Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Best Granola Recipe in the World*

*At least in my opinion

I love granola but I dislike store bought granola - lots of oats with little to no nuts or fruit, and utterly flavorless. After far too many boxes of disappointing store granola (have you ever seen the fat content on some brands!) I finally tried my hand at making my own and discovered that granola is basically impossible to screw up**. Armed with a fairly simple recipe from Mark Bittman's most excellent cookbook How to Cook Everything I started experimenting and after many tries finally landed on the recipe below. Everything is approximate and I'm constantly making tweaks based on what I have on hand.

Bo's awesome peanut buttery granola

- Approximately 8 cups of old fashioned oats (not the quick cooking kind) - I just use an entire 16 oz drum of oats
- 1 envelope of powdered milk
- Between 1 - 2 cups of sweetened dried coconut flakes
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 2 Tbs cinnamon (or more to your taste)
- 2 Tbs powdered vanilla (not necessary but nice to add if you have some on hand)
- Approximately 1 cup each whole almonds, walnuts, peanuts, macadamia nuts, or any nut of your choice. I usually shot for 4 cups of nuts but you can add less or more according to your taste
- 2 Tbs butter
- Between 1/2 - 3/4 cup of dark brown sugar
- 2 Tbs vanilla
- 1 16 oz jar of natural peanut butter (creamy or chunky - but make sure it's the natural stuff i.e. the nut oil seperates out) You can also use any other nut butter you like, just make sure it is natural
- Apple juice
- Approximately 3 cups of mixed dried fruit. Whatever you like. I usually use some combination of dried blueberries, dried strawberries, dried cherries, dried Turkish figs (chopped), and dried apricots (sulfate free and chopped)

Mix the first seven ingredients (from the oats to the nuts) in a big bowl. Set aside.

In a heavy, high sided pot (make sure it is heavy and high sided - you're going to make a caramel) combine the butter and sugar. Bring the combination to a boil and allow to boil for anywhere from 2-5 minutes. Stoves are different and some are a lot hotter than others. You want to bring the mixture to the point where it smells richly of caramel but isn't burnt. Once you get to the caramel stage pour in the entire jar of peanut butter and stir vigorously to combine. It will become very thick. Add enough apple juice to the peanut-caramel mixture to create a very thick sauce - about the consistency of a pourable yogurt. Add the vanilla and stir.

Allow the sauce to cool slightly (not too much or it will be too thick to combine - if this happens reheat and add a little more apple juice). Pour half of the mixture into the oat mixture and using your hands, begin to combine. I've broken many a mixing spoon during this stage - best to stick with your hands. After a couple of minutes of mixing, gather together the oats that don't seem to have any sauce on them and pour the remaining sauce on top. Combine everything together and make sure all the oats are well coated with the caramel-peanut sauce. The mixture will be coarse and you'll have lots of lumps of various size. Lumps are good. They add texture.

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line two baking pans with either parchment paper or aluminum foil. Evenly spread out the granola onto the pans but make sure not to break up all the lumps. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Stir the granola after 20 minutes and return the pans to the oven for another 10 - 20 minutes depending on how dark you like your granola. Towards the end of the baking time check the granola frequently to prevent burning. It goes from being perfect to burnt in a matter of minutes. Makes about 16 cups. Enough to last me about two weeks.