In search of healthier granola, (or in which I discover Toasted Muesli)

Last weekend, I found myself in need of granola. Normally, I make a batch once a month - but that was before the Boy-O came into the obsessed with granola food phase. Now, he requests granola for 3 meals a day. At least he's moved on from the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (and with that, I find myself making a lot less bread), but I actually had to make another batch today, since the other was nearly gone. Granola making is an easy task; you don't even need to accurately measure if you don't feel like it. You can use what grains/seeds/nuts/dried fruits you have on hand, and have a completely different experience every time you make it quite by accident. Normally, I don't write down what I'm doing as I'm doing it, but in my quest for a healthier granola, I did.

I did ship off a quart jar of my last batch to a new "Internet friend", so that accounts for something, but since the Boy-O is seriously garnering most of his nutrition now from granola, I am forced to seek out ways to increase the healthiness a little. Last weekend, I replaced all of the refined sugar with agave syrup and honey (I used to use a little brown sugar) - but today I went a bit further and used rolled grains that were higher in protein: kamut and wheat flakes. I had never tried kamut before, and while munching a few of the raw, flattened grains, I could tell they were much tougher than plain old oats. They also had a peculiar striation pattern that made me think of gnocchi.

Kamut, is an older varietal of wheat, so is not gluten-free. From my last Daring Baker Challenge, I learned that oatmeal is GF, if it is processed in a facility that does not allow cross-contamination with other products. Kamut grains are roughly 3 times larger than regular oats (though not in their rolled state), and contain about 8 grams of protein per half cup serving. There are 5 grams of protein in regular rolled oats, at least according to the co-op bulk bins. So, for a Boy-O who won't eat meat (other than bacon), seldom eats an egg, and is rather picky about greens in general right now, I figure those 3 little grams must add up!

I didn't have any particular reason for trying out this grain. As I perused the bulk grains aisle as the co-op, I actually wanted to try the quinoa flakes because I know that quinoa is a complete protein. Since they were out, I asked a worker which were his favorite and both the bins of his recommends were barren as well. It wasn't a good day to shop the bulk aisle I think, and in the end I just went by amount of protein on the nutritional information cards. I figured that the grains would toast mostly the same as rolled oats, and in the end, I was mostly correct.

Last Saturday's batch had a couple of T.'s of olive oil in it, but since I had a small portion of butter out on the counter in its wrapper, I figured to use it up. It gave me a change to use one of my favorite garage sale finds, an incomplete set of copper measuring cups. I can put them directly on the heat to melt butter, and one of them is a 3/4 c. measure which comes in handy and is not normally included in modern measuring sets. They are like miniature pots, really.

My method for granola making is always the same, I mix the dry and ingredients separately, toss them together in a stainless mixing bowl and then spread onto a baking sheet. I have found that I can either line the sheet with parchment or leave it unlined and it doesn't make much difference especially when using little to no added fat. I always add the dried fruit after baking, but when there is still a little warmth left in the granola.

Ultra Crunchy Granola (or Toasted Muesli)

  • 1 1/4 c. kamut flakes
  • 1 1/4 c. wheat flakes
  • 1 1/2 c. thick rolled oats
  • 1/2 c. coconut (I like the Let's Do...Organic brand, and it's actually really inexpensive in Whole Foods!)
  • 1 c. walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 c. sesame seeds
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 T. butter
  • 1/2 c. agave syrup (I used raw dark for the first time, and was pleasantly surprised at the flavor)
  • 1/2 c. raisins
  • 1/2 c. dried cranberries (more or less of any dried fruit, really)

Bake at 350, stirring every 10 minutes until it looks as brown as you'd like it. Remember, that it gets crunchier as it cools. This batch baked for about 30 minutes.

I could hardly wait for it to cool enough to try. Everything I've tried with agave syrup lately I've ended up loving. It's so delicious on its own, and really gives a pleasant amount of sweetness without being at all sugary. It has the added benefit of absorbing slowly into the bloodstream, preventing the sugar spiking effect that is the bane of Mothers everywhere. Prior to this, my favorite sweetener for granola was a combination of honey and maple syrup. I hate to say, that maybe this is going to become my new staple - especially since it was so crunchy I decided to soak it like a muesli.

I do love muesli, as I described here, normally in the summer when I enjoy eating a cold breakfast. Just a moment of forethought before bed, and the oats magically transform into "fully cooked" by morning. I never thought of soaking a granola before, but tried it right away since the crunch factor was so high with the kamut. Even a quick 30 minutes in the refrigerator covered in milk, and the grains swelled and the cinnamon popped - I did use the cassia, which I reserve for just such this kind of welcomed effect.

If 30 minutes was a serviceable soaking, then 8 hours was completely transforming. I just tried a spoonful that I've had soaking since about noon, and it is silky and delectable. Now, I can't wait for breakfast tomorrow.