Okay, let's have a little talk about granola. You like it, yes? As you should. All those sweet, nutty little oat clusters! And the nice plump raisins (or the lack of raisins)! And the coconut flakes! (The coconut is always the best part, don't argue, it's true.)
So here's my question: If you like it so much, why don't you make your own?
Buying granola is understandable. Maybe you're super-duper busy, or you've already got a hookup for some amazing small-batch artisanal stuff. BUT. Here's why you should forget about that and start making granola at home:
1. It's more delicious, because you can use good ingredients and customize it to be exactly the way you like it.
2. It's really, really easy. Like, can you put things in a bowl and stir them? Great, you have the necessary skill set to make granola.
3. It requires 5 tools, and you have them all: a bowl, measuring cups, a spoon, a pan, an oven.
4. It's (usually) cheaper. This depends on which brand you've been buying and what you put into your homemade version, but on average you'll spend less money for more granola.
5. Baking it will make your entire home smell like HEAVEN. Nutty, sweet, amazing heaven.
6. It's good for your soul. You will be a more fulfilled and enlightened human!
Bottom line: All granolas are variations on the same simple formula.
With approximate amounts per batch, but feel free to tweak. Listen to your heart.
GRAIN — 3 cups
Most recipes call for plain rolled oats; use the "old-fashioned" kind, not instant or quick-cooking. But if you can find other rolled/flaked grains (rye, barley, etc), those can be fun too.
Sometimes I like to throw in a couple tablespoons of (uncooked) quinoa, which bakes up nice and crunchy. You can also add a tablespoon or two of wheat germ or wheat bran, which are very good for you and will help bind the granola together.
NUTS — 1 to 1 1/2 cups
The pecan is, in my personal opinion, the King Of The Nuts and the most perfect nut for any and all granola. But if you're not convinced, almost anything works. Try almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, or walnuts. Whatever you use, make sure it's in edibly-sized pieces (sliced or chopped if necessary).
If you have raw nuts, mix them in with everything else and bake normally. If you have nuts that are already roasted, wait until after baking and add them along with the dried fruit (or else they might get too dark).
SWEETENER — 1/2 to 3/4 cup
Liquid sweeteners (maple syrup, honey, agave or brown rice syrup) work well because they coat the granola mixture evenly without any clumps or weird granular texture. Maple syrup is great because a) it's much less globby than honey, thus easier to mix in, and b) tastes delightful.
Combining the syrup with a little brown sugar can add a nice caramelized, crackly edge. Skip regular white sugar; it won't incorporate well or add flavor.
OIL — 1/4 to 1/2 cup
Oil is important because it encourages the granola to get delightfully crispy-crunchy, keeps it from turning into a sticky mess, and makes it generally more delicious (fat carries flavor).
Neutral oils like canola or grapeseed are a safe bet, but here's a better idea: use good extra-virgin olive oil. It gives the granola a slightly bitter and very excellent complexity. Melted coconut oil is also a fun way to add flavor.
SALT — 1 tsp kosher or 3/4 tsp regular
Do NOT forget salt! Use more than you would for most baking projects, because that's what will really bring out all the flavors and make your granola mysteriously, compulsively munchable and great.
Use if you like, skip if you don't.
SEEDS — 1 to 2 cups
Mix in raw seeds with grains and nuts and they'll toast while baking. Pumpkin seeds are awful trendy these days. Other options to mix-n-match: sunflower, flax, millet, and sesame seeds. Just don't add TOO many different kinds, or you might start to feel like a finch.
COCONUT — 1 cup
Not actually optional in my book, but hey, you do you. Big unsweetened coconut flakes or "chips" (like these) are better than little shreds, since they'll toast nicely without burning.
DRIED FRUIT — 1 cup (add after baking)
The most important thing to remember if you're adding dried fruit to granola is that you should NOT mix it in with the other ingredients until AFTER baking. The fruit will get too dry and awkwardly crunchy and you and your molars will be unhappy.
Bigger fruits you should slice/chop before adding:
Little fruits you can throw in as-is:
raisins or golden raisins
Citrus zest is also nice - try lemon, orange, or grapefruit.
SPICES — 1 tsp.
Cinnamon is pretty standard, but do not fear the unknown! Cardamom is always great (and a little, say 1/2 teaspoon, goes a long way). Nutmeg and ginger are very nice too. You could even get crazy with some savory herbs and see what happens — rosemary, maybe?
CHOCOLATE - 1/4 cup cocoa and/or 1 cup chips
For those who want to head in a more trail-mixy direction.
Option 1: Add 1/4 cup cocoa powder along with other dry ingredients before baking.
Option 2: Add 1 cup chocolate chips AFTER granola has been baked and is cool, unless you want them to melt into globs.
EGG WHITE — 1 egg white (about 2 Tbsp.)
If you want to feel more virtuous about your granola, lightly beat one egg white until it's foamy, and mix it in as a replacement for some of the oil (2-4 Tbsp).
This will help bind the granola together and make it crispy through the mystical science of proteins.
1. Measure grain, nuts, seeds, salt, and spices into a large bowl.
2. Add sweeteners, oil, and egg white (if using).
3. Stir, stir, stir.
4. Spread out on a large baking sheet.
It helps to have fairly deep edges all around, so the granola doesn't explode all over your kitchen when you stir it. You can line the sheet with parchment paper to guarantee zero sticking (helpful if you're using less oil), or not worry about it.
5. Bake at 300 degrees for 30-45 minutes, giving it a stir after about 20 minutes.
All ovens are different, so check yours at the earlier end of the time range to see how brown it is, and keep a nose out to make sure it's not burning. Keep in mind that it won't be crunchy even when it's done baking; the granola will set and harden as it cools.
6. Stop when the granola looks toasty brown and smells incredible.
7. Let the granola cool completely in the pan, then store in an airtight container.
If you want big chunks/clusters of granola for snacking...
1) Definitely use egg white. Whisk in a small bowl until it's foamy, then add to the granola mixture. Pat the granola into an even layer on a baking sheet.
2) Do NOT stir the granola while baking it. Just bake normally (45+ min at 300 degrees), let it cool completely in the pan, and then break into whatever size chunks you fancy.
Try multiple ingredient combos and see what makes you happy.
pistachio + apricot + pumpkin seeds + cardamom
pecan + cherry + flax + nutmeg
walnut + apple + sunflower seeds + cinnamon
almond + mango + sesame + ginger