Saturday, 21 March 2015 00:00

Knowing how to make your own granola opens up a multitude of possibilities—you can make your own (healthy!) breakfast cereal that tastes way better than anything you can buy, and contains only ingredients that you added yourself. You can control the level of sugar, salt, and fat, and you can make it vegan or gluten-free. You can also add all of the healthy extras you can handle (barley flakes, flax, quinoa, wheat germ, ginger?) or add in tasty extras for a sweet –but still nutritious—snack (chocolate chips and peanut butter coated oats; dried cherries and dark chocolate chunks!). You can try new flavor combinations to switch things up: banana-cashew-cacao nib (recipe below!), sea salt-olive oil-apricot, cranberry-maple-pecan, pumpkin-cardamom, dried cherry-almond; the options are endless. The most important thing to remember when making granola is that the recipe is under your control. You can change most of the ingredients to suit your preferences and you can be sure that it will work out.

 

To get started with making your own granola, you need a basic formula that can be endlessly adapted for variety and convenience. There are two approaches to granola that most recipes follow:  

 

a) The simplest granola: Dump all ingredients except dried fruit into a large bowl, mix, spread onto baking sheet(s), and bake. When cool, add dried fruit.

 

b) Two-step granola: Mix dry ingredients in a bowl and combine the wet ingredients in a pot; heat wet ingredients, incorporate into dry ingredients, pour onto baking sheet, bake. Add dried fruit when cool.

 

The former method is the most common, and it’s the one I use for my everyday granola. It’s obviously more convenient: you can wake up, realize your granola jar is empty, and bust out a new batch before your brain is fully awake. The latter method is for extra-special granolas that incorporate difficult-to-combine ingredients like peanut butter or fruit purees. By first heating the wet ingredients on the stove, you’re transforming the clunky ingredients into a kind of granola sauce that can be stirred in to evenly coat the oats, nuts and seeds. I’ll demonstrate the more elaborate, two-step method later on with a recipe for banana, cashew and cocoa nib granola.

 

Many recipes also differ on the baking temperature and bake time. I had always baked my granola for about 20 minutes at 400°F and I liked it just fine. But when researching recipes for this article, I saw again and again that my favorite food writers instructed to bake their granola at 300°F for around 45 minutes. I tried it and I was amazed at how evenly toasted and deeply browned my granola came out of the oven. I will still make granola the quick way when I don’t have the extra time, but I do recommend the longer, slower bake time if you can wait for it.

 

Some people idealize clustery granola. My preference is loose granola with some clumps running throughout. If clumpy, crunchy granola is your goal, there are a few ways to achieve it: you can use less oil, press the granola down into the pan before baking, or add an egg white when adding the wet ingredients to the dry. And be careful when stirring the granola throughout the baking process—aim for flipping the granola rather than stirring it. When the granola has cooled in the pan, you can break it up into the sizes you prefer. Also it is important to add the dried fruits after the granola has cooled, and for the crunchiest granola, don’t add dried fruit into the granola mixture at all, keep it separate until you are about to eat it.

 

Granola is basically made of the following elements: grains (usually rolled oats), nuts and seeds, sweetener, spices and flavorings, and dried fruit. Each of these broad categories has countless ingredients that you can swap in to make your own favorite recipe, or that you can switch up for endless variations.

 

The base: The bulk of granola is most often made up of old-fashioned rolled oats, but you can swap out a cup or more of the oats for spelt flakes, rye flakes, barley flakes or wheat flakes.

 

The sweetener: Granola is often quite sweet, but it doesn’t have to be! The least amount of sweetener I’ve used is two tablespoons of honey. My current preference is for ¼ cup maple syrup for maple flavor and 2 tablespoons of honey to add some more sweetness. Sometimes up to three types of sweetener are used in a single recipe, with each one providing its own unique characteristics, for example, ¼ cup of honey for sweetness, ¼ cup maple syrup for maple flavor, and ¼ cup brown sugar for caramel flavor. Other sweeteners you can experiment with are agave syrup, brown rice syrup, and brown sugar.

 

The fat: I use olive oil in my granola because it has an interesting savory quality. It also helps the granola brown nicely. You can use any oil you like, but most popular are canola oil, coconut oil, melted butter, browned butter, and even a small amount of hazelnut oil.

 

The add-ins:

Before baking: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa, almonds (chopped, slivered, or sliced), chopped hazelnuts, pecans, walnut, cashews, pistachios, wheat germ, coconut flakes.

 

After baking: Dried fruit (i.e. raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries, candied ginger, dried apple or banana, dried figs, prunes, or dates), larger pieces chopped, carob chips, chocolate chips, hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds (I would add the hemp, flax, or chia seeds to granola after baking as you are likely eating them for their healthy properties, and heating them doesn’t improve their nutritional quality).

 

Flavorings and texture enhancers: Some recipes use fruit puree (i.e. apple sauce, banana puree, or pumpkin puree) or fruit juice concentrate to add sweetness and flavor, and to replace some of the oil in the recipe. Peanut butter or other nut butters can add a delicious, nutty coating to granola. An egg white added to granola before being baked makes for clumpier, crunchier granola. Spices are optional in granola; some great recipes choose to let the natural flavors of the oats, nuts, and seeds stand on their own. I like adding cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, but I’ve also tried nutmeg, allspice, and even a touch of black pepper. Salt is not essential but most recipes use between ¼ to ¾ teaspoons. I use a ½ teaspoon.

 

Here is the barebones recipe for granola that can be used as a starting point for making your own. Just choose the ingredients you like from above for each element of the granola.

 

The basic recipe

4 cups rolled oats

3 cups add-ins (i.e. 1 cup seeds, 1 cup nuts*, 1 cup coconut flakes)

2-3 Tbsp fat

¼ cup to ½ cup maple syrup, honey, or preferred sweetener

2 Tbsp water

Optional: 1 Tbsp vanilla

Optional: 1-2 tsp of sweet spices

Optional: 1 egg white

1 ½ cups dried fruit

 

Directions:

 

For 20-Minute Granola:

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, including egg white if using, except for coconut flakes and dried fruit. Pour into two baking pans with sides (optional: press into pan for clustery granola). Bake on middle oven rack for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and add coconut flakes. Stir the granola and bake for another 5-10 minutes, keeping a very close eye on the granola near the end of baking. When the granola is golden and smelling delicious, it’s ready. When granola has cooled, add the dried cranberries and cherries. Pour into an airtight container. 

 

For extra-toasty Granola:

Same as above, but include all nuts and coconut in the bowl with all ingredients except dried fruit. Bake at 300°F for 45-55 minutes, stirring halfway through. Watch carefully near the end of baking and pull the granola out of the oven when it’s thoroughly toasted.

 

Notes:

*If using the higher baking temperature, sliced or slivered almonds can begin to burn before the other ingredients have toasted. If using smaller pieces of nuts, like sliced or slivered almonds, wait to add them until the last ten minutes of baking, and them with coconut flakes.

 

Here is the recipe for my very best, everyday granola. I’ve experimented with many recipes and I’ve taken the best aspects of each one for my ideal granola. It’s perfectly, lightly sweetened, and it has just enough healthy add-ins to feel good about eating it for breakfast—which I do, daily, with organic plain yogurt and seasonal fruits.

 

Favorite everyday granola:

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup barley flakes

Heaped ¼ cup wheat germ

½ cup sunflower seeds

½ cup pumpkin seeds

1 cup slivered, slivered, or chopped almonds

1 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut

3 Tbsp olive oil

¼ cup grade B maple syrup*

2 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp water

1 Tbsp vanilla

heaped ½ tsp each of cardamom, cinnamon, and dried ground ginger

Two pinches of salt (about ½ tsp)

optional, for clustery granola: one egg white

1 cup dried cranberries

½ cup chopped dried cherries

 

*Grade B maple syrup has a stronger maple flavor than Grade A maple syrup (it’s often cheaper, too!). However, the labeling of syrup will soon change and the “grade A/B” labels will be phased out—not to worry, look for “dark maple syrup” on the label.

 

Here is a recipe that uses the slightly more elaborate, “two-step” method for making granola. You can use this as a base for many other granola flavor combinations: swap out the banana puree for 2/3 cup of nut butter (also add 2 tablespoons of water) or switch the banana puree for another fruit puree (apple, pear, pumpkin). This banana cashew granola has flavors that remind me of a tasty granola bar I loved as a kid. It’s sweeter than my usual granola so it’s not something I would eat for breakfast daily, but it makes an amazing snack!

 

Two-step granola method:

 

Banana-cashew granola with cocoa nibs

 

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2.5 cups cashews

2/3 cup pumpkin seeds

½ cup cocoa nibs

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

2/3 cup banana purée

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons canola oil

optional: ½ cup golden raisins

 

 

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Mix the oats, cashews, pumpkin seeds, cocoa nibs, brown sugar, cardamom and sea salt in a large bowl.  In a small pot, gently heat the banana purée, maple syrup, honey, and oil. Pour the pot’s contents into the large bowl with the dry ingredients and combine. Spread the granola mixture onto two baking sheets with sides and bake for 45 minutes, stirring halfway through and checking often near the end of baking time. Remove from oven, let cool, add raisins, and enjoy!