One of the easiest things you’ll ever make is granola. You dump a bunch of stuff in a bowl, stir it around, and about 30 minutes later you have one of the most compulsively edible snacks and/or breakfast cereals known to (this) woman. It’s sweet, but not so sweet that you can’t call it breakfast. It’s predominantly oats, as granola should be, but offers enough by way of nuts, seeds, and coconut to keep things interesting. That’s not to say it’s the end-all-be-all of granolas. That’s the thing about granola: each batch can and should be as unique as its maker. We all have our preferences and quirks. We don’t want it too sweet, or we only like it with honey, we definitely want coconut. NO raisins, but Craisins are okay, almonds only, but only if they’re sliced, vanilla, no vanilla, and so on and so forth. To each their own.
This recipe is a very reliable place to start figuring out how you like it. Make the base recipe first and see what you think. Then start playing. Tinker around with the ratios until you find your own ideal blend—which may evolve, and that’s a good thing.
Photo by Jamie Grill via Getty Images
Old. Fashioned. Rolled. Oats. That’s all you need to know. But a quick word on the wheat germ. One of my favorite granolas turned out to be made largely of all-purpose flour which felt like cheating, because then it’s basically broken up cookies. But a little bit of nutrient-dense wheat germ offers the same binding power of AP with a more righteous message. I’d be careful about adding too much though, because in larger proportion it can make the granola chewy and I prefer a decent amount of crunch. But if you’re a cakey cookie person, go for it.
Fat is your friend. It helps toast the oats and nuts and bind everything together. Melted butter, olive oil, vegetable oil, or coconut oil (heated until liquid) are all great options. Each adds its own subtle flavor to the mix so if you’re adding anything additional like spice, or taking things in a savory direction, go with a neutral oil like safflower, grapeseed, or canola so the flavors aren’t masked by that of your fat.
I like two sweeteners: one liquid and then brown sugar (light or dark brown). You will definitely encounter granola recipes out there with at least twice as much sweetener then this base recipe has. If you want your granola to lean closer to ice cream topping and less toward breakfast, then go for it, but I like about one part sweet to six parts oats/nuts. Unlike maple or honey, agave syrup lends a neutral sweetness that won’t distract from other flavors, so use it as you would vegetable oil when you want to let other flavors shine. A little sticky brown sugar in addition to the liquid sweetener offers a caramely base note but also helps to bind the mix together as the sugar melts in the oven. Don’t skip it.
Granola, in my opinion, should be mostly oats, but it should NOT be all oats. I like a decent amount of nuts and I always include coconut. I prefer the texture of unsweetened flakes (sometimes called chips) because the shards tend to candy in the oven—but shredded will work too. If coconut is not your thing just leave it out and replace with oats. Nuts are a must and you can use whatever you like: almonds, walnuts, pecans (my favorite) and cashews are all good choices. Pistachios can be pricey but gorgeous—but you can get the same green hit from a handful of pepitas. Sunflower, sesame, poppy, flax, or hemp seeds are all welcome.
For nuts and seeds, pick one big and one small: almond/sunflower; walnut/pepita; cashew/sesame; pecan/anything, unless you’re making a seed-heavy batch in which case you’ll want to use not one but two egg whites to keep those little guys in place. There’s nothing worse than a bag full of seed-shake once all the nuggets are gone.
Speaking of nuggets, you want these right? I thought so. The combination of brown sugar and liquid sweetener will give offer some clumping, but just one egg white transforms a batch of granola from healthy cereal to irresistibly crunchy, snackable goodness. If you do decide to use an egg white, watch the time. Batches with egg tend to brown faster than those without, so set your timer to the low end of the range.
Once you figure out your favorite combos, start playing around with other flavor profiles. Use a light touch and classic combos to start. Then be brave and get creative. For savory granola (great for snacking, savory yogurt bowls, or salads) poke around in the spice cabinet for inspiration. A few that come to mind are coriander seed/garam masala; dried thyme/sumac; oregano and—WAIT—Parmesan cheese! I could put some tomato paste in the wet mix. Do you see where I’m going with this? Pizza Granola! See? Endless opportunities for fun experimentation.
Bonus round: granola cookies. I promise they count as a decent breakfast—whole grains, healthy fats, fiber, and no refined sugar. They’re excellent if you are a breakfast-skipper (but don’t want to be) or if you generally eat your morning meal in the elevator on the way to your desk.
Now get in the kitchen and start experimenting. Have fun with it! It’s just cereal.
Maple Nut Granola
2 cups oats
½ cup pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews, or pistachios
½ cup pepitas or sunflower, sesame, flax, or hemp seeds
½ cup unsweetened flaked coconut
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon wheat germ
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg white, optional
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 300°F with rack in the center. Combine oats, pecans, pepitas, coconut, maple syrup, vegetable oil, brown sugar, wheat germ, salt, and egg (if using) in a large bowl and toss until evenly coated.
Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing gently with a metal spatula and rotating sheet halfway through, until golden brown, 25–30 minutes.
Let cool completely on sheet (granola will crisp as it cools) then transfer to an airtight container. Granola will keep, tightly covered at room temperature, for about a month (if it lasts that long).