I'm really picky when it comes to granola and granola bars. I distinctly remember the granola that was served in the dining commons in college. It was served via one of those plastic cereal dispensers--if you pull the handle one of two scenarios occurs: Nothing at all comes out and you either need to shake the dispenser or move on to the Frosted Flakes -or- The entire contents of the dispenser spills out over your bowl, onto your tray, and the floor. Note: This second scenario occurs almost exclusively when at least half of the student body is there to witness the situation, with that super cute boy standing in line right behind you.
So......back to the granola. For a cereal that used to be synonymous with "healthy" and "natural", the granola that was served in my college dining commons was anything but. It tasted like bland, dry, processed clumps of sugar, which disintegrated in your mouth and provided nothing in the nutritional department whatsoever. No fruit. No nuts. Just clumps. Blech!
I rarely find a granola that satisfies my requirements. It can't taste like it was made in the 20th century, and it shouldn't have the nutritional equivalence of a hot fudge sundae. When I find one that I do like, it is usually at some remote bed and breakfast or mom and pop place, so I have just started creating my own varieties, such as the Pomegranate-Tangerine version below (inspired by a case of POM pomegranate juice, which was sent to me as a runner-up prize in the POM Blogger contest--I'm now kind of obsessed with the stuff.)
Granola is such a simple and versatile recipe. You start with oats, and then you just go from there. Don't like nuts? Use more fruit. Allergic to dairy? Leave out the butter. Bake it until crispy or keep it soft and chewy. Honey. Coconut. Maple syrup. Orange Zest. The sky's the limit as far as possibilities go. Not only is granola a versatile recipe, but it's a versatile ingredient too. Use it as part of a parfait or mix it into muffin or bread batters. For the following recipe, I added granola to a pretty standard (given a spice or two) chocolate chunk cookie recipe. The granola adds a caramelized, nutty flavor with bits of spice and tart cranberry to complement the bittersweet chocolate. Here are a few extra tips for making these chock-full chocolate chunk cookies (and granola):
- If you don't have pomegranate juice for the granola, try using cranberry or orange juice instead. You can also substitute pure maple syrup (not the fake kind!) for the honey.
- After the granola comes out of the oven, immediately press it down all over with the back of a spatula and let it cool. This helps to form the little clusters of granola when you break it up into pieces.
- Instead of using dried cranberries, you can use dried cherries or golden raisins. Substitute pecan halves, walnuts, or pistachios for the almonds.
- The cookie dough can be prepared up to 2 days in advance and chilled, tightly covered, untilready to bake. You can also "pre-portion" the cookie dough into balls and chill. This way, you just need to transfer the balls of dough to the prepared baking sheet and bake!
- The baked cookies will keep at room temperature, covered, for 3-4 days. You can also freeze them in zip-top bags for up to 3 weeks.
Pomegranate Granola Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Makes about 20
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup golden brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups Pomegranate-Tangerine Granola (recipe follows)
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl, and mix until combined. Stir in the granola and the chocolate chunks.
Using a medium (2 tablespoon) ice cream scoop, drop the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the portions 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies until they are golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes and then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.
Makes about 8 ½ cups
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 ¼ cups sliced almonds
Zest from 2 tangerines
¾ cup POM pomegranate juice (gotta love the super-POM-hero picture to the right)
½ cup honey
⅓ cup golden brown sugar, packed
¼ cup safflower oil
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 325F degrees. In a large bowl, combine the oats, coconut, almonds, and tangerine zest, mixing well.
In a medium saucepan, combine the pomegranate juice, honey, brown sugar, safflower oil, cinnamon, allspice, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Pour the hot liquid over the oats mixture, tossing until it is evenly coated.
Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick baking spray and spread the granola mixture evenly on the sheet. Bake until the granola is golden brown on the edges, tossing once, about 20 minutes. Mix in the cranberries and stir to blend. Continue to bake until the granola is golden and dry, stirring once, about 15 minutes longer. Cool the granola completely on the baking sheet.