If I was asked to name the recipe for which I have tried the greatest number of variations over the years, I would answer with absolute certainty, "granola." I have never really been a fan of the granolas that are sold on the grocery store shelves, because I find them to be much too sugary or too processed tasting. There have been some really great granolas which I have had the opportunity to try, but this has usually occurred at some little bed and breakfast or small-town gourmet foods store, where the chances of getting my hands on the secret family recipe have been slim to none. So, I have taken it upon myself to develop my own collection of four-star granola recipes.
Some might say that finding the perfect granola recipe has almost become an obsession for me, and I have been known to whip up several different variations over the course of a few days, tweaking the ingredient amounts and baking times as I go. To me, a delicious granola is defined by a crunchy texture with some clusters, sweetness provided by either pure maple syrup or honey, a hint of salt to contrast the sweetness, a little bit of spice and citrus zest to brighten it up, freshly toasted nuts, and a colorful tart combination of dried fruits. I know, it sounds like a lot to ask for, but my many hours of tough research (a.k.a. sampling granola) have paid off! I now have a small group of granola recipes which I feel are good enough to recommend to you. This one definitely makes the top three (sorry, I'm not ready to part with #1 just yet), fulfilling all of my criteria listed above. The recipe makes a large amount, so divide it among gift bags for a healthy start to the New Year. Keep some for yourself to eat with fruit and yogurt, low-fat milk, or even on its own, and stay tuned for more variations in the future so you can decide for yourself which is the best! Here are some tips for great granola:
- This granola can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks. If you are planning to give the granola as a gift, make sure that the gift bags are sealed tightly.
- Feel free to substitute the types of dried fruits and nuts in the recipe. I have tried this using chopped dried figs, dates, or apricots, candied ginger, pecans, hazelnuts, or cashews.
- For both the oat mixture and the maple-glazed walnuts, as they near the end of their baking time, keep a close eye on them as they both can burn fairly easily. All ovens are a little bit different, so some might require a slightly shorter baking time.
- If you like for your granola to "clump" a little bit, pack the mixture down with the back of a spatula after you remove it from the oven and allow it to cool this way. This should help to form a few clusters along with the loose granola.
Crunchy Maple-Walnut Granola
Makes 4 pounds
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Large pinch of grated nutmeg
Zest from one large orange
2 pounds oats (about 8 cups)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 cups walnuts
3 cups mixed dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, golden raisins)
Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Butter a roasting pan. In a mini food-processor, pulse the butter, flour, baking soda, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange zest until crumbly. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the oats and 3/4 cup of the maple syrup and mix well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared roasting pan. Bake for 50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Let cool.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, toss the walnut halves with the remaining 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Spread the walnuts on a small baking sheet lined with foil and toast in the oven for 20 minutes, tossing occasionally, until golden and caramelized. Let cool.
Chop the walnuts and add them to the granola along with the dried fruit.