My family went through a phase a few years back where granola was a staple - and not necessarily in a good way. We'd eat hoards of it out of a compact yellow box mixed in with a rainbow of yogurt flavors and I'd nudge around the rock hard bits of raisins that came mixed in with the clumps. It was incredibly bland, not particulary sweet or tasting of anything but cardboard and my jaw was always killing me the time my yogurt cup was empty. It wasn't a pleasant experience to say the least.
On the flip side, there's granola bars, which I'm convinced are nothing more than leftover oats, compressed with sawdust and glued together with corn syrup before being dipped in chocolate and cleverly disguised as an acceptable midday snack for school children. Well I see right through you, Mr. Quaker, you're not fooling anyone. I tried everything - organic granola bars loaded with flax seed and wheat germ, I tossed in extra raisins and sprinkled on cinnamon in desperate attempts to make it work. I was at a loss - ready to throw in the towel on granola. But really, I'm no quitter.
In my quest to be an optimist, I was certain there had to be some redemptive qualities about granola. I considered asking around for suggestions on how to make a better granola, but I didn't wish to be labeled as some sort of a tree-hugging hippie by drawing attention to my granola-craving self. I just couldn't accept the tasteless cardboard clumps, no matter how beneficial they promised to be. I couldn't, in good conscience, eat a chocolate dipped, sugar-laden should-be-in-the-candy-bar-aisle bar and pass it off as a healthy snack, I don't think my body would buy it.
This week has been loaded with delicious breakfast eating, the vanilla bean scones met their match on Friday morning with a rival blackberry scone and I'm not sure I'm quite ready to call a winner on that one. But I can't go on like this forever, and neither should you. And so that brings us to the recipe that changed my mind about granola, the recipe that brought back the warm fuzzies we should all feel about healthy snacking and put an extra bounce in my chassé. I should've known to look into the Baked cookbook, after all, those kind boys also brought us fudge brownies and brewer's blondies and lemon-lemon loaf and with credentials like those, I don't know why their book wasn't my first stop.
Their homemade granola starts with the staple: oats. Only these are coated with honey and a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon before being baked with crunchy hazelnuts and sweet almonds. Once they're all toasty and delicious and your house smells of Williamsburg, you toss in sweet dried cherries, chewy golden raisins and even a handful of chopped figs if you're got them lying around. The entire combination is enough to muster up the courage to put my tights back on this time next week and give ballet another go - maybe this time I won't be quite as distracted by my ever-increasing midsection.
I eat this granola with a bowl of cold vanilla yogurt for breakfast and I stay supercharged through lunch. It's sweet and a touch salty and chewy with dried fruits and practically perfect in everyway. Granola has a shorter shelf life (you skipped all those funky preservatives!) - if you keep it at room temperature, it will last about a week. However, the dried fruit tends to soften the oats and you won't get that delicious crunch after a day or two. Kept in the freezer and defrosted as needed, it will stay fresh and crunchy for up to two months, but I highly doubt it will last that long.
Adapted from the Baked Cookbook
2 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole raw almonds
1/3 cup whole hazelnuts
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chopped dried figs (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, toss the oats with the cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
In a medium bowl, stir together the oil, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla. Whisk until completely combined.
Pour the honey mixture over the oats mixture and use your hands to combine them until the oats are evenly coated. Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Spread it out evenly, but leave a few clumps here and there for texture.
Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and use a spatula to lift and flip the granola. Sprinkle the almonds over the granola and return the baking sheet to the oven.
Bake for 5 more minutes, then remove from the oven and lift and flip the granola again (with your spatula, of course). Sprinkle the hazelnuts over the granola and return the baking sheet to the oven.
Bake for 10 minutes, and then remove from the oven. Let cool completely. Sprinkle the raisins, cherries and figs (if you're using them) over the granola and use your hands to transfer it to an airtight container.
Makes about 1 pound of granola.