Can you think of a better way to start the day, other than eating? I love breakfast. I need something that will fill me up until lunch time, and possibly even later. My allocated time slot for breakfast is between five and six minutes, and besides, please don’t ask me to cook anything on a week day morning (on the other hand, I just love making pancakes on weekends).
I need coffee. Made with a caffettiera, of course – even though I admit mine is not pink, just a plain metal one :)
Then I need something with low glycemic index – I had for years bread and jam, before I discovered their nasty effect on my blood sugar levels (I! Need! Food! Now! – at about ten AM).
Last but not least, I need something good (jam was usually home made by my mother – quite a spoiled kid, isn’t it?). And sweet – I am Italian, after all, and as much as I can enjoy the occasional egg omelette or schinken und käse brötchen for breakfast now and again, my native idea of colazione is ‘cornetto e cappuccino’.
When I decided to abandon bread and jam, I turned to yogurt + cereals combination. It works well: I don’t feel too hungry too soon, it is quick enough to eat. I had my favourite brands of yogurt and my favourite brands of cereals, like everybody. I also occasionally had home made yogurt, even though at the time I did not really think much of it: my mother prepares yogurt with the help of a little colony who needs care like a home pet (they even come on holiday with us) and after a while tends to outgrow and produce a nearly liquid and extremely sour yogurt which I honestly don’t like that much.
Then I went to live with my man. We started to share breakfast: I had a piece of his, he had a piece of mine. His was a glass of fruit juice. Mine was yogurt and cereals. So according to our mutual tastes, the cereals went from chocolatey to strictly chocolate free and strictly granola style (I abandoned what one of my friends described as ‘that bird’s food only you can eat’); the juice went from pineapple to apple; and the yogurt went from blueberries or strawberries to white. Also he made yogurt at home, occasionally. He actually had a yogurt machine – it is just an electric resistence who will keep the yogurt warm for about eight hours. It is very easy to use: you need a couple of tablespoons commercial white unsweetened yogurt, a litre very fresh milk, and, with a little experimenting on the initial brand of milk and yogurt, you can get a delicious fresh yogurt with very little effort.
So I started again the routine of making yogurt at home. Especially in the UK, that was really out of necessity. I am not sure of why, but white yogurt tastes salty to me there. The ingredient list does not read any salt, but still. Am I the only one under this impression?
However, I also started to make many more things at home since on average the food was so bad. I baked bread for a while, and eventually stopped a few months and a few kiloes later. In this spirit, when I found a recipe for home made granola, I could not help but trying it.
I never looked back. It is one of those things you can do in so little time while you do something else, like preparing dinner. The only annoying bit is that I am not a very neat person – in other words, I tend to make a mess whatever I do. So when I prepare granola, the floor and the kitchen end up being totally littered with oat flakes.
So, for the skeptics out there, how is granola made? Well, you basically take musli. Which means, oat flakes, or rolled oats, or cereals other than oat, but always in form of flaked grains; plus seeds and nuts, to taste. You can add some rice or wheat puffs for a lighter consistency, but my mother, who is by now totally sold to home made granola as well, reported occasional hardening of the grains (it never occured to me, though). You make the musli wet with something liquid, but containing sugar, so that they form lumps. You bake the lumps until they are toasted and the sugar caramelizes. And you get granola. Yes, it is that easy.
Some recipes call for some vegetable oil to be added to the mixture, but I found out that this addition makes no difference.
The options for the wetting liquid are honey (but using just honey is too strong for my taste), maple syrup (that I find really yummy, but a bit expensive), sugar mixed with fruit sauce, brown rice syrup, or something along the lines. I personally find mashed apple pulp and jaggery heated together until the jaggery is melted to be one of the best choices flavourwise, but at the moment I don’t have a reliable jaggery provider.
And then you can play around with the recipe as much as you like. I tried melon, apple, pineapple, even pomegranate and raspberries as a fruit basis. I added all kind of nuts and all kind of dried fruit (these must be added after the granola is toasted). Recently I came up with an unexpectedly nice variation. It is delicately spicy, it has a twist on ‘my usual granola’, which is basically Molly’s – or Nigella’s to be precise.
Note: the ingredients for this recipe are given in cups because I actually do measure them with a mug. It is not a precise recipe, there is no need for that here. It yields about ten servings – five mornings, if it is two of you sharing. It will probably be wise to make more if your oven can accommodate that, since it keeps quite well.
Speculoos pear granola
4 cups oat flakes, possibly quite large
2 cups mixed grain flakes
1 medium sized pear, quite ripe
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon maple syrup
pinch of salt
1/2 cup almonds, skin on
1/2 cup mixed sunflower and pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon speculoos spices (containing cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper)
handful of honey dried banana slices, or dried pear, diced
1) Turn on the oven at 180 degrees. Line two baking trays with non stick paper (optional, it does not really stick that much).
2) Peel and core the pear. Mash it in a large bowl with a hand blender, add sugar, spices and salt (adjust spice quantity according to taste and quality, the flavour should not be overwhelming, but it should be detectable). Add honey and maple syrup.
3) Add cereal flakes, seeds, nuts, and mix well with you hands or a fork until all flakes are slightly humid and there are no big lumps of pear and sugar mixture.
4) Spread evenly on baking trays. Put in the oven, mixing every ten minutes or so – it usually tends to burn on the sides, so keep stirring regularly.
5) After about 30 minutes, the granola will be quite golden. Don’t worry if it appears a bit soft, it will crisp up when it cools. Mix in the fruit, let it cool slightly, then store in an air tight container.