I’ve always considered breakfast to be a generally forgettable meal, unless there’s some special occasion that warrants either the full Southern spread (my family tradition) or a brunch with all varieties of breakfast treats (my husband’s). I generally don’t spend much time thinking about it or preparing for it, but I’ve been trying to get away from just boxed cereal with milk recently. I do really enjoy granola, though, and I made a few batches over the past year or two with a relatively low-fat recipe but wasn’t really satisfied with it. That all changed when a friend brought us a bag of granola after our youngest child was born. It was a beautiful blend of buttery, maple-y, nutty clusters that still lets the taste of the toasted oats shine through.
Most of the time, I try to make our food as low in fat and refined sugar as possible while still maintaining superior flavor and texture, and of course, keeping it all natural. I decreased the butter from the original recipe to retain the rich flavor but make it a little less fatty. This recipe is pretty ok, very! sweet but is tasty with plain yogurt to mellow it out. You can easily substitute sucanat or another flavorful, less-refined sugar for the brown sugar or, if you want the granola less sweet, decrease the sugar to 1/2 cup. Edit: See notes below for sweetness and cluster options.
Edit: Several of you let me know that this recipe is just way too sweet for normal use, and I agree! Last time I made it, it was over-the-top sweet to me, too. So, I made several test batches and came up with two options that have about half of the original sweetness but are still incredibly good. The all-maple-syrup option is my personal favorite since it has the most maple flavor and is the most cluster-y, but the half-and-half maple syrup and brown sugar option is definitely more frugal and still has wonderful flavor, just smaller and more fragile clusters.
One of my favorite things about this granola is that you can make a whole gallon of it at a time and store it in the freezer to keep it fresh (we use a zip-top bag). If you don’t have freezer space or just aren’t sure this is going to be the best granola you’ve ever had, you can easily halve the recipe and use one pan instead of two.
Maple Pecan Granola
Adapted from a recipe from my friend Amber. Makes a little less than one gallon (16 cups), depending on how much you break it up.
6 cups rolled oats (if gluten-free, use gluten-free oats)
1 1/2 cups pecans or pecan pieces
1 1/2 cups other nuts and seeds (I use slivered almonds, sunflower seeds, pepitas and ground flax)
1/4 cup butter or natural non-dairy buttery spread (like Earth Balance)
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 cups dried fruit (I use cranberries and/or cherries)
For the original, very sweet, almost-candy-like option:
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup maple syrup
Or, for a mildly sweet, healthier option (no refined sugar*), still with lots of clusters:
1 cup maple syrup
Or, for a mildly sweet, more frugal option (less maple syrup) but with smaller, more brittle clusters:
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsp water
(You can also use 3/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 2 Tbsp water if you so desire.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine oats, nuts and seeds. Spread the mixture evenly over two baking sheets with low sides (also known as jelly roll pans). Bake for about 15 minutes, stirring one or two times.
While the oat mixture is toasting, combine the butter, oil, brown sugar (if using), maple syrup, salt and water (if using) in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. If you’re not using brown sugar, just melt the butter and add the syrup, oil and salt. Remove from heat and add the vanilla.
Return the oat mixture to the bowl and add the dried fruit, mixing thoroughly. Add the syrup mixture and mix again.
Lightly grease the baking sheets or spray with oil. Pour the mixture into the pans, lightly packing it down with a silicone spatula. Bake 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Let the granola cool completely before breaking it up. Store in an airtight container in the freezer for maximum shelf life.
*No refined sugar, except if you’re using sweetened dried cranberries or cherries, which are usually sweetened with refined sugar. Use raisins or another unsweetened dried fruit for a completely refined-sugar-free granola.