It’s no wonder we think of granola as a health food. As Seb Emina sets out in his excellent book, The Breakfast Bible, granola has its roots in the first breakfast cereal, invented by Dr James Caleb Jackson in in the mid-19th century.
In a quiet corner of New York state, Dr Jackson ran a hydrotherapy institute, at which his patients were fed a healthy diet devoid of tea, coffee, alcohol and tobacco, in between regular ‘water cures’. He favoured ‘scientific eating’, but sought a way to make this diet – mostly vegetables and unprocessed grains – more palatable to the masses. His solution? To mix bran with flour and water and bake the resultant slurry, which then needed to be soaked in milk overnight before eating. He called this creation ‘granula’.
It was Dr John Harvey Kellogg who, twenty years later, saw the commercial potential in this strange product. He changed the recipe slightly, rechristening it ‘granola’ – and an empire was born.
I think it’s time to reclaim granola from the health nuts. Let’s be honest: it’s the flapjack of breakfasts. I mean, literally, it’s flapjack, just with a slightly different ratio of butter to oats. That’s why it tastes so good. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its nutritional advantages – nuts, full of good fats, and oats, slow burning carbs – and it will keep you from feeling hungry well into lunchtime.
My granola has maple syrup for sweetness and a pinch of salt to temper it. The desiccated coconut is gently aromatic and, when toasted, will make your whole kitchen smell glorious. I prefer my granola without fruit – but of course, the joy of a recipe like granola is that you can make it any way you like. I happen to be obsessed with pecans and pumpkin seeds, but if you couldn’t give a fig about either of them, but love, well, dried figs, chop them up and whack them in. Kept in an airtight container, this granola will last well for about a month.
There are only two mandatory steps to a good granola. Firstly, you must toast the constituent parts thoroughly – in my version, the pistachios turn from fern green to emerald and the pumpkin seeds pop. Secondly, you should avoid touching it until it has gone fully cold, which ensures that the granola clumps rather than merely crumbles.
You can eat this anyway you want, with yoghurt or fresh fruit, but often I like it as it comes, just with a good slosh of cold milk, and no further adornment. It goes like this…
Makes: A large Kilner jar of granola
Takes: 5 minutes
Bakes: 30 minutes
100g skin-on almonds
50g desiccated coconut
85g pumpkin seeds
200g rolled oats
80g maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Roughly chop the pecans and almonds
2. Mix together the dry ingredients – the oats and the chopped nuts – in a large bowl.
3. Melt the butter and maple syrup together with the salt and cinnamon. Pour this into the bowl of dry ingredients, and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon.
4. Divide the mixture between the two trays and bake one of the trays for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, and turn the mixture thoroughly with a spatula. Pack the mixture tightly back onto the tray, really pressing it down with the back of whatever implement you’re using – this will ensure you end up with nice clumps of granola, rather than a tray of toasted oats – and return to the oven for another five minutes.
5. Allow to cool completely. In the mean time, repeat the process with the second tray of granola.
6. Once the granola is completely cold, crumble it with your hands, making sure to retain some clusters and nuggets, and decant it into an airtight container.