The Best Best-Ever Granola Recipe (Part 2: Execution)
This recipe is ratio- and technique-based, time tested, bulk tested, and adapted to the home kitchen. It ensures spectacular granola without intruding on your most basic right to express yourself by choosing your own ingredients. What could be better than that? Even the ratios and techniques can and should be adapted to your preferences and equipment, but this recipe will provide the solid starting place to make judicious decisions.
If you missed my earlier post and you may want to back up and review the Best Best Ever Granola Recipe (Part 1: Technique)
5 cups grains
Major on the oats, but mixing grains provides complexity. We usually include barley, wheat germ, and oat bran. My favorite for texture and taste is spelt but for some reason it's expensive. Rye, oddly enough, tastes slightly wry. Experiment with triticale, red or white wheat, brown rice, or other old-world grains like kamut. Grains should be steamed and rolled rather than whole or steel cut. Please don’t use instant. A thick, old-fashioned cut is ideal for taste and texture. Use organic if you can.
1 cup seeds
We tend to use sunflower, sesame, and flax, but you can experiment with pepitas, quinoa, millet, chia, amaranth, or poppy (which can't be popped though amaranth can). Some of these can be a bit crunchy.
1 cup nuts
We typically use whole almonds and crushed walnuts and pecans. You can substitute hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews, macadamias, black walnuts, brazil nuts, peanuts, even pine nuts. We tend to use a bit more than 1 cup.
1 cup unsweetened coconut
We usually use an organic, medium grind without preservatives. Sweetened coconut is a form of candy that goes especially well with high-fructose corn-syrup (okay, that was sarcastic).
Cocoa powder, powdered instant coffee, crushed freeze-dried fruit are all possibilities. Add them without toasting.
½ cup honey
Use an American-produced, local honey if possible. Blended honeys coming from overseas are less regulated and may have more pesticides or even sugar in them. Don’t substitute other syrups for honey.
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup oil
Some of the taste and most of the nutrition has been processed out of basic grocery store brown sugar. An unrefined dehydrated cane juice like Sucanat is a great choice. You can experiment with Rapadura, or coconut palm sugar. Syrups like brown rice, agave, maple, or date molasses work as long as you extend the boiling or baking time to evaporate the extra moisture.
We usually use a neutral organic canola, but you can experiment with specialty oils like coconut, almond, hazelnut, walnut, grape seed, rice bran, and pistachio. Coconut can be heavy. Olive oil always sounds interesting in granola but I don’t like it. Don’t use flax or oils high in Omega 3’s that you bought in the refrigerator section and should be kept cold.
1 t sea salt
Spices, extracts, aromatics
Use a fine grade that will dissolve easily. If you want a distinct salt flavor without increasing the quantity, just use a course grade. (Or you can reserve some, grind it into a powder and dust the granola at the end.)
Use vanilla, almond, cinnamon, and little nutmeg... or go nuts if you like. Don’t bother with cheap or imitation extracts—they lose flavor with time and heat. Fruity extracts sometimes enhance the flavor of the fruit. Whiskey, rum, bourbon, and brandy all contribute flavor. My Swiss family taught me that kirsch is an absolute necessity for almost almost anything baked. Rose or orange blossom waters are wonderful, but a little goes a long way. We tend to avoid most nut flavor extracts. For more distinct, less uniform flavors you can add ground or whole spices to the dry ingredients rather than the syrup. Most whole spices, like nuts, improve from being toasted briefly in a dry pan before grinding.
1 and 1/2 cups fruit
Standards are sweetened cranberries, raisins, or cherries, but almost anything under (and dried in) the sun works. Pineapple, mango, dates, blueberries, strawberries, pears, prunes, peaches, figs, candied ginger or orange peel... Natural fruit without much added sugar or preservatives (like sulfur or potassium sorbate) is ideal, although some untreated fruits (apples, pears, and apricots) can turn leathery over time. I stopped using apricots altogether because I felt like I was eating part of my shoes. As much as I adore dried persimmons, they don't belong in granola. Freeze-dried fruit seems to work best when crushed and included with dried ingredients.
Chips or chunks, dark or very dark, depending on the level of your addiction and your comfort with shifting breakfast toward dessert.
- Measure grains, whole nuts, and seeds into a stainless steel bowl or pan. Toast at around 300 for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until hot, and fragrant.
- Add in other dry ingredients you did not toast. Mix well. If using a bowl to toast the ingredients don’t forget that it’s hot. It will look cool and innocent, but it can burn you.
- Measure syrup ingredients into a sauce pan, starting with sugar, then oil, then honey. The glaze of oil in your measuring cup will repel the sticky honey. Add your choice of dry spices and salt. You can add extracts now or wait until step 5.
- Heat syrup ingredients over a low flame, stirring until the sugar dissolves. At that point you can increase the heat to medium and stir occasionally until it boils. If using syrup sweeteners (e.g. agave, maple) let the syrup boil on low for a few minutes to thicken, then remove from burner.
- If you reserved the extract(s), add them now and stir. Those containing alcohol may boil violently for a few seconds, so be careful.
- Pour the hot syrup into the dry ingredients and use a rubber spatula to so you don't waste any . Stir well so everything is coated. The syrup will start to harden as it cools so don’t dilly-dally.
- Spread the mixture into a large casserole or lasagna pan. Something with deeper sides than a cookie tray or sheet pan will make stirring easier. If necessary divide the granola into two pans.
- Bake at a low temperature, between 250 and 300, for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. If your oven is like mine and won’t stay below 300, you may need to shorten the time or turn the oven off occasionally. Because of variations in ovens temperatures, heat sources (gas or electric), and style (conventional or convection), this step is the trickiest part to get right. Even the temperature and humidity of your house will affect how long this takes. Plus everybody has their own idea of how crunchy granola should be. Look for the mixture to turn start to turn gold. I remove about a teaspoon pinch it together and leave it on a cool surface for a few minutes. If it hardens into the texture I'm looking for, then it's time for the next step..
- Remove the pan from the oven and mix in the fruit. (If using unsulfured apples, pears, apricots or large toasted coconut flakes they can be chopped and added at the end, after the granola cools. Prunes with sorbate usually need extra time in the oven.) Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. If the raisins start to puff, they are done.
- If using chocolate and you want a blended, untempered, more gooey effect, mix it in just prior to removing the granola from the oven. Give it a minute in the heat but not much more. If you don’t mind the hard chips, you can them once the granola cools. I find hard chocolate chips bothersome. Or you can shave the chocolate. (Cocoa powder is best added to the dry ingredients.)
- Allow the pan(s) to cool. If you prefer a chunky granola don’t stir it until it cools—then break it up with your hands. If you dislike clusters, stir it a couple times as it cools.
- Mix in any other reserved fruit, coconut, chocolate you've determined necessary for your personal best ever. Store in an airtight container as soon as it cools. If you made a huge batch or are trying to ration yourself, store the granola in the fridge or even freezer for best flavor and nutrition.