Wednesday, November 3, 2010
A while back, during a house sitting gig, I was left alone with the homeowner's batch of homemade granola and instructions to eat whatever food was there. I took her at her word and enjoyed her granola often. It took me back to the meusli I loved during one of my college era trips to Europe. It also made me want to make some myself.
Once we had settled back into our own home again, I began the search for a recipe (I do love the research stage. It's part of my nerdiness. If only I had smarty-pants specs. Hey, I'm over 40 now, so any time...any time.) and quickly discovered that granola isn't necessarily health food. Some of the recipes called for butter or what seemed to me to be excessive amounts of oil and sweeteners. Not exactly the light and nourishing breakfast I had in mind. Ruling those out, I chose a recipe and made the first test batch, which was underwhelming. I could have eaten it, although without being thrilled, but the husband was adamant that it wasn't sweet enough. (Again, I ask: am I the only one in America who likes the taste of grains almost as is?) I did admit that, however palatable to me, the toasted raw oats flavor, much like that of the Swiss meusli I had in my youth, wasn't quite my ideal either. Besides, I believe in the win-win solution. I wanted both of us to be satisfied.
So I cut to the chase, so to speak. I went straight to a granola recipe that Molly at Orangette had praised. When in doubt consult those whose taste you admire, those who consistently choose good things. She did not steer me wrong.
Batch number two wowed us. It was crunchy and golden and gently spiced. The little bit of ground ginger makes it, in my opinion. More importantly for me, it was also filling, meaning that I didn't require a mid-morning snack to stay fully functional when breakfasting on this version. Since Molly credited the original recipe to Nigella Lawson, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. I don't watch TV, so I haven't seen her in action, but I've seen pictures and heard mention of her sensuous slurping of pasta or some such food. Surely that lovely lady is not a woman who skimps at anything, let alone something important like breakfast. This granola is almost at voluptuous as she is.
I'm still making my own version and still enjoying it with my other new love, plain whole milk Greek yogurt. The recipe even made it to a card in my Most Used Recipes basket. But here was my big question about homemade granola, however delightful: is it cheaper to make your own?
I finally did the tedious math and came up with some kind of reasonable estimate of what it cost to make my last batch, for which I noted the cost of the ingredients while shopping. My best calculation turns out to be about $8.00 to make approximately two pounds of the current incarnation, meaning about $4.00 per pound. That price isn't drastically lower than what I've paid for some commercial brands I've bought on sale, but I'm pretty sure that my homemade batch contains more nuts (the most expensive ingredients) than they did. I also enjoy the satisfaction of doing it myself and knowing exactly what's in it. I hope that it contains less sugar than commercial brands (please check the numbers--they can be scary), but I don't have any way to estimate that. I just continue to tinker with the recipe, looking for the balance point at which my sweetness-loving husband is still satisfied with the flavor, and I'm satisfied that only the truly necessary sweetening is being used.
Here's where I disclose how I've changed the recipe. After several batches I eliminated the sesame seeds because 1) they tended to end up lodged in my teeth, 2) they settled to the bottom of the container so that the last serving was very sesame heavy, and 3) they were harder to find here at a good bulk price. I substituted local sorghum or molasses for the brown rice syrup, which isn't available here either. I also took liberties with the applesauce measurements. Molly had mentioned that she bought hers in the single serving cups, since the jars seemed to go fuzzy before she could use them up. That seemed like a good tip, so I bought mine in the same form. Then I got lazy (my next blog will be called The Lazy Chef) and didn't measure the volume of the cups. I just dumped one in. Later I discovered that the cup didn't contain the 3/4 cup that was called for in the original recipe, but two of the cups would have been too much and the granola was delicious as I had been doing it, so I continued my lazy ways, using just one cup. Except for the day that I had homemade, sweetened pear sauce that could be easily measured. That day, I used the 3/4 cup sauce and skipped the brown sugar--and yes it was still fabulous.
Here's what I'm finally able to love about food--making it my own and letting it evolve. I've always been very good at following directions (Note to self: another post lies there) and very scared to deviate from them. Not any more. Thank God almighty, I'm free at last. I'll do it differently every time if I need or want to, depending on the season, the mood, or the contents of the larder. And so should you! Just start somewhere and go.
In case you want to start your granola explorations with my humble version (of the week), here it is.
Makes about 9 cups or 2 pounds
5 cups rolled oats
1 cup whole natural almonds
1 cup pecan pieces or any combination of nuts you like
3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger (Important!)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce (or 1 single serving cup if you're lazy)
1/3 cup molasses or sorghum or brown rice syrup or maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
Dried fruit (optional)
This is so easy. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Mix all the wet ingredients together. Pour over the dry ingredients and combine well.
Pour the mixture out onto two large rimmed baking sheets, dividing evenly of course.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the oats are light golden brown, stirring every 10 minutes and changing the rack position of the pans halfway through or so and enjoying the lovely gingery scent the whole time.
Let it cool, add fruit if using, and store in an airtight container for...well, I don't remember how long it will last because it's always gone long before it would expire. I think it's two weeks. The granola also stores very well in the freezer if you need to keep it around longer. (Thanks to Deb at Smitten Kitchen for that handy piece of information.)