A Perfect Holiday Gift, but one that quickly disappears
It would be the perfect holiday gift, if I could only stop nibbling at it in my kitchen. I just made an extra crispy, wholesome and very colorful batch of granola. There are so many benefits to making your own granola, aside from the delicious aromas in the kitchen. You get to decide exactly what goes in it. If you don’t like almonds, there will be no almonds. If you love raisins, go ahead and throw a few extra handfuls in! But even more important than that, you get to snack on it right after it comes out of the oven, when it’s still warm and getting crispier by the minute.
The only problem with that is, as you keep snacking, your friends and family for whom the granola is actually destined, are getting less and less. Especially since, as the baker, you need to test it to make sure it’s good, in all its forms of course: mixed in yogurt, as a topping for ice cream, with cold milk and – the very best – as handfuls from bowl to mouth.
I love making granola for all of these reasons, and especially because you can have so much fun with the recipe. I choose different themes and get creative with the ingredients, always following basic proportions. For example, when returning from Morocco with a cupboard full of new items, including a 4.5 kilogram box of Zagora dates, I decided to make a Moroccan batch. It had your basic oats and nuts, plus sesame seeds, tons of those small chewy dates as well as dried figs, papaya and golden raisons, plus carob honey I bought in a lovely honey shop in Essaouira on the west coast of Morocco. This was actually the base for a trio of granolas I made and brought to my friend Dorie Greenspan. You can read about the Moroccan trio on her blog: “Au Naturel” was the above mixture with no other additions, “Mélisse” had bits of Pralus’ spicy milk chocolate of that name, and “Réglisse” had small pieces of black licorice, Dorie’s favorite. She has photos of each, and also gives her own basic recipe for granola, here.
I better get my just-baked granola in jars, wrapped in holiday paper and in the mail… before it ends up as my breakfast tomorrow morning.
My recipe follows, but feel free to substitute in whatever nuts and seeds you have on hand, and you can do the same for the dried fruit. You can use just raisins, or a dozen varieties as I did, not even including raisins. For the sweetener, I usually use honey or maple syrup, but feel free to let me know if you have other preferences. I recommend stirring the granola rather often as it bakes – it may seem time-consuming, but it’s well worth it. You’ll get the most evenly crisped granola in the end and avoid burnt pieces.
Extra Crispy and Colorful Granola
makes 3-4 pounds3 cups thick cut oats (300 grams)
3 cups mixed nuts – almonds, Brazilian nuts, pecans, walnuts, cashews (400 grams) 3 cups dried fruit – apricots, bananas, pineapple, apples, pears, coconut, plums, prunes, papaya 1 cup of Vermont maple syrup (225 ml)
fleur de sel
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Chop nuts* and put in a big bowl with oats. Add honey and mix well until all ingredients are coated. Pour on one or two baking sheets, spreading the granola out as evenly as possible. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, mixing thoroughly every 10 minutes, really getting in the corners and moving the granola around. While it’s baking, chop the dried fruit**. Towards the end of the baking time, keep a close look to avoid burning. The darker the granola gets, the crispier it will be. But don’t let it burn!
Take the sheets out of the oven and pour granola into an extra large bowl. Immediately add dried fruit and mix continuously. This will cool down the granola, and plump up the dried fruit, as well as make for a well blended mix. Taste, of course. Let cool completely before putting into airtight containers.
* To chop up the nuts, I put them in a big ziplock bag (closed!) and place it on a cutting board. Using the edge of a heavy glass or can, or even a rolling pin, lightly mash them up, leaving some pieces whole for extra crunch.
** Depending on your choice of fruit, it might be easier to use kitchen shears than a knife. With apples or pears, you can even just tear with your fingers.