13 May 2011

Golden Moment

I go through food-related phases, during which I gravitate toward a particular type of ingredient, dish, or cuisine. Inspiration is everywhere and can strike at any moment, only making cravings for comestible goodness more salient. Usually a round or two of appetite-induced cooking experiments will yield more than satisfactory results. Occasionally, a specific not-quite-right element in a dish will throw me into mad pursuit of nearer-perfection, especially if it involves a textural issue. For items like molten chocolate cakes, macarons, angel's food cake, and ice cream, texture is a universally defining feature that pretty much negates the role of personal preference (e.g., favoring fudgy or cake-like brownies, etc.), so success of the final outcome greatly depends upon achieving the proper consistency.
Granola is one of those highly customizable foods that can vary in both flavor, shape, and texture. During adolescence, despite my unending love for chocolate, I burned out on the chewy chocolate chip granola bars I had been eating since childhood, suddenly preferring thin, crisp, sweet bars without add-ins. I soon grew weary of those, too, all the while not realizing until much later that 1) granola need not be restricted to a handheld form and 2) it can be easily and inexpensively made at home to suit my mood at any given moment. I've long since then embraced the homemade route, making batches upon batches of granola, chewy or crunchy; the amount of bite usually depended upon whether I decided to stick to lower-fat consciousness or indulge in a slightly higher fat content. In either case, batches were almost always crumbly. Many trials and recipes later, I was still getting crumbly (albeit tasty) granola that simply would not clump. The clustered granola I hoped to achieve seemed eternally elusive. That is, until recently.

Yes, my friends, this overly dramatized story has a happy ending, and a recipe to boot. I've finally figured out how to bake crunchy, clumpy granola that also happens to not be drowning in fat. The process involves a bit of patience, as the granola initially bakes in a single mass (as if making bars), then is broken into clusters before baking at a slightly lower temperature. The recipe is for a very almond-filled combination--I love almonds and almond-flavored foods--but I've provided suggestions for other variations at the end. Do what suits your tastes and revel in golden, crunchy granola bliss.


Almond granola clusters (printer-friendly version)
Yields approximately 2 ½ cups

1 c rolled oats
1/2 c puffed millet or other puffed cereal
2 T toasted okara, oat bran, or ground oats
1 T rice flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
pinch salt
1 T milled flax seed, whisked with 2 T warm water until thick and viscous
2 T natural almond butter (I prefer raw and crunchy.)
1/4 c maple syrup (dark amber or Grade B for a distinctive maple flavor) or agave nectar*
1 tsp canola, coconut, or other mildly-flavored oil
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c raw almonds, chopped
Oil, for the baking pan

*Note: Using agave nectar yields slightly sweeter and deeper golden-brown granola than if using maple syrup.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a rectangular brownie pan (I used a 7x9" pan) with foil and oil lightly.

Combine dry ingredients, except the almonds, in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine almond butter, maple syrup, and coconut oil. Microwave for 20 seconds, just to loosen the ingredients and melt the fats. Whisk in the flax seed mixture and extracts, then add the wet mixture to the dry, stirring to combine. Mix in the chopped almonds.

Firmly press the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pan 180° midway through baking time. Lower oven temperature to 300°F and remove the pan, allowing the granola to cool for five minutes.
Remove the granola in one piece by lifting the foil lining from the pan, and place it (still in the foil) on a baking sheet. Spread out the foil so that it lies flat. Break the granola into chunks of desired size and spread the pieces out over the foil. Place the baking sheet in the oven for 25-30 minutes (20-25 minutes if agave was used); check the granola and turn every 5-10 minutes to ensure even browning and that the clusters don’t burn. Remove from oven to cool completely before enjoying. The granola will harden as it cools.
Variations:
Pistachio cranberry: Substitute shelled pistachios and pistachio butter (easily made from scratch, but almond is fine) for almonds and almond butter, respectively; omit cinnamon and almond extract; use light amber agave or maple syrup; add 2 T dried cranberries with pistachios.
Chocolate peanut butter: Substitute roasted salted peanuts and peanut butter for almonds and almond butter, respectively; omit salt, cinnamon, and almond extract; mix 2 T cocoa powder into wet ingredients.
Add-ins: other nuts, seeds, or spices; citrus zest; dried fruit; dark chocolate drizzle; dried coconut flakes; etc.

I'm rather partial to munching on these granola clusters hot out of the oven from the storage jar, but it's certainly enjoyable as a crunchy addition to oatmeal, cereal, non-dairy yogurt, and the like. How do you prefer your granola?

7 comments:

  1. I am so pumped for this recipe and for the variations you posted!  Thank you.  I love my granola in clusters, but had no idea how to get it that way!
    xo
    kittee

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  2.  This looks delicious! I've been thinking about making granola for ages - you've got me all inspired now!

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  3. Jessica Caneal5/17/11, 8:37 AM

     I can't wait to try this! I have been looking for a recipe that doesn't contain wheat or wheat flour, but will still turn out like the granola you find in the stores! Woo hoo!

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  4. That granola looks -so- good! I'm all about the clumpy variety that makes nice big clusters, so this one is definitely going on my "to make" list.

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  5. Thanks, everyone! I hope the recipe works out as well for you guys as it has for me, if you do end up trying it. :)

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  6. Robynstang0512/10/11, 12:20 PM

    Third time making(doubled for Xmas gift!),,,I'm like you,,,my hand is constantly in and out of the storage jar(munchin' away)

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  7. uno Scoiattolo in dispensa2/2/12, 1:04 AM

    great recipe! I was just looking for a crunchy muesli recipe, and this is super! I'll try as soon as I have some time!

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Thanks for reading! Your comments are always welcome and appreciated. :)