I can’t really say enough about granola. I really love making it. In the world of baking and pastry granola is a pretty boring process. You measure a bunch of stuff, mix it with your hands (or in large batches with a mixer or inside a new trash bag), toss it onto a sheet pan and bake it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. The art in making granola truly lies in the eating of it. It’s no fun eating chewy oatmeal, over cooked bitter coconut, and greasy oils. So your granola has to be balanced. You can tweak it to your (or your customer’s) preferences, but knowledge of each ingredient and how it will affect the final product is key to a truly delicious end product.
My love affair with granola started when I was a teenager. There was an article/ recipe in my favorite magazine, Sassy. Yes, I know I just dated myself. Anyhow, I saw the article and set out to make a batch. I can’t remember how it turned out, but I don’t think it was great. I tried again and again to make a granola that was tasty enough where I could eat the whole batch. I made all of the mistakes: I baked the raisins in the oven (they become rocks), I scorched the coconut,I added too much oil and it made a slick when eaten with milk.
By the time I started to learn baking as a profession, I had long forgotten about my teenage granola obsession. When I started working as the Pastry Chef at the Inn at Thorn Hill, granola was part of my weekly routine.The inn had a recipe they used for a signature granola, and we made boatloads of it. Sometimes 40 pounds a week. The special ingredient for this granola was bran flakes. Bran flake cereal to be exact.
When we decided to open our own bakery, I knew granola had to be part of our production. My old recipe cards were unearthed, and my quest began anew.
At first I tweaked the recipe from the ITH to make it our own. It was delicious after all. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to get affordable bran flakes from foodservice providers, since cereal in bulk is mostly sold to schools who get rebates from for companies. It was cheaper to go to the supermarket and load up on boxes of bran flakes to bring back to the bakery to make granola. As one can imagine this started to be a lot of work, and once you start making huge batches you can’t just throw the mix into a machine for a helping hand. So we redesigned the granola recipe so that it could be scaled up, ingredients could be more easy ordered in bulk for delivery, and (more importantly) we could create our own delicious product.
A note about ingredients: you can use whatever you want but here’s some thoughts about my experiences with certain ingredients.
Coconut: if you are going to use unsweetened coconut, add it after baking. If you are going to use sweetened coconut add it before. Unsweetened coconut can be volatile when it gets over baked, and its nature is usually pretty dry. Sweetened coconut will remain sticky if it is not toasted, and the last thing anyone wants is lump of sticky granola.
Sweeteners: I like to use liquid sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar. If you want to use synthetic sweeteners because that’s what you eat or what your work uses, then by all means use them. In my experience though, most bakery/ hotel customers prefer natural sweeteners if they are going to eat something like granola. Sometimes I actually use plain old sugar in granola. I prefer brown sugar, but it’s still refined. Why? Because it’s cheaper than liquid sweeteners and does an efficient job at doing the trick to sweeten the mix.
Oats: Can you really make granola without oats? I prefer rolled oats. If all you have on hand are quick oats, then use them. If you have control over purchasing, then go for the rolled oats. It’ll be better for all of your other oat-y items you bake too!
Oils/ Fats: You will need some sort of fat in granola to help the whole thing not completely stick together and to help it get a browned and toasty. I like a “white” oil for granola because it’s neutral and amicable to being heated. In the bakery I use canola oil. At home I like sunflower oil. You can easily substitute olive or coconut oil too if you like. Same with butter, but if you are baking large batches, be mindful of how long that granola will sit on the shelf. Butter and olive oil will go rancid faster than the other fats, so it might be worth skipping them.
Dried Fruit: The sky is the limit here! Add what you like! When making granola for the masses, I like to keep things simple (Plus dried fruit is expensive. Try explaining a 60% food cost because it’s so much better with cherries!) and tend to stick to raisins. If you have the food cost budget to pack in dried fruits like blueberries and cherries, do what you love. At home I like sultanas (golden raisins), chopped prunes, and chopped apricots but the apricots do get hard after a month or so and I find myself picking them out if I don’t eat it fast enough. You should avoid freeze dried fruit, as it will absorb moisture from the mix and get soggy.
Do you make homemade granola already? What do you put in it? Have you made granola in amazingly large batches? I want to know about it!
I have had the privilege of meeting one of the owners of Grandy Oats Granola, and they still bake all their granola in pizza ovens. The same ovens we use at Vintage Baking Company. How cool is that?
About the recipes: I’ve included large versions of both ITH versions and the current VBC granola. I’m scaling down the VBC one for home use, but I feel the ITH one should be fairly easy to adapt. I would scale it down to one box of bran flakes, since you need to buy a whole box to start anyhow. If you have trouble, let me know! I can scale pretty quickly and would love to help you on your granola journey!
A note: The VBC and ITH large versions make four full sheets of granola.
Oats 4 ¾ C
Almonds, sliced 1 ½ C
Sesame seeds 1/3 C
Coconut, sweetened flaked 1C
Brown sugar ½ C
Canola oil ½ C
Maple Syrup ½ C
Preheat oven to 350F
Line a half sheet pan (18” x13”) with parchment paper
-in a large bowl mix all ingredients except raisins
-stir every 10-15 minutes until golden
-add raisins when cool