Thursday, January 29, 2009

Granola, Revisited

Do you remember way back when (a whole year ago!), when I was bitten by the granola bug, and produced a shocking number of batches of granola in the course of a mere few days? Well, I believe that I left you hanging with no recipe, but I also promised to update you with further granola developments as they presented themselves over the course of my granola-making career. It's been a while since that initial post, but I recently came up with a real winner of a recipe, by way of some serious experimentation and some rather unusual ingredients.

But first, I'll digress with some new thoughts on granola. I don't know why, exactly, but I've lately become a bit obsessed with the stuff. Making it, eating it, taste-testing it, reviewing it...It just happens to be the subject of a recent post on that illustrious source for natural foodies: The Natural Consumer. In general I don't buy packaged granola, mostly because it's generally overly sweet and overly decadent (coconut? butter? oil? sugar? chocolate? This is breakfast, people!), but I do enjoy seeing what the market has to offer. In fact, Galaxy Granola, reviewed on the Natural Consumer, is a rather tame, yet tasty reincarnation of the oh-so-popular breakfast treat.

But making granola - that's where the fun really is. You can throw in whatever ingredients you want (pepitas, hazelnuts, dates, sesame seeds, dried figs, ginger...), and coming up with a way to get that nice, crunchy texture while maintaining some semblance of wholesomeness is a perpetually entertaining challenge.

The main obstacles I run into when making my own granola are these: sweetness. I try not to eat overly sweet things for breakfast, and am perfectly content with a hot bowl of unsweetened oatmeal, so I have to make my granola pretty low-sugar if it's going to be worth my while. However, sweetness tends to bring out other flavors, and getting a flavorful granola while keeping the sugar down can be tricky. And secondly: texture. I like a granola that can be eaten out of hand, and some of the more spartan varieties I've played with tend to be too chewy, and not light and crunchy enough to enjoy without a good soak in some milk or yogurt.

Ah, what's a discerning, gastronomically-inclined neo-hippie to do? I've come up with a few suggestions. First, the sweetness. I've tried honey, I've dabbled with maple syrup, I've dribbled in a bit of molasses, all with the result of hints of sweetness, but not enough flavor. Enter beer. Beer for breakfast? OK, not beer, but something related.

Jonathan has recently become interested in brewing his own beer (a subject for its own post), and to make a long story short, we currently have a multi-gallon drum's worth of homemade malty goodness fermenting in our apartment. The leftovers of which happen to be a pound or so of barley malt syrup.

Barley malt syrup is a sweetener that is thicker than honey and about half as sweet, and has the distinctive malty flavor that you get with beer or anything else "malted." It's great for granola because, while somewhat sweet, it is also packed with a complex, grainy flavor that adds a whole new dimension to the granola mix. Besides, it's made by cooking down sprouted barley grains, and sprouts, as far as I'm concerned, are pure healthfulness (indeed, barley malt has lots of things - nutrients, protein, enzymes - that regular sugar doesn't). I'm pretty excited about the potential for lots more leftover barley malt, because it makes for some interesting culinary experimentation. But back to the granola...

As I mentioned before, my second granola challenge is texture. So, I took a cue from some packaged granolas and switched up my oat base. My new recipe calls for equal volumes of quick oats (they are thinner than regular rolled oats) and crisped brown rice cereal, which can be found in a box or, if you're lucky, in the bulk bins section of your grocery store. I also added some puffed corn, which adds both textural and visual contrast to the granola. I've found that this combination of cereals gives me the lightness and crunch that I'm looking for in granola.

So, I guess you want the recipe. A few notes (yes, more notes!): this granola is really not sweet. It is flavorful, and lovely with yogurt, but if you are looking for something sweet, you'll either have to add some sweetener (1/4 - 1/2 c. of honey, agave, etc. should do it, although I haven't actually tried it), or head back to for another recipe. The flavor comes from the malt, a hefty dose of vanilla extract, and some almond butter, which is wonderfully roasty and adds a little fat to the granola. The recipe also calls for egg whites and fruit puree, which help bind the granola and contribute to the crunchy, light texture. I wish I could say I invented the whole using egg whites in granola thing, because it really is brilliant. And finally, the add-ins. I love almonds and pumpkin seeds, and sometimes add dried fruit to my bowl (not before). You can use any combination of nuts or seeds that you like, and in any amount. I'm a bit of a minimalist, but if you like your granola more trail-mixy than breakfast cereal-y, go wild. Whew. Finally, here's the recipe. If you've read this far, you deserve it!

Wholesome Malted Granola

2 c. quick-cooking rolled oats
2 c. crisped brown rice (not puffed)
1 c. puffed corn
1 /4 c. wheat germ
1/4 c. ground flaxseed meal
1/3 c. sliced or chopped almonds
1/3 c. raw pepitas
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. egg whites (about 2, or use pasteurized)
4 oz. fruit puree (1 jar baby food; I use pear)
1 heaping tbs. roasted almond butter
2 tbs. barley malt syrup
1 tbs. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract


In a large bowl, combine cereals, flax, wheat germ, salt, and nuts/seeds. Stir to combine. In a smaller bowl, combine all wet ingredients and whisk to mix thoroughly. Pour wet ingredients over dry, and gently mix with a large wooden or silicone spoon. Stir until dry ingredients are evenly coated. Line 2 baking sheets with foil and lightly spray with canola oil. Pour half of granola onto each baking sheets, and spread evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 min., then stir and return to oven. Continue baking in 5-10 min. intervals, checking and stirring granola in between each interval. Bake until granola starts to turn golden and is just about crisp (it will crisp up a bit more once cool), about 20-30 min. total. Check frequently towards end of baking, as granola burns quickly. Remove from oven and allow to cool thoroughly. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the freezer for maximum freshness. Serve with milk or yogurt and your favorite dried fruit (I like raisins and dried cranberries).


Betsy said...

Your barley malt idea sounds great -- I use something similar, and possibly (?) easier to find at a well-stocked grocery store: brown rice syrup. It is not too sweet and gives the granola anough crispness that it doesn't stick together too much.

Mia said...

Betsy: brown rice syrup sounds great, too. I've tried it before, and I'd love to try it again, although if Jonathan keeps up his beer-making, I'll be forced to use up the excess barley malt :)

Sarena Shasteen said...

My husband bought granola the other day and was disappointed by the texture. He asked if I could make it with more chunks. I told him that I would find a way and I think I will give your version a try! I love the puffed corn cereal and I think that would be a great addition! Thanks for the recipe.