Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kind of like crack, but for breakfast: Big Crunch Granola

Oh my HEAVENS. This stuff. This STUFF. I really can't overemphasize its addictive properties. But, you know, it's granola, which in the big scheme of things is probably one of the best things you could find yourself addicted to. Right? It's health food! Sort of. It's a combo of health (whole grains and seeds/nuts) and junk (sugar). As for the junk part, like Michael Pollan once told me and you and everyone who'd listen, as a rule (rule #39, to be specific), eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. Homemade crack's okay! (Wait. Don't quote me on that. Hyperbole, folks. I dig it. Figurative = crack. Literal = trust me, you won't be able to stop indulging in this.) Pollan also recommends avoiding breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk (Rule #36). We're good on that front too. (For now.)

This granola is based on the formula and method provided in Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. This is a FABULOUS cookbook. It accessible, quirky, funny, and - most importantly, as it is after all a cookbook - chock full of fantastic recipes. (The only doozie, in my opinion, is the recipe for toddler chicken tenders, but maybe I shouldn't have had such high hopes for toddler food.) I've made several of Clark's favorites as written and I've also taken substantial liberties with many of her recipes, all to great success - like Mark Bittman's, her recipes inspire creativity and beg to be messed about with. (Maybe it's a New York Times thing?) She's got a new cookbook out that I can't wait to get my hands on: Cook This Now. Someday I shall have it. For now though, it remains on my wishlist rather than my shelves.

This recipe is different from the previous granola recipe I posted (incidentally based on Mark Bittman's formula) and indeed from all other granola recipes I've seen, read, tasted. This one is special because, in writing it, Clark's utmost priority was to master the art of the big cluster. She succeeds. Her trick: maple syrup. Mine: brown rice syrup. She also uses olive oil but I went with the more neutral rice bran oil and it worked fine without imparting any noticeable flavor, which was what I wanted. I found the flavors of the toasty grains and seeds, the just-barely-molasses-aspects of the brown sugar and brown rice syrup, and the subtle spices combined with a heavy dose of salt were flavor enough. (Salty sweet! Totally aiding and abetting the crack factor.)

This recipe makes big crunch madness. No really. BIG. CRUNCH. MADNESS.

big crunch close up

It is perfectly, delectably, over-the-top salty-sweet breakfast love. The kind of love you can't get enough of. The good news is this recipe makes a substantial bunch and it lasts for a good week or two in an airtight container, so you don't have to restrain yourself too much.

pan of big crunch granola

And it just gets crunchier over time but not in an icky stale way. It's so wonderful! Addictively wonderful!

bowl of crunch

Big Crunch Granola
Yield: about 7-8 cups

Note: Because I was out of oats when I had a hankering to make this, I used random ingredients that I had on hand, mostly impulse purchases from King Arthur Flour ("KAF", yo). Purists might like Orangette's recent version. In her book, Clark uses oats, coconut flakes, pistachios, dried apricots, and a smidgen of ground cardamom. Another set of (more readily available) ingredients is suggested by The Leftoverist, one of my favorite food/life bloggers. Use whatever combination of grains, nuts and seeds you'd like (and are not allergic to) in an amount that totals 6 to 7 cups. I'm not a fan of dried fruit in my granola but, if you're of a different mind, toss in a cup of that once it's baked and cooled. Also, a good note from The Leftoverist to keep in mind if you make this, so that you don't freak out and abandon ship unnecessarily (because that would be tragic!): "As you're cooking this, it might look like you've done something wrong. The syrup will be bubbling up around the oats and it will look much more viscous than your regular granola might. Don't worry! Stir it every ten minutes, and let it cool all the way when it comes out of the oven. It will dry up nicely." The bubbling syrup is in fact what makes the big crunch. So it's to be embraced, not feared.

3 cups KAF malted wheat flakes
2 cups KAF Harvest Grains blend
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup rice bran oil
3/4 cup brown rice syrup

Preheat oven to 300 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Combine grains, seeds or nuts, coconut, or whatever, salt, cinnamon, and sugar in a large bowl. Drizzle in the oil and brown rice syrup and stir until everything is coated.

Spread mixture out evenly on baking sheet and bake for 35-45 minutes, stirring every ten minutes and removing when mixture is an even golden brown. Granola will be wet when you remove it from the oven, and will stick together quite a bit as it cools - think enormous oatmeal cookie... brittle. Once it's totally cool, break it up into chunks. You can, of course, break it up so it's quite loose, but where's the fun in that? Add a cup of dried fruit if you like and store in an airtight container for, theoretically, a few weeks. It won't last that long though.

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