You don’t need a recipe to make granola. All you need are rolled oats (or another rolled grain), a fat, a sweetener, and mix-ins of your choice. An egg white is optional, but it will help bind the granola together if you prefer one that has big chunks.
Homemade granola is one of my favourite things to bake – I can’t ever get over how amazing the kitchen smells while it’s in the oven, and the homemade stuff is so much better and less expensive than store bought. Also, making granola is a good way to use up some odds & ends in the pantry. You don’t have to follow a recipe, just use what you have.
First, a bit more about the basics – let’s start with looking more into each of the components of granola:
Granola usually starts with rolled oats (these are oats that have been steamed and flattened – they cook much faster than whole oats, AKA ‘oat groats’). You can use pretty much any type of rolled oats – ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘jumbo’ are generally regarded as the best for granola, as they are thicker and will give more of a bite. That said, I’ve made granola with ‘porridge’ oats – oats that have been rolled into very thin, small pieces – and these work great, too. I just use whatever I have on hand. You can also use any other type of rolled grain, like rolled buckwheat or millet, but these are usually less widely available and a little more expensive. Since rolled oats are generally the least expensive ingredient in granola, to keep costs down, you can use more oats and less of the more-costly ingredients, like nuts. I just eyeball it, but I usually use an amount of rolled oats that is equal to about half of my total dry ingredients, by volume.
No doubt recipes exist for fat-free granola, but do not fear fat! It is not evil, and in fact it is delicious (and necessary for your body to function). When making granola, the fat coats the granola and helps it toast nicely, adding a delicious flavour. I probably use more fat than most people – I do about a quarter of a (250 gram) block of butter for a big bowl of rolled oats. If you want less fat, you can certainly use less fat. The important thing is that your granola is well-coated before you bake it, but if you’re using a liquid sweetener, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Regarding what type of fat to use, you can use butter, or a neutral-flavoured oil like grapeseed oil, or coconut oil also works well if you like that coconut flavour. You can also use olive oil (or a blend of oils) and you can even use a nut butter, if you like – I’d recommend peanut or almond butter or tahini. If you’re going to use a nut butter, I wouldn’t recommend using as much as I’d suggested above – I would use maybe half the amount and probably mix with another oil or butter. Whichever you decide to use, make sure your fat is in liquid state before you mix it into the other ingredients – more on that step below.
Again, recipes exist that do not use any form of sweetener, and if you are avoiding sugar, you can certainly keep it low sugar by leaving out the sweetener (as long as you have plenty of fat to help coat the oats) – if you go this route you can add dried fruit near the end of the baking time to add a little sweetness if you’d like. Plant-based milks often tend to be sweeter than dairy, so if you usually eat granola with a milk on the sweeter side, you might like to keep the sweetener down here. I personally like a little sweetness to my granola, though, and I usually go for honey or maple syrup (or a mix of the two) – both of which add a nice flavour. You can also use treacle or golden syrup, or you can use brown sugar (heat this when you warm/melt your fat to help distribute it). I usually start off with a volume of honey/maple syrup about equal to my fat, though truth be told, I always add more as I taste it. The best intentions…
This is where you really get the chance to make granola your own – from nuts and seeds to dried fruit to spices and flavourings, you can choose whatever you’d like to add to your granola. I particularly like pumpkin seeds and sliced almonds or chopped pecans. I usually use whatever dried fruit I have on hand, and I always try to use coconut flakes, because I think when they’re lightly toasted they add such a delicious flavour and texture. Whatever fruit and nuts you decide, make sure they are in small enough pieces that they’ll be easy to eat, especially once toasted and clumped together with the other ingredients.
In addition to fried fruit and nuts, you can also add spices like cinnamon or ground cardamom or ginger powder. You can add lemon or orange zest, and you can add flavours such as vanilla or almond extract. For a chocolatey granola, try mixing in cocoa powder or adding chocolate chips (just at the end of baking so they don’t melt too much). And always add a bit of salt. I learnt that while working as a pastry chef – salt enhances flavours and balances sweetness. You don’t need a lot, but there is nothing I make that does not have at least a good pinch.
Dried fruit, nuts and seeds usually make up about half the volume of my dry ingredients. It’s hard to have too much cinnamon, so I always use a spoonful when making a big bowl. Other spices and flavours should be added to taste in accordance with their strength.
HOW TO MAKE GRANOLA
Preheat the oven to 160 °C / 320 °F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
While the oven is heating, put all of the dry ingredients (except for dried fruit and dried coconut) in a large bowl and mix together. Make sure you’ve mixed in any dry spices and salt, as well – everything should be thoroughly mixed so that the ingredients are evenly distributed.
Meanwhile, melt the fat and sugar together in a small pan. This will make it easier to evenly distribute these into your dry mix, and it will also make it physically easier for you to stir. After these are melted, let it cool to a warm temperature if it is hot, and then add in vanilla extract and egg white if using and stir well to combine (you don’t want to cook the egg at this stage). Pour the wet mixture over the dry ingredients. Stir well to ensure the mix is evenly coated and taste.
Is it sweet enough? (Keep in mind if you’re adding dried fruit later that will slightly increase the sweetness, but you still might want to add more here – I usually do!). Is there enough spice? If it just tastes a bit flat, perhaps you want to add a bit of salt. The mixture need not be wet, but it should be moist. If it’s too dry, perhaps add more butter or liquid sweetener, depending on its flavour and what you think it needs.
When the mixture is to your liking, pour it out of the bowl onto your lined baking sheet. Lightly wet your fingers (this will help prevent the mix from sticking to your hands) and press it onto the tray. Pressing well here will help the granola cook into clusters, just make sure the mixture is an even thickness, especially at the edges which can tend to cook faster and may burn if they are too thin. I probably go about 2 cm thick. My big bowl fills my baking sheet well, but if you’ve got too much for your pan, you can always make a second pan, or bake in a second batch after the first batch has come out of the oven.
Place the granola in the oven and after 10 to 15 minutes, rotate the pan halfway. Use this as a chance to check in on your granola. Is it cooking evenly? Do the edges seem overly browned? This should be a little less than the halfway point, so if your granola seems fairly cooked around the edges, you may want to give it a stir, and maybe even slightly reduce the temperature of your oven. Keep in mind, the more you stir the granola, the more you break up those clusters. I like big clusters of granola, so I try not to stir it.
After about 10 to 15 minutes more, your kitchen should be smelling amazing. This is a sign that your granola is almost ready. At this stage the granola should be toasted but not burnt. It should look and feel mostly dry. If you’ve packed your granola more than 2 cm thick, you may need to flip sections of it over on the baking sheet to make sure the underside is dried out as well. Once your satisfied that your granola is about done, add the coconut flakes and dried fruit on top and return the granola to the over for about 3 minutes more, just to help toast these. When the coconut flakes are toasted, remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool completely in the pan before moving it into a jar for storage (if you move the granola while it is still warm, it will likely fall apart and you’ll lose the clusters. Plus, if you seal it in a container while it is still warm, it may release steam in the container, which would be trapped in the container, causing the granola to lose its crunchy texture).
Enjoy your granola with yogurt or milk or however you prefer, or just by the handful.