Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Essence of Granola

Granola has been a recent discovery for me.

I am extremely happy about this.

I had some shop-bought granola while I was away and it was something of an epiphany: this is the breakfast I should have been eating all my life.

But I'm not bitter. Just glad that I eventually discovered it. And I immediately decided I needed to make some of my own.

I devised a ratio, but it's not as strict as some of the others. With cake, you can't afford to tweak the quantities without disaster. But with granola, it's really down to taste.

I first tried making it with as little sugar and fat as I possibly could. I figured that if my homemade cereal was going to be as unhealthy as a shop-bought one there wouldn't be much point. I eventually settled on these as the minimum amounts which will allow the oats and other ingredients to stick together. Much less than this and you'll have nothing but a pile of loose, burnt oats.

But you could easily add more fat and sugar, to your own taste. The more you add, the closer it will come to being a flapjack instead of granola. They exist on essentially the same spectrum.

During my research, I was getting annoyed by recipes giving ridiculously specific measures of added ingredients - "35g of raisins, 28g of almonds, 43g of sunflower seeds...". It's pointless to expect people to follow such detailed amounts - especially when the whole point of homemade breakfast cereal is that you get to decide what you want in it.

So I combined the quantities of all the oats, nuts, and seeds in the granola. That way, you can make it using entirely oats, or half oats and half nuts, or even 'paleo' granola with no oats at all. As long as the proportion of butter and sugar to other ingredients is about right, it will stick together and have a good texture and flavour. Here is the ratio:

7 Dry Ingredients : 1 Sugar : 1 Fat

You might notice I haven't included dried fruit, even though it's a popular ingredient in granola. That's because the dried fruit doesn't get baked with the other stuff - it just gets added at the end. 

I also haven't specified the type of fat or sugar. This is something you can definitely play around with. I used butter and honey, because I didn't want to be too adventurous (and also because I just love both butter and honey). You could swap the butter for margarine, coconut oil, even olive oil. Just think about the flavours that you want and do what you like. Similarly, you can use any type of sugar - brown, white, honey, maple syrup.. anything that's mostly sugar or sweetener will work just fine.

The method is pretty intuitive:

  • Weigh out and mix together your dry ingredients. For my batch, I used 4 parts oats, 1 part dessicated coconut, 1 part sliced almonds, and 1 part sunflower seeds.
  • Put your fat and sugar together in a small pan (or microwave bowl) and warm them up just until they combine.
  • Pour them over the dry ingredients and mix together. At this point you might want to add a splash of water to help the bits stick together, especially if you like clumps in your granola (I certainly do).
  • Spread the mixture out onto a lined baking tray. If you like clumps, then press it down thoroughly. This'll help it stick together while cooking.
  • Now bake it - about 180C is fine. I'd advise cooking for 5-10 minute bursts. Because it's quite dry, it can burn easily. So if the top is looking browned, stir it up and turn it over. It's done whenever it looks like you want to eat it for breakfast - that's down to taste. If you're worried about the possibility of over-cooking it, there's no harm in cooking at a lower temperature for longer.
  • Once it's out of the oven, you can add in any dried fruit you like. It's delicious on it's own as a snack, or served with yoghurt, milk, fresh fruit, whatever you fancy. It lasts fairly well because it's dry. It doesn't need to be in the fridge but it might last a little bit longer in there.

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