There is no food that makes me feel more like a homemaker than when I make my own granola. Luckily being a homemaker and having homemade granola are not mutually inclusive and I, as a grad student, can still enjoy the sweet, nutty smell of honey coated oats and coconut flakes toasting in the oven. There’s something magical (not in a fairytale kind of way, but in a ‘holy cow, I didn’t know that was possible’ kind of way) about being able to make something yourself that otherwise comes pre-made and commercially packaged in a grocery store. Like, really? I can make my own breakfast cereal?
A similar sense of awe came over me when I learned, at age 17, that macaroni and cheese could be made using real cheese, and pasta not manufactured by Kraft. I couldn’t believe it when one of my best friends, Jenny, made a pan of the real stuff from scratch, using cheddar cheese and elbow macaroni noodles. At first I thought, that’s so funny that you would try to make mac and cheese not from a box, as though the commercially packaged version preceded the homemade version, which was the imitator. It slowly occurred to me that all this time I had been eating a knockoff! What else could you make yourself, I wondered? Twinkies? Graham crackers? Ramen noodle soup? The possibilities overwhelmed me. But I digress.
While I have yet to find a recipe for Twinkies, I have discovered a whole world of items that I can make myself. Eli and I, before we moved to Connecticut, brewed our own beer, baked our own bread, and I even sewed Mary Frances’s diapers and knit her little diaper covers before she was born. We were regular urban homesteaders! Now we’re just poor grad students and the closest I get to making our own libations is mixing cocktails. Alas, I can still make granola and feel like I haven’t entirely abandoned my inner pioneer woman.
This recipe is easy to make and can be modified in a number of ways to suit your taste or to accommodate what you have on hand. Think of the following recipe as a good base for building whatever kind of granola you want, and feel free to experiment with variations (for more on this, please see the note below).
4 cups oats
2 cups puffed rice cereal
1 ½ cups dried, flaked, unsweetened coconut
1 cup almonds, sliced
½ cup sunflower seeds
2/3 cup canola oil
2/3 cup honey or maple syrup
1 teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 250°. Combine the oats, puffed cereal, dried coconut, almonds, and sunflower seeds in a large bowl. In a small bowl combine the honey or maple syrup with the canola oil, and stir in the almond extract, vanilla extract, and salt. The oil and honey will not completely emulsify, but stir them together as well as you can. Pour the honey mixture into the oat mixture and stir well so that everything is evenly coated.
Pour the mixture out onto two large baking sheets, spreading the mixture evenly. Place in the oven, staggering the trays on two racks placed in the center of the oven. After 30 minutes, take the sheets out of the oven, gently stir the oat mixture so the bottom does not over-brown, and rotate their positions so the one that started out on the lowest rack moves up and the top sheet moves to the lower rack.
Check after another 20 minutes (50 minutes total) to ensure that neither sheet is getting too brown. Check every 5 minutes after that and remove when the oat mixture is a light golden-brown. Let cool on the tray and then store in an airtight container. Makes about 10 cups, or 1 lb 14 oz.
Note on modifying granola:
I recommend keeping the ratios of dry ingredients to wet ingredients to same, but if you prefer cashews to sunflower seeds, or want to use only almonds, or whole almonds instead of sliced almonds, then the choice is yours to make. I have made mine with cashews, pumpkin seeds, and peanuts—all with good results. Similarly, you can use maple syrup instead of honey, if you prefer. It really is a different flavor, and I like both equally. I am always tempted to reduce the amount of oil or sugar in a recipe, but I have found out through experimentation that this ratio is the bare minimum you can use to still produce flavorful and crunchy clusters of oats and nuts. Less oil and you lose the crunch. Less honey or syrup and you lose flavor. Finally, I do not make my granola with dried fruit, but I do add raisins or dried cherries, etc. to it when I eat it. Including the dried fruit involves adding it during the last 10 minutes or so of baking and then having to mix it in such a way that they will not get burned or dried up during baking. I think it’s too much bother, but if you prefer to have fruit that is cooked with the oats and nuts for a while, which does produce a different flavor than adding them after the cooking, then just be careful that you don’t let them get so hot that their sugars start to caramelize, which will cause them to harden when they cool.