I have fond memories related to granola. My mother made ours, and the warm, toasty smell of oats wafting up the stairs late at night (the only time she could assemble it without lots and lots of “help”), to where I lay in bed, sneaking extra chapters in my book by the thin crack of light at the hinge of my door, was one of the best smells of childhood. (The others were the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, rubber cement, yeast for bread, and peppermint tea. Also, books.)
The mornings after Mom made granola were lovely. Sweet glazed oats, sunflower seeds, cinnamon… I could even tolerate the raisins. (Pleh.)
These days, granola is a favorite breakfast, snack, or supper at our house. I prefer to make it at home, to better accommodate our own flavor preferences, and also to fit our budget (it’s dirt cheap! Yay!) and avoid the chemicals that seem to go into even the expensive types. Why is xanthum gum in my cereal?
Granola is marvelously flexible. I stick fairly closely to the general ratio (see below), and then just go wild with the fun stuff.
Granola Basic Ratio
5 cups old fashioned rolled oats
about 3/4 cup honey, though you can substitute other sweets, like maple syrup, brown sugar, or molasses for a portion of the sweet.
a scant 1/2 cup light-flavored oils, part of which can be other fats (see below again!)
Mix the sweet and fat together to more easily coat the oats; drizzle them over the oats and toss/stir well to coat them thoroughly, without globs.
Spread the oats in a shallow baking pan (the thinner, the better), and toast uncovered in a low oven (250* to 300*) until the oats are golden and fragrant. This could take as little as 20 minutes. Be sure to check and stir the oats at least every 10 minutes, and every 5 minutes as you get close to the end.
Clumpy, or Free?
If you like clusters of oats, try to disturb the mixture as little as possible while toasting and cooling it. If you prefer loose flakes, go ahead and break up the clumps each time you stir the oats during toasting.
Variations and add-ins are where you can find the personal creative outlet in your breakfast foods. For instance:
You might also consider adding a splash of good extracts to the sweet/fat mixture before drizzling, such as vanilla.
I prefer to mix in chopped dried fruits after the granola has cooled. It prevents the fruit scorching or hardening. Aim for about one cup of dried fruit in an official morsel size (rather small, about the size of raisins) rather than just a few great honking figs tossed on top. Those look like bugs, and no one wants that. Raisins are bad enough.
Raisins are also familiar, and cheap (almost tawdry, one might say, if one had a particular bias against raisins. Pleh.) Don’t overlook chopped dried apples, bits of fig or date, bits of banana chip, chopped dried tropical fruits, dried blueberries, cherries, raspberries, or cranberries… the options and flavor combinations are quite varied.
Think of dried fruits as an enhancement, not the main show; try to limit yourself to about a cup of mix-in fruit, total, per basic ratio batch of oats. This is harder than you think. It’s rather like taco salad. You start with something reasonable, and then it tends to get out of hand very rapidly.
Nuts In General
I prefer to use raw, naked nuts and let them roast with the oats, as above. You could choose to use already roasted nuts (but good gravy, buy them in a bulk food section, because the pre-packaged stuff is just highway robbery); if you do, look for unsalted nuts, or you risk an over-salted breakfast. Not nice.
You can mix in just about any nut (haven’t met one I didn’t like yet!), but make sure they are thoroughly shelled and quite naked.
If you’re mixing in flaked coconut (unsweetened), you could add it before roasting. If it’s the sweetened kind, sprinkle that in when the oats have cooled, or again, you risk scorching due to the higher sugar content in the sweetened flake coconut.
With these mix-ins, as with fruit, aim for about one cup total blended in with the five cups oats base. You could certainly vary the contents within that cup, though.
You can enhance the nut flavor by using nut butters in partial place of the oils in the basic ratio. For instance:
Substitute melted peanut or almond butter for about half the oil. Add about a cup of raw, naked nuts to the oats as you coat them, and let everything roast together.
I like to blend any spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, clove, or nutmeg, directly into the sweet/fat mixture for more even distribution through the cereal. Oats are fairly bland, but aim for enough spice to flavor without overpowering. For a hint of cinnamon, try a half-teaspoon blended with the sweet/fat mix for a basic granola ratio batch, and use about half that of the stronger spices. If you really like cinnamon, try a full teaspoon in the sweet/fat mix.
Granola needs to be kept cool and away from ambient humidity, so something airtight on the shelf, or in the fridge, can work well. I prefer making smaller batches (10-cup oat bases), and doing it more frequently, rather than trying to put up 100 pounds of oats in a year’s supply of granola. Some things were meant to be stored as raw ingredients, and converted to nifty in small batches.
Some members of my family like to put granola in a cup and eat it dry (tossing in a tablespoon of chocolate mini-chips makes them very happy.) Others are traditional “with milk” eaters. Still others prefer a bowl with a big blop of yogurt on top.
You can even make chewy granola bars by melting some marshmallows with butter, as for rice crispy treats, and blending in the granola instead, pressing it into bars and cutting. I don’t bother with wrapping or storage instructions for those, since they never survive long enough to need storing.
Rebel against Industrialized Breakfast Foods! Get crunchy and make your own granola. It’s a great way to ease into home-crafted food, and adds a lot of fiber to the family diet, too.
Just be forewarned: no one under the age of five actually chews raisins, so if you have kids in the diapering stages, be wary of “grapes.”