- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2006

CONCORD, N.H. — Not that people have been clamoring for it, but I generally have avoided writing about granola. Can’t stand reducing myself to a crunchy cliche.

Thing is, I love granola. I like it with milk (soy, rice or dairy, I’m not picky). I like it with yogurt (also to the soy and dairy). I like popping the clusters just as they are for a snack. I love the contrast of crunchy grains and chewy dried fruits.

What I don’t love is the hunt for good granola.

Most are insipid and bland.

Few have nearly enough fruit and never the varieties I want. I’ve tried dozens of granolas, everything from low-fat raspberry to exotic coconut and cashew blends.

And most of them are lousy.

Turns out several of my friends went through this same process a few years ago.

But rather than whine about it, or make do with mediocre granola, they took action and began baking up batches of their own special blends.

Not sure why I resisted. My friends sent me their recipes. I was eager to try them, but never did. I had it in my mind that it was a labor-intensive exercise and the payoff just wasn’t worth it.

I mean, how much better could it really be?

Then recently I encountered a particularly bad batch of granola.

Not only was it dry and mealy, it tasted as though somebody had sifted all-purpose flour into the mix. Maybe my friends were right.

Rather than stick to my friends’ recipes, I used them to create a skeleton from which I could concoct my own granola.

Assembling the dry ingredients was easier than I expected. Uncooked rolled oats and wheat germ (a food I can’t recall having ever knowingly consumed) form the core of most granola recipes.

Beyond that, taste ruled. I wanted lots of crunch, so I rounded out the dry ingredients with sunflower seeds, pistachios and chopped almonds, plus a bit of cinnamon for taste. Many recipes also call for walnuts and sesame seeds, but I passed.

Liquid ingredients were trickier. These varied widely from recipe to recipe. I eventually settled on a sticky blend of honey, maple syrup, molasses, canola oil and vanilla and almond extracts.

Some recipes favor butter for the fat, but I stuck with oil for ease. Nothing to melt. Plus, I wasn’t sure I wanted a buttery granola.

Finally, the fruit. This was easy. I love banana chips, so a whole mess of those went in. But I also enjoy the chewy contrast that softer dried fruits add, and so I tossed in several cups each of raisins and dried cranberries.

The result was phenomenal. Sweet, crunchy, chewy, oaty, fruity. Exactly what a granola should be.

Don’t be intimidated by the number of servings this recipe makes.

Once cooked, the entire batch fits comfortably in a gallon zip-close bag.

Since granola isn’t exactly something you wake up and make for breakfast, preparing it in large batches is best.

Also, my fears that making granola from scratch would be taxing were entirely unfounded. It was as simple as combining the dry ingredients in a bowl, whisking together the liquid ingredients, then combining the two and baking them.

One cooking note: The granola will not feel crisp and dry until cool, so do not use that as a gauge of doneness.

Crunchy berry banana granola

From start to finish, this recipe takes 55 minutes.

4 cups uncooked rolled oats

½ cup wheat germ

½ cup sunflower seeds

1 cup chopped raw almonds

1 cup raw pistachio nut meats

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup molasses

2/3 cup maple syrup

2/3 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

3 cups sweetened dried banana chips

2 cups raisins

2 cups dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat two rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine oats, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachio nuts and cinnamon. Toss well to mix.

In a small bowl or 2-cup glass measuring cup, whisk together the honey, molasses, maple syrup, canola oil and vanilla and almond extracts. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well until thoroughly combined and everything is evenly coated.

Evenly spread half of the granola on each baking sheet. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until toasted and fragrant, lightly stirring the granola every 15 minutes.

Remove the granola from the oven and let stand until completely cool.

Transfer both baking sheets of granola to a large bowl.

Add the banana chips, raisins and cranberries and mix well. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 18 cups.

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