Saturday, January 15, 2011

Health Nut Crunchy Granola

You know how granola you buy at the store always has that wonderful crunch?  It's not the crunch of over-baking - it's the crunch of perfect baking.  Not too hard, and not too soft.  It's the kind you marvel at with each bite - light, crisp, and utterly addictive.  It's a melt-in-your-mouth kind of crunch.

I eat homemade granola for breakfast almost every day, and every time I make a new batch, I tweak my recipe a little bit in an attempt to make it taste like one from the shelves of Whole Foods.  I've tried different ratios of liquid to dry ingredients, different ingredients, and different baking temperatures.  And it turns out, that particular kind of crunch is not all that easy to achieve - at least, not until you've discovered a few secret tips after many failed attempts.  (Well, maybe not failed - I never made a batch I couldn't eat.  They just weren't perfect.)

Yesterday, somehow, I hit upon a magical combination of ingredients, baking temperature, and baking time.  I'm not saying this recipe is perfect yet.  But I'm sharing it with you because it is really, really, really good - by far, the best granola I've ever made.  The flavor is addictive, and the best part is that it doesn't rely on a lot of oil for its texture.  Instead, it's packed full of nuts, pure nut butter, and seeds.  If you can't have any of the ingredients listed, you can easily substitute the same amount of something else.  For instance, if you can't have nuts, use all Sunbutter; if you can't have almond butter, you can substitute all Sunbutter or use peanut butter instead.  Don't like sesame seeds?  Leave them out and put in more flaxseeds.  If you like dried fruit in your granola, go ahead and add some.  I'm going to keep working on it until it's perfect, but for now, this makes a fantastic breakfast on its own, or sprinkled over some fruit and yoghurt.  It's full of flavor - but it's also healthy.

And the crunch?  That's the best part.  It's there, too. 

Health Nut Crunchy Granola
Makes 2 - 3 cups of granola

1 cup gluten-free oats (make sure to talk to your doctor before starting to eat oats if you have celiac!)
2/3 cup shredded coconut
1/3 cup whole cashews, ground or crumbled
1/3 cup almond meal
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1 tbsp. flaxseeds
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp. Earth Balance Buttery Spread (or oil)
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. agave nectar (can substitute honey)
1 1/2 tbsp. almond butter
1 1/2 tbsp. Sunbutter (can use either all Sunbutter or all almond butter if needed)
3 tsp. gluten-free vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 F.  Spray a glass baking dish with non-stick spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, coconut, ground cashews, almond meal, flaxseed, sesame seeds, buckwheat flour, cinnamon, and salt.  Mix well and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, water, Earth Balance, honey, agave nectar, almond butter, Sunbutter, and vanilla.  Heat over medium heat until it starts to simmer and everything has melted together.  Pour immediately over the dry ingredients and stir very well to mix.  Make sure all of the dry ingredients have been coated.

At this point, the granola will be very sticky and will look like one big clump.  Spread into the glass pan and place in the oven.  Bake at 300 F for 45 - 50 minutes, reaching in every 5 - 7 minutes to stir.  If you want lots of big chunks in your granola, don't break up the clumps; if you want lots of smaller clumps, do a stir-and-chop to get the consistency you want. 

The granola is done when it's got a sort of golden hue and when the clumps are not breaking apart easily when you stir the granola.  They will not be completely crunchy yet (they'll get crunchier as they cool), but they should taste kind of toasted - slightly hard on the outside and a little softer on the inside.

Remove to a large plate or another pan and spread out to cool.  When completely cooled, store in a container with an airtight lid in the refrigerator for longer shelf-life.

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