Unplanned

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I am gently surprised each day when I look around my apartment and behold the evidence of a guy who lives here. Take this surfboard, for example. It makes me happy. Pretty soon, it will be too hectic and too cold for M to make the trip to the Rockaways to use it, and it will be here, recalling summer, until spring. It’s a physical presence that makes me realize how bittersweet and beautiful August is… an entire month before full-time grad school resumes, but at the same time, just a few short weeks. Time to get off my butt, into the city, to take full advantage.

Or, maybe to get off my butt and into the kitchen…

This is the tale of a plan that didn’t work out, but resulted in a less finicky method for making chewy granola at home. Yes, chewy granola… not granola bars. Sorry about that.

I’ve had granola bars on the mind a lot lately. For whatever reason, maybe it’s the cooler weather we’re enjoying in New York City this August, the usual light summer snacks aren’t really cutting it, but I don’t always want to buy chips, eat carrots, or have ice cream (a humungous surprise to anyone who knows me).

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This Saturday morning in August, after a breakfast of eggs and peaches, I decided I wanted to make granola bars. I have never done this before, but it seemed like a good idea. I often want granola bars but don’t have them, and at the grocery store I tend to decide against buying them because of my peanut allergy, even though I looove the crunchy ones that Kashi makes.

I should be up front and say that to me, making cookies, bars and similar things is more like cooking than baking; in other words, approximations and sudden impulses are totally fine. In my experience this kind of spontaneity leads to increased satisfaction (“I’m so proud, I was craving this and now these cookies have even more candied ginger“) and very few disasters. But yes, of course, there is a lot to be said for a scientifically calibrated granola bar. In retrospect, I see that when you’re going for a precise texture (like those really crunchy ones by Kashi), you should try to listen to the wisdom of those who came before.

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looking promising

Today, I wasn’t feeling that. It is loosely based on this recipe at Lisa’s Dinnertime Dish, but also inspired by the granola bar episode over at Spilled Milk, where Molly Wizenberg riffs on Deb Perelman’s chewy granola bars. See what I meant about listening to the wisdom?

But I am going to save face here and say that in all seriousness, while my decisions to:

    • *not* whiz 1/3 cup of the oats in a food processor, and to
    • eyeball how much honey I was using
    • use a full cup less almond butter than Molly advised, as well as
    • be too lazy to go out and restock on parchment paper,

absolutely explains this:

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I think that this is a way better and less fussy way to make granola at home. And here is why.

An ex-roommate of mine used to make granola constantly. It smelled like heaven. It also meant that she was stuck at home for the better part of the morning in front of the oven, which I admit does sound pretty nice, actually. But granola is fussy because it requires, as Madeye Moody might underscore constant. vigilance. You have to stir it, and restir it, and bake it, and rebake it, and I personally prefer the kind of baking experience where you throw a lot of stuff into a bowl, ram it in the oven, and between fifteen and thirty minutes later (depending on what dessert we’re discussing), being enveloped in the sweet scents of success.

This is what happened with my granola “bar,” which proved too crumbly to cut into bars. In fact, what I had made was a cake of granola, loosely packed together by the almond butter and honey mixture, chewy because of the moisture released in the small loaf pan, neatly toasted on all sides but with a center that was chewy but not quite as toasty, resulting in a good ratio of crunch to chew, and perfect for sprinkling on yogurt. Since it’s not very sweet, it’s ideal for people who, like me, like to eat yogurt with a little granola and a lot of honey.

Saturday Morning Chewy Granola: A Method of Sorts

  • 2 cups rolled oats (I used the classic Quaker kind, not quick cooking)
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light agave nectar
  • 3 tablespoons creamy almond butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/16 tsp (in other words, a pinch) ground cinnamon (if you want these to be spice-forward, put as much as you wish, and experiment with nutmeg etc. I wanted to keep these more neutral flavored, since I’m not in autumn-mode yet)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • approx. 1 1/4 cups golden raisins (any raisin-sized dried fruit will do)
  • approx. 1 cup pumpkin seeds (I had these on hand and was out of almonds, but swap in whatever you’d like)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly buttered sheet pan (preferably the kind with a lip), pour out oats and any untoasted chopped nuts you are including (I did not add the pumpkin seeds here, as they were already toasted). Let these toast in the oven for about ten minutes, stirring or shaking the pan at least twice throughout to prevent burning.

Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, heat the honey through the vanilla until starting to bubble, stirring, for about one minute total. The goal is to soften the almond butter and let the sweeteners begin to caramelize; this will make everything easy to combine with the oats. I added agave because it is thinner in consistency than honey, so it helped with this too.

Combine oats, raisins and salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour over the nut butter mixture and stir it all up. Lightly butter a bread loaf pan and pack the mixture tightly into it. Bake for 20 minutes, keeping an eye on things if your oven tends to be hot. The granola bar cake is ready when the top has taken on a nice golden brown color and the edges are starting to burn in the agreeable way an oatmeal cookie edge would. Remove and let cool in the pan. When it’s all cool, flip the pan to transfer the granola cake onto a surface where you can then crumble it into bits and then transfer into a container to store.

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Like any recipe for granola, the more you play with the ratios of things and your own favorite additions, the better it will be. This is a starting point to find the sweet spot of your own. Go forth, brave soul!

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