Few foods are so closely associated with their history that they become adjectives. Yet we know what it means to call something "granola." The word has come to represent the 1960s of peace, love and health foods. Even the consistency of granola — crunchy — often is used as a synonym.
My enthusiasm for granola was rekindled recently one morning at work when the chef put out a large serving of her homemade granola for the restaurant staff to try. She served it with a bowl of Greek yogurt and pomegranate seeds to sprinkle on top. Having already eaten a full breakfast, I decided to try a small portion, grabbing a glass coffee mug and filling it with just a touch of each sample.
Expecting the usual oat flavor of most store-bought granolas, I was blown away by the spices that hit my tongue: cardamom, pistachio, brown sugar. With each spoonful I felt the cool, smooth yogurt, the crunch and flavor of the granola, and the sweet, tangy juice that released when my teeth found one of the bright red pomegranate seeds.
As my spoon hit the bottom of the mug, I was already on my way back for seconds, then thirds, then fourths. At last, as I peered into the clear bottom of the coffee cup, I commanded myself to stop. Unlike the granola I had been eating all of my life, the flavors in this homemade batch kept me going back for more.
Though it is strongly associated with the 1960s, granola has been around for more than a century. In 1863, sanitarium owner James Jackson created a graham flour product for his patients. He called it "granula."
About The Author
Eve Turow is a native Chicagoan with a passion for cooking, eating and writing about food. She is beginning a new blog to document her upcoming trip through Southeast Asia, hoping to discuss education, yoga and, of course, food.
Forty years later, at another sanitarium, John Harvey Kellogg created a similar product substituting oats for graham flour. He, too, called it granula — until he was sued by Jackson. Kellogg renamed his dried cereal "granola."
Granola did not really catch on, however, until a century later. The healthful eating movement of the 1960s started, with young adults rejecting generation-old political views as well as processed foods.
With an emphasis on whole grains and organic ingredients, cereal companies such as Kellogg, Post and Quaker Oats decided to rebrand and remarket their whole-grain granolas. In 1972, Pet Inc. introduced Heartland Natural Cereal, with the other cereal companies following close behind. And in 1975, Nature Valley rolled out the first granola bar.
Today shoppers can find granola in any flavor: vanilla, peanut butter, chocolate raspberry, maple cranberry; and with a variety of mix-ins: sunflower seeds, cashews, chocolate-covered pretzels and shredded coconut. With so many options, it can be hard to find one product with all the preferred ingredients. Some consumers like dried fruit, while others do not. Some want a sweeter, more indulgent granola, and others want the bare-bones oats. There are even websites where you can order your own custom-made granola.
Once I tasted the chef's homemade concoction, I decided to give it a go myself. To my surprise, the delectable breakfast treat was a cinch to make; no long hours toiling in the kitchen, even very few dirty pots and pans. It was so easy, I made several batches and packaged them as holiday gifts, pleasing and surprising several family members and friends. Then, I used the leftovers to fuel more creations: granola bars, granola cookies and granola scones.
"I had to throw out the last few granola bars, because I couldn't keep myself from eating them," my sister told me. "How did you make those?" Proud of my creation, I almost did not want to confess how easy they were to put together.
Granola remains a comfort food for those seeking a way to sweeten or add nutrients to their morning meal. Some even use it as a snack on the go, a way to fuel up for a long day at work or an afternoon hike. Though labeling something "granola" generally calls to mind a Birkenstock-and-tie-dye-clad free spirit, its name truly represents a dedication to whole grains and nutrition. So go ahead, call me granola, or even crunchy — just let me keep my cardamom-hinted, honey-glazed, wholesome oat granola.
This is the granola recipe that brought me back for more. While coated in a decadent honey mix, this recipe is most notable for its mix of spices. The recipe is from Rebecca Hassell, sous chef at Estadio in Washington, D.C.
8 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)*
2 cups nuts, chopped**
1 cup golden brown sugar (or dark, if you prefer)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup butter
Dried fruit (optional): banana, apple or mango.
*Rolled oats are steamed then rolled, providing the flat texture best for granola. Instant oats are partially cooked, and quick-cooking are finely cut, much like steel-cut oats, which are thinly sliced by steel yet retain some bran. Rolled oats will provide the right texture and will cook properly in granola recipes.
**Use any nuts you want in any combination — pecans, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, etc. Get the untoasted ones. Chop by hand, with a nut chopper or with a few pulses in a food processer.
Position racks in middle of oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Lightly spray 2 large baking sheets with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper.
Mix oats, nuts, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and cardamom in large bowl.
Combine granulated sugar, honey and butter in small saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Pour hot liquid over oat mixture and stir well. Toss mixture until thoroughly mixed. (Option: Caramelize white sugar with a little water, then add honey and butter. To do this, add white sugar to a small saucepan over medium heat and spread evenly across the bottom of the pan. Add a little water and stir until the mixture reaches a boil. Keep the mixture moving until it begins to turn brown. Then, add honey and butter. This process will add a caramel flavor to the granola.)
Spread granola on prepared baking sheets. Bake until golden brown and fragrant, about 30 minutes. Rotate pans halfway through.
Cool granola completely. If you like large "sheets" of granola, remove with a large spatula. If you like clusters, let the granola cool until it won't burn your hands, then shape into handfuls.
Add dried fruit (if desired) after the granola is cooled.
This recipe is the ultimate breakfast treat. Using the Indulgent Granola recipe, this is a recipe from Rebecca Hassell, sous chef at Estadio in Washington, D.C.
Makes 12 scones
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup maple syrup, plus 3 tablespoons for glaze
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups homemade granola
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Move oven rack to center. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk milk, cream, 1/4 cup maple syrup and egg in large measuring cup until incorporated. Set aside.
Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add butter using a cheese grater and mix gently, avoiding clumps. Add granola. Using rubber spatula, fold in liquid ingredients until large clumps form. Mix dough by hand in bowl until dough forms cohesive mass.
Dust work surface with flour and turn dough out onto work surface. Gently pat into an 8-inch square, about 1-inch thick. Using bench scraper (also known as a dough scraper, used by bakers to move dough and clean surfaces) or chef's knife, cut dough into squares (two vertical cuts, three horizontal cuts). Set on parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.
Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Allow scones to cool while making the glaze: Whisk 3 tablespoons maple syrup with sugar. Brush on scones, then move scones to cooling rack.
These are the granola bars my sister was crazy about. They are super easy to make and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or individually frozen. The ingredients are flexible, so you can use what you have around the house: any nut butter, any puffed grain. This recipe was inspired by Mark Bittman's Almond-Apricot Granola Bars recipe in The New York Times, Sept. 17, 2010.
3 tablespoons peanut butter (or any other nut butter)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
2 tablespoons almond milk
*Any puffed grain will do: rice, millet, wheat.
Combine puffed millet and granola in a bowl.
Combine honey, peanut butter and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer.
Pour honey mixture over dry ingredients and mix to thoroughly combine.
Place plastic wrap or parchment paper at the bottom of an 8-by-8-inch pan. Fill pan with mixture, pressing down to flatten and create a smooth surface.
Place pan in refrigerator for at least an hour.
Slice into bars.
Create a double boiler. (Bring water to a boil in a saucepan and add a bowl on top. Be sure that the bottom of the bowl does not hit the water, as you do not want the chocolate to burn.) Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir constantly until combined.
When thoroughly melted, dip bottom of bars into the melted chocolate and place on either parchment paper or plastic wrap.
Once all bars are dipped, take remaining chocolate and drizzle on top of granola bars.
Place bars back in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to cool.
After some tinkering with ingredients, I liked this recipe most. It lets the granola shine while also satisfying the sweet tooth. Depending on the granola you are using, feel free to add nuts, dried fruit or chocolate chips to this recipe. If made with the Coconut Berry Granola, this recipe needs nothing more than what is listed below.