Crunch time: DIY granola

I’ve been on a CSA hiatus recently, bridging the five-week gap between the end of the fall session and the start of winter deliveries.

Some holiday travel, lots of parties and meals out, and a retail job with a pronounced seasonal frenzy have left me little time or energy to grocery shop or cook—or write about it. And with nothing left from the Co-op save a straggler butternut, three wee beets, and a bag of assorted potatoes (plus what’s canned or in the freezer), I’m really looking forward to getting back into the CSA groove next Tuesday, when my 12 weeks of “Omnivore Value Shares” (veg+meat+dairy) kick in.

During the break, though, I have managed to squeeze in four or five sessions at my kitchen-island laboratory. My focus? Granola. I’ve now logged ten batches with various combinations of fruits, nuts, and spices. As it turns out (and please don’t tell the many friends I gifted with oat-filled jars over the holidays), making granola is much easier than you might think.

Jarred Granola
Making your own granola is ridiculously easy, fairly fast, and makes the whole house smell terrific.

Start with oats.

You want regular, old-fashioned, rolled oats. Not instant. Not quick. Not steel cut. I mostly used organic oats from the bulk bin at Whole Foods, but I also splurged on a couple bags of Bob’s Red Mill Organic Rolled Oats, which, by the way, you can also get in a gluten-free version. I didn’t really notice a difference in the end product, either way.

Oats in a Bowl
Nothing fancy here: just organic, bulk-bin, rolled oats.

Pick a fat.

Melted butter was terrifically rich, but, you know, it’s terrifically rich. Media-darling coconut oil, one of our latest “superfoods,” lent a delicate hint of (surprise!) coconut, but I found the cereal didn’t crisp up as nicely as with what turned out to be my favorite—basic, everyday olive oil. Canola or safflower oil would also be just fine.

Truth be told, I don’t love, love, love the taste of coconut. I prefer a neutral olive oil here.

Pick a sweetener.

Agave? Maple syrup? Honey? I found I preferred the flavor of maple, but that honey usually yielded “clumpier” granola. In my last few batches, I’ve used a 2:1 mixture of maple syrup and honey (and an eye-dropper full of vanilla extract).

Pick a Sweet
Not surprisingly, sticky honey makes for bigger clusters.

Pick your add-ins.

Most any combo of spices, nuts, seeds, and fruits will do. All of the following (not all at once, obviously), made it into at least one batch. Just experiment with combinations that sound good to you. I think my favorite turned out to be ginger-almond-apricot, with maple-pecan-blueberry a close second.

  • ground cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg
  • pecans, walnuts, whole almonds, slivered almonds, cashews
  • flax seeds, sunflower kernels
  • dried coconut
  • raisins of various colors
  • dried blueberries, cranberries, Asian pears, apples, and apricots
  • orange and lemon zest

A couple of other hints

Add a pinch of salt when you toss the dry ingredients together. Just. A. Pinch. Use raw nuts, since you’ll be roasting them yourself. If you use slivered or finely chopped nuts, know that you’ll need to tend them more closely in the oven so that they don’t burn (you might even consider turning the oven down to 300º). And finally—and please trust me on this one—add any dried fruit at the very end, after the cereal has baked and is nearly cool. I spaced out with an early batch and mixed everything at once, including some very expensive dried apricots. What a mushy mess.

DIY Granola: The Blueprint
Ginger-almond-apricot has turned out to be my favorite, so far.

Makes a little over 6 cups of cereal. Treat these guidelines as a starting point and adjust to your own taste from there. As written, the end product is far less sugary than most commercially available granola. If you like it sweeter, add more honey/agave/whatever, especially if you’re using a very tart fruit (like unsweetened craisins). And remember, there are no preservatives here, so don’t make more than you’re likely to eat or give away in a week or two. 

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup nuts
  • 1/2 cup other seeds (I’ve been splitting it evenly between sunflower kernels and golden flax seeds)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon (or more)
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger (optional)
  • a few grinds of nutmeg
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil (a little less if using melted butter or coconut oil)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup dried fruit, cut into smaller pieces if necessary

Preheat oven to 325º. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a silicone pan liner.

Dry Bowl
The blank slate: rolled oats, sunflower kernels, golden flax seeds, slivered almonds

Combine the oats, nuts, and seeds in a large bowl. Add in the spices and salt, and toss well.

Measure out the 1/2-cup of syrup into a 1-cup vessel, add the vanilla extract, and give it a stir. This’ll help keep the vanilla from getting completely absorbed by just a small pocket of dry oats. Go ahead and add the honey, too.

Add the combined sweeteners and oil to the dry mixture. Stir/toss thoroughly.

Be sure to use a big enough bowl that you can stir and toss without losing half the contents.

Spread the mixture out onto the baking sheet. Bake for 30-45 minutes, depending on how dark and crunchy you like your granola. I stirred mine every 10 minutes or so. If you leave it undisturbed, you’re more likely to get clusters—that’s cool, but you’re also more likely to scorch the bottom, so you have to find a balance.

Here’s a batch before it hits the oven . . .
. . . and the same batch after 35 minutes.

When it’s as dark as you like (you can best judge by the nuts), remove the pan from the oven and let it cool. Don’t worry if, when you taste it now, it’s not fully crunchy. It’ll crisp up as it cools. After about half an hour, when it’s just barely warm, add the dried fruit and give the whole thing a stir. Let it cool for a few more hours before you load it into airtight containers.

A few spoonfuls of Greek yogurt topped with granola and half a banana — a perfect 10:30 a.m. snack.

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