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#AiBaking: Granola

This past week, I got a delivery of ten pounds of organic blueberries from southern New Jersey from our CSA (new this year, so I am very excited to eat vegetables seasonally). I dove into research on what I could make that fits my baking and cooking criteria.

I am part of a small household, so there aren’t many mouths available to consume my baked experiments, especially as I am diabetic and should be limiting my carbohydrate intake. So, I turn to small batches. Baking for one to three makes not wasting the end product much easier. I also want small batches so that I can bake frequently. It’s no use to me if I can’t cook a recipe repeatedly over a short period of time. I learn best by doing and repetition, so small batches done frequently allows me to learn the recipe. It also allows me to do variations, tweaking as I go along, to get the recipe to suit my tastes. This ensures little waste and quick development to something I love.

In light of the blueberry acquisition, I turned to my newest baking book, “Small-Batch Baking” by Debby Maugans Nakos. She has a recipe called “Blueberry Granola Whole Wheat Muffins”. It sounded delicious, but I have had little success finding granola recipes I like. Too often, store-bought granola are packed with dried fruit in greater proportions than I would like and with less nuts than I would like. So, I started researching granola recipes.

I turned to a constant favorite for recipes: Alton Brown. His granola recipe looked simple but it had a number of ingredients I didn’t like. I am not a fan of cashews in granola. Almonds, yes. Walnuts, sometimes. Peanuts and cashews, no. It also contained shredded coconut, a huge no-no for me as I do not care for dried coconut in almost every form. Lastly, it contains raisins, which I like but only in small amounts in granola. Also, given that the granola is going to end up in blueberry muffins, I don’t think the raisins would be suitable, so they would have to go as well.

To keep the general proportions of stuff the same, I substituted additional almonds to replace the cashews and eliminated the coconut and raisins entirely. I also halved the batch, in keeping with my small batch baking philosophy.

At the time I was making granola, I was called into a work meeting and couldn’t “watch” the batch well. My partner, M, took over and had issues with the oven, so we ended up cooking it for an indeterminate amount of time in an oven of indeterminate temperature. Thankfully, the first batch turned out wonderfully, especially spooned over vanilla ice cream and fresh blueberries.

Granola with blueberries and ice cream

Granola with fresh blueberries over vanilla ice cream.

In order to get the recipe right, I made a second batch. This is made doubly complicated as I believe my oven to run cool compared to other ovens: it seems to take the maximum stated cooking time to get baking recipes right. It came out equally lovely: toasty golden, not too sweet with delightful crunchy bits to give the granola a good bite. The key is to watch the cooking process by checking the mixture regularly and mixing it to ensure even toasting.

Next time: blueberry granola whole wheat muffin adventures!

Plain Granola
Perfect for applying to other baked goods, as a crumbly ice cream topping, or eating straight

1.5 cups rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used canola)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Combine oats, almonds and brown sugar in a large bowl. Be sure to crumble the brown sugar so that lumps are minimized. In a separate bowl, mix the maple syrup, vegetable oil and salt. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture and stir well to combine. Make sure all of the oats are coated and glistening.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the granola over it in a fairly even layer. Bake for one hour and 15 minutes at 250 degrees. Every 15 minutes, check on the mixture and stir it well so that it cooks evenly.

Turn the heat up to 350 degrees F and bake it at the higher temperature for 20 minutes. Every 10 minutes, check on the mixture and stir it well so that it cooks evenly.

If your oven runs hot, you may find your mixture is golden toasty after the first batch of cooking at 250. Feel free to take it out at that time. If your oven runs cool like mine, the extra baking at the higher temperature will help bring it to the proper state.

Let the mixture cool in the tray. When cooled, break it up and store it in a covered plastic container. It will last well on your kitchen counter for several days assuming it lasts that long.

Variations: substitute sunflower seeds for half of the slivered almonds. Double the salt for a deliberately salty-sweet combination. Add dried fruit or chocolate chips after it has cooled.

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