Baking homemade granola is a delicious, easy, and inexpensive way to start any day. Here is my favorite recipe…
Major life changes have always provided me with opportunities to reset, renew, and revamp my daily habits. When I spent a summer in Colorado in 2013, I learned to use veganism as my secret weapon to eat fewer and fewer calories to the benefit of my running career (and the detriment of my health). By contrast, when I spent a summer with a host family in Nice in 2014, I learned to replace my dizzying, obsessive eating patterns with routine meals of fresh French cuisine. As I planned my return from Austria to Boston last year, my motivation for change was less about my health or body image, and more about my sense of creativity.
As I sat admiring my mountain view from my Austrian village loft, I scribbled thousands of new cooking expeditions that I hoped to complete. Down with my routine of eating for efficiency during the stress of my PhD program. I now had time to eat for artistry. The possibilities were endless. I would make vegan pancakes each Sunday, sourdough bread each Monday, almond butter for sourdough toast each Tuesday, moonshine wine each Wednesday, chocolate truffles each Thursday, matcha lattes made with homemade almond milk and topped with intricate artwork each Friday, and smoothie bowls laced with homemade granola Saturday. Okay, so most of these resolutions did not stick nor have they even been explored, but when I started down my path of baking homemade granola, there was no going back.
Small-batch homemade granola is surprisingly easy and incredibly inexpensive to make. Moreover, by making my own granola, I have so much better control on the ingredients. In order for store-bought granola to be shelf-stable, it must be chock-full with sugar to preserve it. By making it at home, I can have it fresh and sugar-less each morning. The small caveat to that statement is that there must be some amount of sugar added for granola to truly be granola. If you make granola with no sugar at all, it will simply be muesli. Which is fine. But not granola.
The trick to making homemade granola is in the balance of liquid and dry ingredients. Too little liquid makes muesli, and too much makes it greasy. Finding that perfect goldilocks amount will make granola perfectly toasty yet still healthy.
Spices and extracts are also key to an optimal granola-making experience. There’s nothing like smelling nuts toasting in pumpkin spice early in the morning. I love to balance warm, sweet pumpkin spice blends (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and ginger) with a cooling bite of fennel and a crystalline pop of coarse ground sea salt. Yet this is but one of so many options to explore for spice and extract combinations.
Finally, the toppings for homemade granola will make or break a batch. Nuts are easy to work with because they bake only a bit quicker than oats (and toasty, lightly burnt nuts are okay in my books). Dried fruits are trickier because they bake much faster than nuts and oats. If you bake the dried fruits in with the nuts, they’ll be extra crunchy and too tough to chew. So if you do intend to make fruity blends, either add them in towards the very end of the baking process or after the granola has been fully baked. I’ve shied away from adding dried fruit altogether because of their finicky baking personalities.
Like all good things in baking, making the perfect small-batch homemade granola is all about creativity and personality. This recipe is simply a jumping off point, but it can be deliciously personalized. Enjoy!
Recipe (makes enough servings to top about 4 smoothie bowls)
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup pecans
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried fennel
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1-2 tablespoons any liquid sweetener (e.g. agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup)
5-6 tablespoons olive oil (can substitute for melted coconut oil)
1 teaspoon almond extract
Optional: try adding cacao nibs, coconut flakes, or dried fruit
Mix together all dry ingredients in a 9-inch baking pan
Drizzle your oil, liquid sweetener, and almond extract onto the dry mixture, and stir until the mixture is completely coated.
Bake your granola at 350° F. After 15 minutes, stir the mixture to ensure all parts are baked evenly.
Bake for another 15 minutes or until the nuts start to brown.
Cool at room temperature for 10 minutes before topping it on your smoothie bowl or transferring it to an airtight container. The granola will stay fresh and delicious for up to one week.
Above: Wet and dry ingredients ready to be mixed (step 2).
Above: Granola mixture ready to be baked (step 2).
Above: Fresh-baked granola (step 4).
Above: Fresh-baked granola in a plum berry smoothie bowl (step 5).