It’s funny that the food most closely associated with the natural foods movement, granola, is so often over-processed, full of sugar and (sometimes) preservatives and other junk. Many boxed brands are full of hidden dairy, too, in the form of dry milk powder or whey powder. To top it all off, pre-made granola is expensive, and it’s never as good as what you can make at home. If you have kids, get them into the act. They’re much more likely to eat what you serve them if they had a hand in making it.
In researching this article, I went online and found hundreds of granola recipes. There was a stunning variety in the proportions of grain to sweetener to fat to nuts and fruits. Some were sweetened with honey, some with brown sugar, and some with maple syrup. Most had vast amounts of oil. They were baked at temperatures ranging from 200 F all day to 350 F for 20 minutes.
I decided that what I wanted to give you was a basic recipe that you could change to suit your tastes and pocketbook. I did a lot of experimenting (we now have enough granola in the house to serve our breakfast needs for months!) to come up with the following basic granola recipe. My goal was to make a good, crunchy, just-sweet-enough cereal with as little added oil as I could get away with (and still get a nice crispness to the oat flakes).
Fats — While we all need a certain amount of fat in our diets, the good fats we need can be supplied by the nuts and seeds in the granola. I tried one granola recipe, however, with no added oil (it was sweetened with apple juice concentrate) and, while it wasn’t bad, it was a little more tough and less crisp than what I was looking for. For those of you who choose not to eat any added oil, I’ve included it. (Because of the volume of nuts, seeds, and coconut in that recipe, however, it has about as high a fat ratio as any of the recipes!) It has a nice tangy apple flavor and is certainly good, it’s just not my favorite.
If you don’t mind a little added oil, I recommend the Basic recipe as a nice place to start. I’ve reduced the fat in the original recipe from 1/3 cup (a little over 5 tablespoons) to just 2 tablespoons. In order to get the fat where it’s needed (on the grains), I’ve added the wet ingredients to the grains only and added the nuts just before the granola is toasted. The nuts have plenty of oil already and will toast nicely without any additional help.
Sweeteners — I also tried working with different sweeteners. I tried the same recipes with honey, maple syrup, and brown rice syrup. Yes – I know that honey is not strictly vegan but I have studied apiary culture and honey is ethically acceptable to me. It is certainly the most popular sweetener in granola recipes, but to tell you the truth, I just don’t like it much. The honey flavor is cloying and overwhelms the flavor of the grains. I tried some recipes which used Sucanat as the major sweetener, but they usually called for cooking the sugar into a syrup. This would be the cheapest way to sweeten your cereal, but 1/3 cup of maple syrup doesn’t cost much. The flavor is nice, and it’s so much easier to mix that it’s worth the tiny extra expense. After all, your time is also valuable. You must keep any leftover maple syrup in the fridge, though, to keep it from going moldy.
The brown rice syrup worked really well. The only real difference between it and the maple syrup is that maple syrup leaves a more noticeable sweetness on the grains themselves. Of course, if you are eating some dried fruit with each bite, you won’t know the difference. The other disadvantage to the brown rice syrup is that it needs a bit of warming to thin it enough to spread on the grains, but about 20 seconds in the microwave is sufficient. One major advantage to brown rice syrup over maple syrup is that it has a much longer shelf life in the pantry and doesn’t need refrigeration.
Baking time and temperature – I tried recipes from low (200 F) up to 350 F and I had success with all of them. Since the higher temperatures toasted the nuts and grains much more quickly and didn’t burn anything, I would say start with 350 F and keep an eye on the granola. Check it after 10 minutes the first time you bake it. If your oven runs hot, it could scorch the cereal, and you don’t want that. If your oven temperature is about right, however, it should take about 25-30 minutes to bake your granola. If it’s browning much faster than that, you should turn your oven down about 25 degrees the next time you make granola.
Fruit in before or after? A few recipes I found advised mixing everything together, including the fruit, and then baking it. I found that this made the fruit much tougher. I like my raisins and other dried fruit more moist than chewy. Your family might disagree and really like that fruit leather effect!
Batch size – The basic recipe I’ve included only makes about 12 half-cup servings. That’s a good amount for a single person or a couple, and it’s a nice size for experimenting with different flavors and additions. If you have children, however, you’ll probably want to double the recipe so you won’t become a slave to your oven. Each batch should fit nicely on a large rimmed cookie sheet or jelly roll pan (about 12 x 15 in). If you double the recipe, please divide it into two pans so there is room to stir the cereal. It will bake more evenly (and more quickly) this way. If you choose to make large batches of the granola, it will keep up to three months in the cupboard, or longer in the freezer (well-sealed). Extras also make nice gifts.
Basic Granola (Master Recipe)
Just a template to get you started
Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Serving Size: 12 half-cup servings
Preparation Time: 0:45
4 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Pour oats into a large bowl. Whisk the maple syrup and oil together and pour over the oats, stirring well. Spread the oats out onto a large jelly roll pan or rimmed cookie sheet. Add the pecans to the granola mixture, then pop the pan into the oven for about 15 minutes. Stir the granola, then bake for 10-15 minutes more, or until the cereal is toasted and crisp, but not burnt.
Add the raisins and let the granola cool. Store in an airtight glass jar or in a ziploc bag in the cupboard for up to 3 months. You can freeze it for longer storage.
Master Recipe, as written – Per half-cup serving: 291 Calories; 13g Fat (39% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 4mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 1 1/2 Starch/Bread; 1 Fruit; 2 1/2 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates
Notes: This recipe is very basic. You can make the following additions or substitutions, according to your tastes and budget:
Instead of all rolled oats, you can substitute some or all of the following:
wheat flakes, quinoa flakes, rye flakes.
You can add up to 1/2 cup of any of the following: wheat bran, oat bran, wheat germ, whole flax seeds. (If you add any of the brans or flax seeds, make sure you drink an extra glass of water with each bowl of cereal!)
Instead of pecans, you can substitute any nut or seed you prefer. Sunflower seeds are cheaper than pecans, for example. Your family might like almonds one week, and peanuts the next. Others to try are pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts (filberts), sesame seeds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, dried coconut (large or fine shreds), chopped Brazil nuts, or pistachios. Adjusting the volume and the type of nuts and seeds will affect not only the fat content but also the price per pound of your granola. You can cut the volume of nuts in half and still have a nice flavor.
Instead of all raisins, you can substitute any dried fruit you prefer. Dried cherries are great. You can use chopped dates, mango, pineapple, papaya, apples, peaches, apricots, cranberries, or blueberries. You can make your granola without fruit in the summertime and serve it with fresh berries instead. Like the nuts, you can choose to use more or less expensive fruits here.
You can add any spices that you like. For this quantity of cereal, about a teaspoon of cinnamon would be nice, with or without 1/2 teaspoon of cloves, allspice, and/or dried ginger. Apple pie spice and pumpkin pie spice are good mixes with complex flavors. I’ve even used garam masala (an Indian spice mix) in a batch (and liked it)! Spices are a very inexpensive way to add a lot of flavor to foods and make them seem really special. Buy your spices in bulk and they’ll be a lot cheaper than they are when they’re pre-packaged in those cute little bottles.
You can also add flavors or flavor extracts. Vanilla, almond (especially nice with cherries), orange, lemon, coconut – any of these can completely change the flavor profile of “plain old granola”. Whisk liquid extracts into the oil and maple syrup mixture before stirring it into the oats.
Here are some ideas for some flavor combinations. See how many interesting combos you can come up with! If you come up with any really special ones, e-mail them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll post a follow-up in a later column.
Cinnamon-Pecan-Raisin – add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the Master Recipe.
Cherry-Almond: sliced almonds, dried cherries, and 1 teaspoon of almond extract
Apple-Cranberry – dried apples, dried cranberries, one teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a teaspoon of cinnamon.
Apple Pie – dried apples, walnuts, and 1 teaspoon of apple pie spice.
Tropical Breeze – dried mango, dried pineapple, dried, shredded coconut, and 1/2 teaspoon of orange extract.
South Indian Delight – dried mango, papaya, and raisins, chopped pistachios and almonds, with a hint of fresh ground cardamom (about 1/2 teaspoon).
Confetti – Combine all the little bits and pieces of dried fruit and nuts in the cupboard. Chopped apricots are pretty and tasty. You’re going for lots of colors, flavors, and textures!
Foxy Granola (Peanut Butter Granola)
For the peanut butter lover in your house
Recipe By: Fox Run Bed and Breakfast
Serving Size: 20
Preparation Time: 0:45
6 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup honey, maple syrup, or brown rice syrup
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
2/3 cup peanut butter, crunchy style
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts or peanuts
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup dates dried
1/2 cup apricots dried
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup cranberries dried
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In extra large bowl toss oats and wheat germ, set aside. In a small sauce pan heat honey and vegetable oil, until hot, not boiling, then add peanut butter and vanilla. Stir until peanut butter has liquefied. Pour over oat mixture and toss until everything is well coated. Add nuts. (Don’t bother to wash the bowl yet – you’ll need it in a little while.) Spread onto foil-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 30 minutes (stirring every 10 minutes) until light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool. In same large bowl used earlier, add dates, apricots, raisins, and cranberries. Toss well with oat mixture. Store in airtight containers. Will keep well for 6 weeks (date containers to keep track of time). After expiration date, toss out for birds – they love it!
Notes: Lisa’s notes – I used maple syrup for this. You can heat the syrup ingredients on the stove top or in the microwave. I used peanuts instead of walnuts in this recipe to intensify the peanut flavor. I moved the nuts into the oven with the oats. In the original recipe, they were added along with the fruit after the granola came out of the oven, but I prefer the nuts toasted. If you have nuts that are already toasted, however, add them after baking the cereals. For a truly decadent snack mix, add 1 cup of non-dairy, grain-sweetened chocolate chips.
As written, per half-cup serving: 273 Calories; 13g Fat (39% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 35g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 44mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 1 1/2 Starch/Bread; 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Fruit; 2 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates
Apple juice concentrate adds flavor as well as sweetness
Recipe By: adapted from Inn at Valley Farms
Serving Size: 20 half-cup servings
Preparation Time: 0:45
6 cups rolled oats
1 1/4 cups frozen apple juice concentrate (thawed)
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup dried coconut
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup golden raisins (or additional dark raisins)
In a large bowl, combine the first nine ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Spread evenly in two slightly greased 13 x 9-inch baking pans.
Bake in 300-degree oven for 20 minutes. Stir gently. Bake at 15 minutes more or until golden. Watch carefully so that granola on bottom of pan doesn’t burn. When slightly cooled, add cranberries and raisins. Store in an airtight container (glass is best) or freeze.
As written, per half-cup serving: 309 Calories; 13g Fat (36% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 22mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 1 1/2 Starch/Bread; 1/2 Lean Meat; 1 Fruit; 2 1/2 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates