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Practicing the basics: granola

Bowl of granola next to a spoon

Tired of expensive, over-sugared breakfast cereal? Make your own (healthier cereal, that is — don’t make the expensive, over-sugared kind). Granola is easy and cheap to make, and even better it is infinitely customizable. Below is a starting place, which makes a very tasty version requiring no processed sugar. It’s followed by some suggestions for how to customize it to your liking, but honestly the options are endless.

Suggested reading:

Makes approximately 8 cups of granola. Time required: about 1 hour.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup mixed chopped nuts. Walnuts, almonds and cashews work great; feel free to try other types of nuts too.
  • 1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/3 cup flaxseed meal. You can use hulled seeds (flax, sunflower, etc.) if you prefer.
  • 1/3 cup wheat germ
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup honey, maple syrup, or unsulphured molasses
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup raisins

Position two oven racks near the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (or 325 degrees on the convection setting). Prepare two half-sheet baking pans with parchment paper. Granola can brown — and burn — very quickly, so we’re going to cook it right at the lower bound of the temperature range where browning can occur so that it goes slowly enough for us to manage it. My personal experience is that cooking it using the convection setting, which blows the air around more forcefully, allows for more consistent browning.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: oats, nuts, coconut, flaxseed/seeds, wheat germ, and salt. We’re taking the classic approach of combing the dry ingredients together. hen the wet ingredients together, then mixing the dry and wet together.

In a small bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy.

Add the honey and oil to the dry ingredients and stir until the honey and oil cover all the oats. Add in the egg whites and stir to distribute them. For both the honey/oil and egg whites, it sometimes helps to add half, stir it in, then add the second half. Make sure you stir thoroughly and scrape to the bottom of the bowl; it’s easy to leave pockets of dry oats near the bottom.

Pour the mixture onto the two baking sheets, making an equal-sized mound in the center of each.

Using your hands, spread each mound out into an even layer covering the entire surface of the baking sheet.

Place the two baking pans into the oven on the center racks and bake for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, remove the two baking pans from the oven and place them on a heat-safe surface (such as your stovetop). Using a large, heat-safe spoon, move all of the granola back into a mound in the middle, stir it around a bit, then spread it back out into an even layer. It’s very common for the granola to cook unevenly, in two ways: the top (exposed to air) dries out and browns faster than the bottom (touching the pan), and areas exposed to the hot and cold spots in your over will cook at different rates. In this step we’re carefully stirring it all around so that it can cook more evenly. This recipe is a great way to learn where the hot and cold spots are in your oven; you can literally see them in the browning pattern in each pan.

Return the sheets to the oven, swapping them between racks and rotating each pan so that the front is now in the back. Swapping them between racks is more important than rotating them, since we stirred them up.

Bake for another 10 minutes, and check for brownness. If not brown enough, bake for 2 minutes at a time and re-check, rotating the pans again if one edge is browning more than the other.

When brown enough, remove the pans from the oven and allow to fully cool.

Scoop the granola back into a large bowl. Stir in the raisins to distribute them evenly.

Store in an airtight container. It will keep at room temperature for a week, or for several weeks in the refrigerator. This recipe doesn’t have any preservatives in it, which is a good thing, but that means it doesn’t have the shelf-life of store-bought cereal at room temperature.

Tips and suggestions:

  • There is no end to the modifications that you can make to this recipe. Swap out the kinds and proportions of nuts. Leave out any of the ingredients you don’t like (with the exception of the oats). Alternate between honey, maple syrup and molasses, or even try combining honey and maple syrup. Add more or less cinnamon, or try other flavorings. Add more raisins, or swap to dried cranberries (sometimes called “craisins”) or other dried fruit.
  • The egg whites make the granola bake up into clumps. If you don’t like that, you can leave them out. If you want it even clumpier, add more egg white.
  • Try mixing in some whey powder for an extra protein kick.

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