Cereal monogamy; or, Granola

I’ve been wanting to share these two granola recipes for a long time now, but I didn’t have any pictures (until now) in part because I usually make them haphazardly and in a hurry and eat them early weekday mornings for breakfast. While these qualities don’t lend themselves that well to photo-ops, they do make these recipes really, really good candidates for your baking repertoire. Fast, easy, and adaptable; pantry-friendly and freezer-durable; it lasts for weeks, doesn’t get tiresome (at least for now), and makes the perfect gift. What is there not to love?

My permanent Granola Box, which lives in my freezer and is never, ever empty. (Yum!)

The first of these is my old workhorse of a granola, Melissa Clark’s “less-sweet” granola, which she in turn adapted from Early Bird Granola. The key, I think, is its flavorful choice of either olive or coconut oil, which in comparison to other recipes’ turn to bland, empty vegetable oil (ick), just makes plain sense to me. I’ve tried both, and each is delicious: the olive oil yields a more roasty golden flavor while the coconut feels fruitier and rounder. The success of this could also be its judicious use of salt, which, as April Bloomfield’s (amazing) Porridge demonstrates, is often the key to success when using oats. (But for the love of god, people, please use 1/2 tsp rather than 1 1/2! Even that’s pushing it!) This one also feels, well, healthier than other recipes, which often use a lot of sugar.

Early Bird/Melissa Clark’s Less-Sweet Granola

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. While the oven is preheating, combine the following ingredients in one big bowl:

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cup raw nuts
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or chips (I’ve used shredded and it’s fine too)
  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup olive oil or coconut oil (melted)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg

Give a good long stir and dump on a baking tray, lined with a silicone baking mat if you have one. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 min or so to make sure the granola bakes evenly.

When sufficiently cool, add 3/4 cups dried fruit if you’d like.

As for what nuts and what dried fruit, I like Melissa Clark’s original combination of pistachios and apricots, as well as her pecan and cherry mix. Trader Joe’s tart Montmorency cherries are totally excellent here. That said, go ahead and use whatever you have in your pantry: I’ve done almond and cranberry, which is also nice.

The second recipe I’d like to share, and the newest and brightest in my collection, is Megan Gordon’s (of Marge Granola) Hazelnut Cacao Nib Granola, which I’ll go ahead and display in all its glory:

It's very good.

It’s very good.

Whereas the the first granola is rather conservative and substantial with all its nuts and seeds, this one ups the sweetness, intensifies the background flavor (vanilla!), and takes a bit more care with the layering of ingredients, a few here-and-there indulgences that make for a spectacular end product. Here, I think it’s the creaminess of the walnuts and hazelnuts that makes a huge difference, with their silkiness and surprising softness adding good mouthfeel to the overall crunch of the oats (compared to the sharp density of, say, almonds). Plus — chocolate! For breakfast! Let’s put it this way: I haven’t gone back to the first recipe. At least, not yet.

Megan Gordon’s/Marge Granola’s Hazelnut Caca0-Nib Granola

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. While oven is preheating, combine the following ingredients in a large bowl:

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup raw sesame seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 cup raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (I swap spice ratios and do 1/2 tsp)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (ditto; I use 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil

Stir well, until all ingredients look evenly coated. Dump out on baking pan (again, with silicone mat if possible — really makes things easier) and put in oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Take out and add:

  • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes/chips
  • 1/2 cup raw hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Give a good stir, then bake again for about 18-20 minutes, or until the granola is golden brown and smells delicious. Stir at the halfway point to make sure everything bakes evenly. When you take it out, it may not look completely done (or as Megan Gordon puts it, “toasty as you like”), but it will definitely crisp as it curls. The important point is that it looks golden.

After it has cooled completely, add 1/4 cup cacao nibs (or chopped chocolate). Trader Joe’s has these awesome chocolate covered cacao nibs (in small tin containers, usually up at the checkout) that work beautifully here. At this point I like to pick out some of the dark hazelnut skins that have sloughed off from the baking process, but it’s not necessary.

My breakfast routine, when I have one, looks like this: Wake up, roll out of bed, get a bowl. Open the freezer for the granola and the fridge for everything else (yogurt, soy milk, fruit). Grab a handful of granola, dollop yogurt on top, throw fruit in, add a splash of soy milk, and mix. The milk helps distribute the flavors of the granola throughout the bowl, so I usually don’t need sweetener or extra flavor, especially if eaten with this amazing maple yogurt. It’s a good way to start the day.

And if I ever get tired of granola for breakfast — my current cereal monogamy — I’m still open to other options. Just like Cereal Girl! Cold cereal with milk (so hip!); hot cereal (what a trip), cereal with fruit (healthfully sweet!) …

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