I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like granola. Except, of course, the pickiest of eaters who can count all the things they eat on their fingers (my brother being one of these people, poor guy), they might say they don’t like granola. As for me, it’s one of my favorite foods. When I have fresh berries it is a “must” for my breakfast cereal. As far as yogurt goes, well, rather sadly I find I have a very hard time eating it now without granola. Often though, granola, while it may seem healthy with its oats and nuts, can actually be quite unhealthy thanks to the gobs of oil and sugary sweets used to coat the granola. This can be the case with both homemade granola as well as store bought that proclaims itself as “healthy” because it’s all natural or organic. Umm, no, as I found out, organic doesn’t mean limited amounts of sugar and fat. When I do find healthy granola in the grocery store, it usually costs around $5.00 for the smallest size box of cereal sold. Yikes! For a girl on a budget, that’s just no good! So what’s a girl to do? I resolved to make my own granola and make it healthier, cheaper, and better tasting than the rest.
Upon searching for granola recipes, I found that many called for brown sugar in addition to a liquid sweetener like maple syrup, honey, or molasses. Some recipes even use butter in place of oil, At least with oil you can choose a healthier oil like canola oil, (to see why canola oil is considered one of the healthiest cooking oils click here) but butter?? Yeesh, there is a time and place for butter, but granola is not one of them. In the end, I made up my own granola recipe that is healthy, a snap to make, and easier on the wallet. This allows me to have granola constantly on hand whenever I want it, which is pretty much everyday!
To make the granola I use conservative amounts of canola oil and honey. I chose honey because it is a natural, unrefined sweetener and it is cheaper than real maple syrup or agave nectar (also natural sweeteners). I use whole old-fashioned oats (as they bake up crispier and just plain look better than quick oats) and add wheat germ, what bran, and flax seeds (to see the health benefits of each, click on the words “wheat germ,” “wheat bran,” etc.) For nuts I use slivered almonds and pecans because those are what I usually have on hand, but by all means use walnuts, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds too. Nuts are great for protein of course, but don’t forget their other benefits; omega-3’s and large amounts of wide variety of vitamins (including antioxidants). In the end, my final product was just what I wanted: slightly crunchy, slightly sweet, with a great depth of flavor from the toasted nuts and oats--not to mention cheaper and healthier too!
I leave dried fruit out of my granola so it is more versatile for whatever use I want it for, but go ahead and add whatever dried fruits you want once the granola is toasted and done. I believe wheat germ, wheat bran, and flaxseed are all available in the health food section of most grocery stores. If they are not available in bulk, a common brand that sells them is Red Mill. This is an expensive up front cost, yes, but I’ve had my germ, bran, and flax for a year now and have made many large batches of granola with them. Make sure you store the bran, germ, and flax in the freezer so they do not spoil or go rancid.
Once the granola cools it develops a nice crispness but it will not “cluster” as there is not enough oil/butter and sugar coating it for this. If you would like your granola to do this I have read that you can add a bit of water (1Tbsp per 2 cups of oats) to it with the other liquid ingredients and squeeze the granola into clumps with your hands. This apparently gives you nice clusters as the water forms a “mortar” with the wheat germ. Let me know if this method works if you try it!
4 cups whole old-fashioned oats
¼ cup wheat germ
¼ cup wheat bran
¼ cup flaxseed
1/4 tsp. salt
¼ cup slivered almonds (or other nut of choice)
¼ cup pecans (or other nut of choice)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325F. In a large mixing bowl combine the oats, wheat germ, wheat bran, flaxseed, salt, slivered almonds, pecans, and cinnamon and mix so everything is evenly distributed. Then add the canola oil, honey, and vanilla extract and mix everything together so all the oats are evenly coated. Spread mixture onto a large, rimed cookie pan (12 x 17 inch) so it evenly covers the whole pan. Place into oven for 10 minutes. Take it out and stir granola around (trying not to spill some) redistributing it so the edges don’t get done too fast. Place back into oven for another 9-13 minutes depending on the heat of your oven and how thick the layer of granola is on your pan. You want it to be a nice golden brown but not burnt, just toasted. Be careful though, the granola can burn quite fast!
To make a double batch position the oven racks so that they divide the oven into thirds and use two cookie pans baking them at the same time. Rotate positions after 10 minutes and leave them in to finish baking slightly longer than if you were making a single batch.