Monday, April 28, 2008

Worth The Trouble: Homemade Granola

A friend who’d been reading the entry on Breakfast Parfaits asked me recently if it really was worth it to make my own granola. He said he’d considered it, but still continued to buy the bulk stuff at our local Town & Country market. I would never not make my own granola for a few reasons: I don’t like the store-bought stuff very much, I can control what goes in that which I make, and my children will actually eat it when I make it at home (well, three out of the four will)

Kellogg’s used to make a low fat granola with and without raisins (as I recall) that I thought was pretty good, but I haven’t seen it in years, and I’m sure it was loaded to the gills with things like high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives. I didn’t used to care about that sort of thing, but now I do. And if memory serves, the mass produced stuff really just tasted only faintly like the ingredients of which it was made. All the flavor seemed to have been processed out of it.

When I make my own I can vary the kind of nuts I use, or add different spices, or change the flavor with honey, maple syrup, or molasses. The most recent batch I made used sliced almonds, chopped pecans, and sunflower seeds, along with some cinnamon and ground cloves. The batch before that included chopped hazelnuts (I was feeling splurgy; you have to feel splurgy to pay the exorbitant price that chopped hazelnuts command), and ground allspice instead of ground cloves. I can include dried fruit or not, depending on the intended use (when I make these parfaits, I leave out the fruit).

The time I made the batch with the hazelnuts, three of my children had to be forcibly restrained from eating the whole pan (of course, the one with the nuts that cost as much as a semester’s college tuition. Enjoy that granola kid; that’s your freshman Biology class in that pan). I let it harden in the pan, and broke off pieces which they then ate like candy bars. Watching three children under age three snack on granola like it was candy was so rewarding that I would never consider buying even the most pristine, certified organic, all natural, fair trade, hand crafted small batch [fill in desirable quality in purchased food product here] granola in the world. Two years ago I would have scoffed at granola for a snack (well, for myself, anyway). Today it sounds like a pretty good idea.

And so, although I’ve provided this recipe before, I’m presenting it again with an urge to you to give it a try it and a picture of a recent batch. Don't, however, be wedded too closely to the recipe. Change the spices, add more cinnamon and nothing else, add some ground nutmeg, add some ground cloves, use maple syrup instead of honey, use a different combination of nuts. Maybe there's even another grain you like--add it.

Also, for those interested, I ran a quick (semi-scientific) tally on the nutritional content. It breaks down to around 285 calories and 16 grams of fat per 1/3 cup, with about 4 grams of fiber. These figures don’t include any dried fruit, which would up both calories and fiber, of course. Doubtless you could mitigate this somewhat by cutting the oil with some kind of fruit juice or maple syrup, swapping out some of the nuts with some more oats, and possibly adding more wheat bran. I haven’t tried this, so I can’t vouch for the success or failure of such changes, but if you’re concerned with calorie counts and similar, you may want to consider some or all of these modifications. But however you try it, do try it, because this beats store-bought granola by a mile.

adapted from Shelia Lukins' U.S.A. Cookbook
makes 4-6 cups of granola (the higher number if you use the dried fruit, the lower number if you don't), which serves me for a pretty long time; your mileage may vary

2 cups whole oats
½ cup wheat bran
2/3 cup sliced almonds
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup safflower oil
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup honey
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375. Combine oats, bran and nuts in a large bowl. In a small pan over medium heat combine oil, sugar, honey, spices and salt until melted and combined. Pour oil mixture into a large bowl, and slowly whisk in oat mixture, stirring to combine. Spread granola into a 9x13 pan (lining the pan with foil makes it easier to get the granola out after it's cooked) and bake 30 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Granola will not be crisp at this time, but will crisp up as it cools. Allow to cool 10 minutes, then pour into a bowl and (optional) add in dried fruit as desired (dried blueberries, dried cherries, chopped dried apricots, raisins or golden raisins—combined to equal about a cup and a half). If not adding dried fruit, allow granola to cool in the bowl, then store in an airtight container.

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