep baking, stirring at 10-minute intervals, until the granola is very well browned. This may take up to 90 minutes. Check out the picture above, of granola on a baking sheet, to see about how brown I mean. You can go browner if you want, and sometimes I do, but be careful not to burn it!
And the last important note: Do not mix fruit into your granola before storing unless it is very dry: things like banana chips and freeze-dried berries are okay, but not raisins! You just spent up to 90 minutes baking all the moisture out to make the crispest granola you possibly could. Mixing in raisins will introduce moisture and make your granola go soggy. And that would be sad. Add the raisins at the table.
I don’t serve my granola with milk, though I’ve seen people eat it that way and they liked it. I prefer it with yogurt, because it retains its crispness. Noosa is my favorite flavored yogurt. I also like Fage or Greek Gods plain yogurt with jam (Heidi’s raspberry is divine) stirred in to sweeten and flavor it.
Toasty Granola Master Recipe
Serves: 6 Time: 70-100 minutes Hands-on: 15-20 minutes
3 cups rolled whole grains
2 cups mixed nuts and seeds
1/3 cup water or juice
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup liquid sweetener
Flavoring agents to taste: vanilla or other extract, nut butter, spices, coarse salt
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. (If using nut butter, blend with warmed water or juice before adding to bowl.)
Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet and place in a 350-degree oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then stir thoroughly, pulling the outside part to the inside, and replace in the oven. Stir again after 15 minutes, and again after 10.
At this point the mixture should start to brown. Keep baking, stirring at 10-minute intervals, until the granola is very well browned. This may take up to 90 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool completely on the baking sheet. Store in an airtight container. Serve with milk or over yogurt and top with raisins or other dried fruit as desired.
A few basic variations (for any ingredients not listed, use whatever you like):
Everyday granola: apple juice or water, neutral oil, 1 teaspoon vanilla and/or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, dash cinnamon
Peanut granola: peanuts, water or apple juice, peanut oil, maple syrup, 3 tablespoons peanut butter
Coconut-almond granola: almonds, water or coconut water, neutral oil, agave nectar, 1/4 teaspoon coconut extract (if available), 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, 1/2 cup shredded or flaked coconut
Honey-olive oil granola: water, olive oil, honey, up to 1 teaspoon salt
Play around, and have fun!
NaBloPoMo 2014 Post #5