Monday, January 10, 2011

Baking Class: Granola

I hope everyone had a Happy New Year. Mine was about as low key as any evening can get, let alone New Year's Eve. I was at my brother's house, as usual, where we all went our separate ways until around 11:30, when we all gathered in the back room to watch Dick Clark Ryan Seacrest welcome in the New Year. You know things are bad when the high point of your evening is catching the long-awaited reunion/teaming of Backstreet Boys New Kids on the Block. Is it just me, or do they need to rethink their names?

And it wasn't just the evening that was low key. My niece and I have gotten into the habit of setting our goals for the year during that evening so we can get started on them on the first. The closest we got this year was talking about talking about them. So we decided that for us, the new year would start the second week of January. And once we made that decision, it was so much easier to just relax and enjoy the rest of my visit, come home and take a breath, and then get started on the new year.

Which might explain the little vacation I took from Blogging. It was unintentional, but I just couldn't get my brain into blog mode, so I decided to wait until the second week of the new year for that, too. So here we go 2011 - I hope it's a better year for everyone than last year was.

I finally bit the bullet and made myself a batch of granola. Actually, I made several. It has taken me a month or so to get it right. The first batch was dark and toasty, the second batch was underdone, and the third batch almost burned to a cinder in my brother's oven in Austin over the Thanksgiving holidays. Then I re-read the recipe and discovered that I was setting the oven too high. After that, it came out golden and crunchy.

It was smooth sailing after that, and I have been enjoying granola on a regular basis ever since. I have been sharing it with all of my friends (it makes a lot), with great success. I'll have a few handsful for a quick snack and it's quite good sprinkled over yogurt.

But my favorite way to eat is something my sister taught me years ago. As I believe I have mentioned before, she was the first one in our family to discover whole wheat, brown rice, and the benefits of vegetarian eating. That was the first time I became a vegetarian. I think it lasted six whole months.

For breakfast, we would take some granola, grate an apple over it and pour in some milk. It was delicious. The sweeteners in the granola would melt into the milk just like the way sugar cereals would, and the apple added a bright, sweet flavor of its own that elevated the whole thing into a delicious, satisfying way to start the day. The only drawback was that it took so long to grate the apple that it was a bit of a challenge, and it was impossible for me to find a way to make it transportable. So it fell by the wayside along with that first bout of vegetarianism.

After I made the granola and didn't know what to do with it, however, my mind went back to that lovely breakfast and I wondered if there wasn't a way I could make it a little easier. Maybe if I chopped the apple instead of grating it?

I got out an apple, made thin slices, then chopped them up as fine as I could manage. I put it on top of the granola, poured milk over mixture, and took a taste. And was immediately transported back to when I first tried it. The chopped apple works as well as the grated, and I can take the apple to work with me and cut it there, so I can take it to work with me.

This recipe is adapted from Molly Wisenberg's (of Orangette and Bon Appetit fame) adaptation of Nigella Lawson's recipe. This recipe just screams adaptation - you can easily tailor it to your tastes. It can be expensive, so you can adjust the ingredients to help keep it more cost effective. Just keep the basic ratios in mind and you can substitute just about anything anywhere, as long as you have the same wet to dry balance. You can also add anything you want to the cooked mixture - dried fruits, coconut, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, peanuts - the possibilities are literally endless.

A few notes. The first time I made it, I was too impatient and did not read the instructions clearly and I added the dried fruit before I baked it. Not the end of the world, if you like hard, crunchy, slightly burnt pellets of fruity rock. If not, be sure to add the dried fruit after it comes out of the oven.

When I made this at my brother's house, they didn't have two regular-sized baking sheets with lips, so I used their two oversized sheets. It didn't help that I had the oven too high, but even with it lower the granola was spread to thinly and cooked much faster than it should have, which is why it came out burned to within an inch of its life (it was edible, thank goodness, but just barely). The next time I made it I just one of the oversized pans. It took longer, but worked out much better.

Be sure to take it out and stir it up every ten minutes. Use the cooking time as a guideline; it will stay soft in the oven so you have to go by sight - when it is nice and golden then you know it is done. If you take it out too soon, though, and it is not as crunchy as you would like, simply put it back in the oven and bake it, checking every ten minutes, until it reaches your desired crunchiness.

This was successful beyond my wildest dreams. I fully expected to like it; I did not expect to like it so much that I have made it over six times in the past month or so. It keeps a long time, but it's never stayed around long enough for me to test how long. The recipe says to keep it in the refrigerator, but I haven't bothered and it hasn't been a problem yet. I did still have some here when I was getting ready to leave for Austin for ten days so I put that in the fridge, and it was fine when I got back.

It's a little labor intensive, because you have to check it every ten minutes, but only for about 40 minutes. That's actually a small amount of work for the payoff that you get. Because it has such a great shelf life you can throw some in a bag to take with you wherever you go so if hunger strikes you have a healthy choice on hand and don't have to struggle with the choice between potato chips or fritos.

Do yourself and your friends a favor. Get crunchy and make some granola.

p.s. Do you like the bowl? I made it a few years ago, when I took some pottery classes.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


NOTE: I use the same measuring cup for the applesauce, the brown rice syrup, and the honey, and I measure out the applesauce first, leaving a pretty solid coating when I empty it into the bowl. It coats the cup so the stickier liquids are easier to get out of the cup.

5 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup raw pecans
1 cup hulled raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup ground flax seeds*
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/3 cup brown rice syrup**
1/4 cup honey
2 Tbsp grapeseed or other vegetable oil

Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F.

In a small bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients. Stir to mix well and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Take the time to stir everything together so all of the ingredients are mixed well.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry mix. Again, take the time to stir it well, so that the wet ingredients are fully incorporated into the dry.

Spread the mixture evenly on two rimmed baking sheets. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Set a timer to go off every ten minutes while the granola bakes, so you can rotate the pans and give the granola a good stir; this helps it to cook evenly.

When it's ready, remove the pans from the oven. Stir well - this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet - and set aside to cool. Set the timer for ten minutes and stir it one more time to make sure it is not sticking to the pan. The finished granola may still feel slightly soft when it comes out of the oven, but it will crisp as it cools.

Store the cooled granola in a large zip-lock plastic bag or other airtight container. The granola will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.

*Flax seeds have an extremely short shelf life, so if you buy them ground be sure they are fresh, and store them in the freezer.

**Available at Whole Foods or any other health food store. Or, you can substitute with Lyle's Golden syrup.

Yield: about 10 cups

adapted from Molly Wisenberg (who adapted it from a Nigella Lawson recipe) at:

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

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