While I’d made a very basic oatmeal-honey-nut granola (more about it and the recipe in a minute), Kerrin played around with hers. She started with thick-cut oats, assorted nuts (she used whole almonds, pecans and sesame seeds) and carob honey she and Olivier brought back from Morocco, and then, when the granola was cool, she added bits of dried papaya, plump golden raisins and pieces of Moroccan dates, another bring-back from their honeymoon. The sack Kerrin labeled "au naturel" was this blend, and the little tag she’d tied to it said, "Best with thick Greek yogurt or cold milk"
Batch two was labeled "Melissa Granola" because it contained chunks of Pralus’s Melissa chocolate, a spicy milk chocolate, that was a terrific addition to the mix. Melissa’s tag said, "Best out of hand (which is the way I’ve been eating it), in milk or with ice cream (vanilla or coffee)
The final batch, which was labeled "especially for Dorie," was the most unusual and, just as Kerrin had expected, my favorite: "Reglisse Granola," aka Licorice Granola. Mixed in with the oats and nuts and fruits were bits of black licorice cut from licorice wheels. The tag read, "Best simply eaten out of hand," although it might just as rightly have said, "Best eaten before Olivier sees it," since when the new groom reached into the sack, it clicked that the little black snippets had been snatched from his private stash.
It was surprising how good the licorice was in the mix and how well the licorice and honey, which are often used together in candies, worked with one another.
Kerrin and Olivier’s grab bag was a great success and it made me think about packing up my own granola for the holidays. As I said, my granola is a basic mix, but it’s one that lends itself to lots of additions. I usuallly add only dried fruits – raisins, for sure, but sometimes I toss in dried cherries or snipped apricots. It could be spiked with some spices or it could take some Kerrinesque additions, like chocolate or licorice.
If you don’t already have a favorite granola recipe, here’s mine. I hope it will get you started on your own house blend.
OATMEAL, HONEY AND NUT GRANOLA
Makes about 4 pounds
1 pound oats, I use thick-cut oats from the health food store bin
3/4 pound honey, preferrably one with some character
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup coconut, preferably unsweetened (available in health food stores)
5 to 6 cups mixed nuts, I usually make one-quarter of the mix raw sunflower seeds and one-quarter almonds, then I make up the rest with pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds and whatever else looks good
while I usually coarsely chop the nuts, you can leave them whole, especially if you’re going to be using the granola as a snack rather than a cereal
Dried fruits (or chocolate, or licorice, or …), as much and whichever you like, cut into bite-size bits
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and have ready two large rimmed baking sheets lined with silicone baking mats (my first choice) or nonstick aluminum foil.
Mix all the ingredients together in a big, big bowl. Keep turning the ingredients around so that the honey coats everything. Divide the mix between the two baking sheets and spread it out so that you’ve got even layers.
Bake the granola for 40 to 50 minutes, turning it with a wooden spoon every 10 minutes or so. The turning is extremely important because you want to evenly toast and dry out the granola. If you find that the granola is browning unevenly, rotate your baking sheets front to back and top to bottom (if you’re working on two shelves).
I can’t give you an exact baking time, you have to keep looking at it. You want the color to be dark -the cereal won’t have much taste or crunch if it’s not – and you might have to sacrifice a few burnt nuts to get it. Just keep watching, particularly once the color starts to deepen.
Cool the granola on the baking sheets, turning it often as it comes to room temperature. Stir in the dried fruits and store the granola in a covered container away from moisture.