Over the years I’ve tried out countless granola recipes, which usually consisted of a basic combination of: oats, mixed nuts and/or seeds, dried fruits, sweeteners (such as sugar or honey), flavorings (such as spices or vanilla), and some fat (vegetable oil or butter.) The problem was that although these types of recipes created a nicely browned, crunchy granola, they did not possess the lightness or clumpiness that I find so appealing in really good granola. I wanted to find out how to achieve homemade granola perfection, so I set out on a fact-finding mission. My goal was to determine how to make a light, crispy, clumpy granola; here’s what I discovered:
1. Adding extra liquid in the form of fruit puree helps the granola cluster. In combination with the fats and sweeteners, the extra liquid helps to bind the oats together.
2. Squeeze the cereal mixture into large clumps with your hands before baking, or alternatively just press the granola down firmly and evenly (with wet hands) onto the sheet pan, to further glue the ingredients together while baking.
3. Use both sugar and a liquid sweetener. The sugar creates a nice crust on the surface of the oats, while the liquid sweetener helps to bind the ingredients. I found that granola recipes that depended solely on liquid sweeteners like honey or maple syrup produced a tougher, chewy granola.
4. Use a combination of old-fashioned and quick cooking oats. (Yes I know this is contrary to what every granola recipe you have ever tried has advised but give me the benefit of the doubt on this one and try it for yourself.) The old-fashioned oats bake-up crisp, while the quick cooking oats help with clustering. Using a combination of these is the key. Granola made with only old-fashioned oats will be crunchy but loose, while granola made with only quick cooking oats will be clumpy, but starchy tasting.
5. Add puffed rice cereal to the granola for an extra lightness and crispiness.
6. Add seeds and nuts only half-way through baking. This prevents them from burning.
7. Make sure to let the granola cool completely before storing it. The crunchiness only develops after it has fully cooled down. Store granola in an airtight container to keep it crispy, and add dried fruit just before serving.
So after taking all this into account, I think I have finally cracked the granola code and come up with a version that possesses all the qualities that I had been after: large clumpy clusters, with a light and crispy texture.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees, placing the oven racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the 2 kinds of oats, rice crisp cereal, cinnamon and sea salt. Stir to mix well.
In a medium bowl, combine the fruit puree, honey, light brown sugar, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Stir to mix well.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones, and mix until completely blended (it’s best to use your hands to get everything evenly coated.)
Spread the mixture out evenly between the 2 prepared baking sheets. Squeeze clusters of granola together with slightly damp hands, allowing for space between the clumps in order for air to circulate while baking.
Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets, flip over the granola with a large spatula and add the almonds and pumpkin seeds. Bake for another 20-30 minutes (or more, depending on how thick the layer of granola) until completely dry and just golden brown.
Let cool on baking sheets, and store in an airtight container when completely cool. Add in the dried cranberries just before serving.
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