Would you like me to solve all your holiday gifting issues in two words?
Okay, the average child or teen might not thrill to that. But I guarantee you anyone from college-age on up will say one of the following to you:
“This is great! I get so overwhelmed with sweet stuff over the holidays, it’s nice to have something healthy.”
“I grab a handful on my way out the door to work.”
“I keep it in my desk at work. I have to hide it from my co-workers.”
“I keep it in my freezer. I have to hide it from my housemates.”
“We eat it on everything. I don’t have time to make it, and the good stuff is so expensive.”
“What do you put in yours? Can I have the recipe?”
“What a great idea. I’m doing this next year.”
That last one? Maybe by the time you’re done reading, you’ll be saying that yourself. But why wait? There’s still time THIS year.
The VERY best thing about granola (and face it, there are no bad things, unless you burn it…oh, and I hate getting sesame seeds stuck between my teeth) is that it is ridiculously flexible. There are very, VERY few rules to granola. So think of this as less of a “recipe” and more of a guideline.
I start with 8 cups of plain rolled oats (NOT instant) and 6 cups of assorted nuts & seeds. Usually I opt for equal amounts of pecans and almonds (whole), walnuts (rough-chopped), pumpkin seeds (pepitos) and sunflower seeds. I’ve also used unsweetened coconut, cashews (the Mate doesn’t like ’em), and hazelnuts (sometimes hard to come by), and sesame seeds. (Got real tired of those little boogers.)
Mix all that dry stuff in a giant bowl. If you’re on a budget or don’t adore nuts, use less! Or fewer. Or both.
You also have choices in your oil & your sweetener. You want one cup of each, but which kind? Honey’s the classic; it makes a stickier, clumpier granola. Maple syrup has that wonderful maple flavor & aroma, plus it’s easier to clean the pan afterward, but if you like clumps, don’t use maple. (Also, it’s pricier.) Sometimes I’ll go half-and-half, depending on what I have.
If you like a bit of salt flavor in your granola, I’d recommend one full cup of olive oil–it gives it that nice, savory nuttiness. If you don’t care, and want to go a little cheaper, use a cup of canola. Often, again, I’ll go half-and-half. (I was once gifted granola made with butter, and it was delicious…but I don’t know how long it would keep.)
Heat your cup of oil & cup of sweet stuff in the microwave for a minute or so, enough to make it nice & liquidy. Then add a couple of Tablespoons of vanilla. (Mmm…your house will smell like cookies.)
Mix your wet thoroughly into your dry. Then add whatever spices you like. These days I’ve been using about a tablespoon each of cardamom and cinnamon. Salt? Totally depends on taste. I think I probably add about a Tablespoon. Maybe more. I like salt.
Mix thoroughly & spread EVENLY into two large pans. Notice mine are two different materials, so they bake differently. (Try not to have your layer of granola thicker than one inch if possible.) I usually start one on the lower rack of the oven, then switch.
What temperature? How long? That TOTALLY depends on your oven and the size of your pans. But I go 375 degrees for 10 minutes, stir, switch racks, another 10, stir, and then…bake till done!
Wait, though–what about the raisins? Hmph. Me, I don’t care for raisins. I respect their longevity in Anglo cooking (“plum pudding” = raisins, people). I thank them for their long service. And…I don’t put ’em in my granola. Instead I use 2-3 cups mixed sultanas (GOLDEN raisins–whole different beast!), cranberries (YUM) and/or whatever signature flavor I think the person I’m gifting will enjoy. Candied ginger. Dried cherries or blueberries. Chopped dried apricots. Etc. (I wish my favorite, dried mango, worked, but I’ve found it too dry.)
Let the granola cool before mixing in the fruit. If you’ve used honey, stir the granola a bit as it’s cooling so it won’t stick as much. And–duh–let the granola cool thoroughly before bagging it. This recipe makes two huge bags, or three less-huge.Well-sealed, it keeps for weeks, or longer in the freezer.
Play around with your own varieties and let me know, okay? You’re welcome, and (as all your giftees will say) thank you!