Everyone has responded to COVID-19 in their own way, finding positivity and light relief wherever they could. Even now, as normality begins to resume, some people have kept up habits from lockdown. Granola is one of my lockdown habits that I have no intention of giving up.
The empty shelves in supermarkets, as people went on panic-induced sprees with each new lockdown, saw many people make a bid for self-sufficiency. While meditative or therapeutic baking is by no means a new phenomenon, confinement to our homes has seen a surge like no other.
There are now more self-confessed bread afficionados than ever before. And why not? The act of kneading and the ritual of proving and shaping dough is calming, while the smell of freshly baked bread brings comfort – at a time when we need it most.
As someone with a vast array of dietary needs and allergies, I have always had to make things from scratch. Baking bread has been a particular passion since returning from LA in 2009. Having discovered that the closest relative to wheat flour, spelt, produces bread every bit as delicious as its more traditional counterpart, and having such easy access to loaves of all shapes and sizes across the pond, I decided it was time I learnt to bake my own. So I started experimenting. I discovered sandwich loaves, pitta pockets, fluffy flatbreads, pizza bases, rolls, bagels and crumpets.
When insomnia began to plague my nights some years ago, my baking prowess improved no-end. While the rest of the world was sleeping, I was filling my freezer (and my belly!) with wholesome, fresh deliciousness.
The recent pandemic has brought a new baked addiction my way.
I have always loved the sweet indulgence of crunchy granola with fruit and soya yoghurt. In fact, I remember at university, shopping with my housemates and trying to teach one of them the art of frugality. Her cereal choice seemed so decadent at the time. Jordan’s Country Crisp – even the packaging was smart. The memory of those gorgeous little clusters takes me back to Fallowfield.
The trouble with granola, though, is that most shop-bought stuff is crammed full of refined sugar and other not-so-desirable breakfast ingredients. To buy anything even bordering on healthy, tends to cost an arm, a leg and sometimes an internal organ to boot. It makes good old Jordan’s look like an economy special.
These days, I am not meant to eat granola as there is too much roughage in it. That said, there’s nothing stopping my husband eating it. Early in the first lockdown, with him on a health kick and with earnings dramatically reduced, I decided to experiment with baking my own. If I found a recipe I liked and tweaked it accordingly, I could make sure there would be absolutely no hidden nasties. No palm oil, no refined sugars, no preservatives. Just freshly baked breakfast goodness that wouldn’t break the bank.
It’s not science, but…
I suppose you could call me an experimental baker. I love recipe books for the pictorial inspiration they spark and the things they inspire me to try. The internet is one of the greatest tools at the keen home baker’s disposal; there are some incredible recipe sites out there. In reality, there is no such thing as an original recipe – we all take our ideas from something someone else has made. I am no different.
More often than not, I use recipes as a rough guide for the basis of my own exploration. By trial and error, I usually arrive at firm favourites for all the things I bake.
This was no different. I trawled the internet and read a whole host of suggested recipes, not liking the sound of any of them in their entirety, but constructing my own recipe and balancing the component parts from the principles of each of those I found.
Over the course of a few weeks, I then baked copious amounts of granola, savouring the smell that filled the flat each time, then grilling poor Miles on how it compared to the last batch. Until I arrived at this – a version I was happy enough to share with all of you.
I am one of those slightly annoying sorts who cook and bake by instinct a lot of the time. That means that writing recipes down takes real discipline. Often, even when I do document them in my little recipe box, I will still deviate – adding a little extra honey if it’s not quite sweet enough, or a bit more liquid if something seems dry…
In other words, I encourage you to use my recipes the way I use other people’s. Take them as your starting point, your spring board, your inspiration. Edit, adapt, tweak, change and then pass on. If you arrive at a better version of something, don’t be shy. Let me know.
Just : Granola
200g rolled oats
100g Ready Brek powder (I’m not mad, I assure you – it adds extra biscuity goodness!)
100g ground almonds
2 ½ tbsp melted coconut oil
3 tbsp raw honey (agave syrup works too if you are looking to make this 100% vegan. Remember, though, it is sweeter so reduce it to 2 tbsp)
½ tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup raisins
Add any chopped dried fruit to taste – my favourites are apricots and dates but any will work.
Add 1 tbsp blueberry powder – this gives an extra hit of fruitiness. This was a discovery I made last year some time. It is like powdered magic; it will transform plain yoghurt, smoothies, crumble, vanilla ice cream…I buy my Arctic Power sprinkles on Amazon subscribe and save.
Add raw seeds for extra crunch – sunflower and pumpkin seeds are a great source of fibre, healthy fats and protein; they can also help lower cholesterol as well as tasting fabulous.
This really is one of the easiest methods in all the things I bake. Preheat the oven to 180° then prep a large baking tray. Line it with baking parchment and spray with Fry Light oil replacement.
Weigh out the oats, the Ready Brek and ground almonds into a large mixing bowl.
Add the salt and cinnamon.
Put the coconut oil into a microwaveable dish and melt on medium power until it is completely liquid. I have tried a few different makes and my favourite is often on special offer at Holland and Barrett – Perfectly Pure – which makes it slightly less indulgent than some other brands.
Add the oil and honey to the dry mix.
Combine well so that all the mix is coated. It should be sticking together.
Pour out onto the baking tray. It should be relatively tightly packed to ensure clusters, but the air needs to be able to circulate freely so the whole tray goes golden. Put in the oven for around 20 minutes, rotating the tray and giving the mix a little shake at the halfway point.
Watch it closely at this stage. Ovens vary in their power and intensity and it is easy to overdo. Similarly, it may need slightly longer than 20 minutes so judge this by eye.
As soon as you take the mix out of the oven, add your raisins and any other dried fruit. Stir well so that the fruit benefits from the warmth a little. This makes it even more succulent and yummy.
Let it cool thoroughly before transferring to an airtight Kilner jar (or something similar) then try and resist the urge to eat it all in one go.
It will keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container – probably longer than it will actually last. Yes, it really is that yummy!
NB: When you have baked this, your house will smell so incredible that it will take all your willpower to actually get the granola from the tray into a Kilner jar before scoffing it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…