Who needs a big European or Pan-Asian tour? Well, I certainly wouldn't mind one. But I have another idea: let's take a #bakecation. It's like a Christmas vacation, but through cookbooks. All the flavour and none of the Gravol or travel expense.
First stop on our holiday #bakecation: Smitten Kitchen's Big Cluster Maple Granol
Here's an awkward confession: I think most granola lands firmly in the "not tasty" camp. It stumbles against a common dilemma shared with many baked goods: if it's tasty, it's not healthy; if it's healthy, it's not tasty. Take a close look at the ingredient label on your favourite granola. It's a fat and sugar bomb, yes? Don't feel bad for the fake out. Granola is the carrot cake of the breakfast world. It has the illusion of health but it's most definitely not healthy
Why then would I risk baking a batch of granola? Because if anyone can save granola it's Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. For some unexplainable reason she, via her must-read cooking blog, has sweet-talked me into the craziest Quixotic adventures: baking a massive sour cherry slab pie in the middle of summer; special ordering a brisket big enough to occupy an entire shelf in my fridge; and making an incredibly delicious warm chickpea butternut squash salad twice in one night (that's what happens when you eat two-thirds of your planned potluck dish).
I blame her for all my culinary catastrophes and I take full credit when they inevitably bring me great applause.
What's unusual about the Smitten Kitchen version of granola? Firstly, its spare list of ingredients. This is not trail mix masquerading as granola. It's an oat-centred dish and it makes no apologies. More isn't always more. I've had to learn this the hard way. One minute you're charming in a peasant skirt and top. Four scarves, three bangles and one pair of fingerless gloves later, you're Stevie Nicks. Do NOT do this. There's only one Stevie.
Secondly, this minimal ingredient list is a clean one. No butter. No oil slicks. No sugar bombs. And what about the actual making and baking? This all came together (in my mind, suspiciously) easily and quickly. The prep, measure and mixing took all of 5 minutes. Verdict? This granola is a knockout. It's healthy. It's tasty. It may even have cracked Fermat's Last Theorum. This is not ordinary granola, people. It's gateway granola – it'll forever change your opinion and consumption of rolled oats. It's got terrific texture (crunchy and crispy without becoming whole-grain stalactites) and has just the right blend of sweetness and spice, while still retaining it's oat-y roots. But don't take my opinion as gospel.
"The words 'oh my god, I have to make this' and 'this puts my PC granola to shame' have been coming out of my mouth for the past 5 minutes." - KH, lawyer, rock climber, eater of tasty things
"Thanks Eva, this was very good. I ate it with yogourt this morning. Probably the best granola I have ever eaten. I wish I had your mad kitchen skilz and awesome love of '80s music." - AG, Indigo Cookbook Buyer, eater of tasty things
Fine, the last sentence *may* have been tacked on by me, but all the others were true. Make this recipe. It's some kind of wonderful. Bag it. Jar it. Give it this holiday season. Readers, I share with you Deb Perelman's genius granola, courtesy of her publisher Appetite.
Big Cluster Maple Granola
yield: about 7 cups granola
The gap between store-bought and homemade granola is so vast, there's no bridging it; there's only accepting that, once you learn how to make it at home, you cannot go back to buying it, and if you make this once, you will make it again.
Because nobody warned me of this before I made granola the first time, I've made a lot of it in the last ten years. And although no batch went to waste, I was a bit unhappy with each. Most homemade-granola recipes contain many things that perplex me: a large amount of sugar when a little will do; an epic amount of fat—often melted butter, which seems awfully guilt-inducing for first-thing-in-the-morning fare; and directions that suggest that you stir and stir, which inhibits the clumping we unabashedly adore in store-bought granolas. Over the years, I've dialed back the sugar further and further, and still found the granola perfectly sweet. I've replaced butter with olive oil, which bakes up wonderfully, and scaled back the volume so that you don't end up with an oily mass that never clumps. And for the biggest clusters? An egg white. Nothing "glues" quite like protein.
But the real inspiration behind this recipe is my friend Anna, who brought me a jar of wheat-germ-studded walnut-and-dried-cherry granola weeks after my son was born. It was perfection; I don't think granola flavor gets any better than that. Anna and I met nearly a decade ago, when we both hated our jobs and daydreamed about quitting them to ice cupcakes all day. Seven years later, she's a pastry chef and I get to hang out with you all day, fiddling around with oats until I find my granola nirvana. With Anna's flavors and the big-cluster tricks I've picked up over the years, I don't think I'll get any closer than this.
3 cups (240 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup (50 grams) unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
1 cup (100 grams) walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (25 grams) toasted wheat germ
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup (120 ml; or increase to 2/3 cup if a sweeter granola is preferred) maple syrup [Eva's note: I used the lesser amount of maple syrup but used Grade B Amber for deeper maple flavour]
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg white
1 1/2 cups (215 grams) dried cherries or another dried fruit, diced if large pieces
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Combine all ingredients but the egg white and dried fruit in a large bowl, tossing to coat evenly. Whisk the egg white in a small bowl until frothy. Stir into the granola mixture, distributing it throughout. Spread it in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. About halfway through the baking time, use a large spatula to turn over sections of the granola carefully, breaking them up as little as possible. Rotate the pan if granola is baking unevenly. When it is evenly browned and feels dry to the touch, transfer the pan from the oven to the cooling rack. Cool completely. Once it's completely cool, break up granola into whatever size clusters delight you. Sprinkle in dried fruit.
The granola keeps at room temperature in an airtight container for 2 weeks. It keeps even longer in the freezer, if you're the stockpiling type.
Excerpted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. Copyright © 2012 Deb Perelman. Excerpted by permission of Appetite, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Photos © 2012 Eva Quan
All test recipes are made by Eva Quan in a tres bijou (read: cramped) home kitchen. All errors and culinary mis-steps are generally her own.
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