When we began our cooking from scratch experiment I knew I was going to have to find a replacement for commercial breakfast cereal. My kids were only going to put up with so much toast & peanut butter or yogurt before demanding something they could put in a bowl and pour milk on. Puffing my own rice was not really an option, nor was making some kind of extruded Cheerio type thing. The equipment and baking techniques are too specialized. Granola was a remote option, but the commercial stuff I’d had wasn’t that great, and doing some basic research revealed a lot of earnest but bland recipes. Neither was going to inspire breakfast passion or make anyone eager to sit down to a heaping bowl. It was more the sort of thing you ate out of obligation to your colon. You could feel good about eating it, but you probably wouldn’t feel happy about eating it. Most recipes relied heavily on dried fruit. I wanted something with a brighter, fresher, more immediate flavor. I needed something kid-friendly, a little sweeter and less brutal on the dental work.
There was a glimmer of hope when I ran across Michael Ruhlman’s blog entry on the Banana Strawberry Granola he makes. Adding a puree of fresh fruit not only delivers a more immediate fruit flavor but also helps distribute the sugars and spices more evenly. By the way, definitely subscribe to Ruhlman’s blog. He’s a good writer. I hoped his technique would deliver the fruit flavor I was looking for. Strawberry might work in my house, but my wife is allergic to bananas, and I wanted something with a little more punch. Apples did the trick quite nicely. Cinnamon, honey and brown sugar are all natural apple companions. Sneak in some wheat bran and flax seed for added nutritional benefit and you’ve got a winner. It took a couple of iterations before getting the amounts nailed down, and they’re still a little loose. I generally eyeball amounts when I’m at the bulk bins at Whole Foods. Lately my regular grocery store has started carrying most of the ingredients in the baking aisle. They are packaged in plastic tubs, so I can’t just scoop out what I need, but I don’t mind having a little leftover, especially if I can avoid the self-rightous bastards who seem to patrol Whole Foods just waiting the chance to tell you about how Big Food is ruining the universe or how going vegetarian changed their lives. Jesus, people, just because I buy organic rolled oats doesn’t mean I share your world view or even want to hear it. This is a grocery store, not group therapy.
Ahem, back to the recipe.
You want crisp apples. Mushy Red or Golden Delicious just don’t have the flavor this requires. Remember, you are spreading all that apple goodness over a large quantity of absorptive material. Some of it gets lost. Lately I’ve been enthralled with the Mutsu apples that were recommended by a grower at the local farmer’s market. They are wonderful, bright and crisp. Fujis, Johnagolds, Cameos, etc. will all work, too. I usually toss in a Granny Smith for added tartness.
- 6-8 apples, cored and cut into chunks that won’t choke your food processor or blender
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 cup honey
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 1/4 cup water (optional)
- 2.5 to 3 pounds rolled oats
- .5 to .75 pounds (about two cups) wheat bran
- .5 pounds flax seed (about a cup to a cup and a half)
- .5 to 1 pound sliced almonds (depending on how much you like almonds)
- .5 to 1 pound unsalted sesame seeds (ditto)
- 1 pound dried cranberries (these are added after everything cools)
Quarter and core the apples, cutting them into cubes or chunks that won’t cause your food processor to seize up. I use a Blendtec blender, but if you have a VitaMix or even a reasonably powerful food processor you’ll be fine. Puree the apples, adding the 1/4 cup of water if necessary. Sometimes you need a little liquid to help slip the apple chunks down into the blades rather than remaining packed in the upper portion of the bowl. Add the brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, salt and canola oil to the puree and pulse to combine.
Mix the dry ingredients (except for the cranberries) in a very large bowl or container. I mix in a 25lb tub that I also use for sausage making. It’s just a 21″ x 16″ x 7″ Rubbermaid container. Pour the puree over the dry mix and stir (or just use your hands) to make sure that all of the dry ingredients are evenly moistened and coated. This volume of granola requires three half-sheet pans or jelly roll pans. You can squeeze it onto two but you have to turn the mix more often. Bake at 275° for two and half hours or so. Yes, this recipe takes a long time. We need to evaporate a good bit of liquid without burning the granola. Burned, or even overly browned, granola has an acrid, unpleasant bitterness. Turn the granola with a spatula every half hour or so to break up clumps and move the granola at the edges of the sheet pans in toward the middle so that everything browns evenly. You are looking for medium golden brown. The granola will continue to dry out as it cools, so you don’t need to bake it to rock hardness.
Allow the granola to cool to room temperature and mix in the dried cranberries. Stored in an airtight container it will keep for several weeks.