Some food, some drink.
Whole-grain Snacking Indulgence: Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Granola.
Making your own granola is dead-simple to do, and the end-result leaves you with a snack you can alway feel better about munching on than any old bag of chips or that roll of little chocolate donuts from slot AA5 in the break room vending machine. For this recipe, I've used a foundation of whole-grain oats, as a toasted, crunchy canvas for the decadent flavors of a sweet strawberry dipped in rich dark chocolate, then drizzled with creamy white chocolate (Hey, who says good-for-you granola gotta be all about gnawing on sticks and twigs?).
I love to make granola. The stuff begs to be tinkered with, making it by far one of the most accessible baked goods for aspiring cooks looking to put some miles on their oven. There's something about that hearty, crunchy texture interlaced with spicy sweetness that appeals to my palate; and besides, I figure if you feel the need to nosh that getting a significant dose of whole grain goodness certainly couldn't hurt.
My wife and I [seemingly unknowingly] play this game called "pantry challenge", where she'll bring home something ass-random from the supermarket for which she either had a coupon, found on significant mark-down, or all of the above. Last time, the mystery ingredient was dried strawberries. I'd never even heard of dried strawberries up to this point; and while I'd often considered using freeze-dried strawberries for granola, I always passed because I was a bit apprehensive of the texture I'd end up with once the dessicated fruit hit the hot oil and sugar. Given their price, that just really wasn't a gamble I was willing to take. Dried strawberries (sans-freeze) however, are done up much like cherries or cranberries; where the fruit is dosed with a sugar syrup before drying so as to ensure that you won't later need dental work after munching. The result is something that tastes exactly like strawberry jam. And while there's plenty of sugar to be had, that's no excuse for not adding chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate-covered strawberries, and so I figured I'd shoot for those kind of flavors by offsetting the sweet strawberries with rich 85% cacao chocolate while interrupting the cocoa torrent with the occasional drizzle of creamy white chocolate.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Preheat oven to 300F. Reserve 2 oz (about 1/2 cup) of oats, combine with the flax seed and grind into a coarse flour in a mini-prep processor and add the flour to an over-sized bowl along with the rest of the oats, puffed wheat, wheat bran, wheat germ, sliced almonds, and sunflower nuts. Set aside. To a small saucepan, add sugar, honey, coconut oil, vermouth, salt, and cinnamon. Over medium heat, heat until the whole mess comes to a foaming boil, occasionally (and SLOWLY) whisking to integrate and prevent burnage (Seriously, be careful! This stuff is HOT.) Pour the hot mess into the dry oat mixture and stir to coat completely.
Spread the proto-granola evenly onto a parchment (or Silpat)-lined half sheet pan. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring and redistributing the mix across the pan every 15 minutes. At the end of the bake, the granola should be evenly brown & nutty smelling. Remove pan from oven, stir in the strawberries and let it all cool on the sheet pan for 5 minutes. Stir in the dark chocolate and press the granola press back into pan with a piece of parchment. While the pan cools, melt the white chocolate chips in the microwave or double boiler (or be like me and use the residual heat of the oven) and drizzle the melted white stuff across the granola in the pan. When cool, store in something airtight for up to a week, or freeze if storing longer (Not that it'll last that long).
- I reckon I say this every time I pen a granola recipe: Get a scale. There are a lot of ingredients here, and while you could measure 'em all volumetrically, it's so much easier to set vessels on a scale to weigh and then tare for what comes next.
- Vermouth? Yeah I know; what are we making Manhattans here? I like adding booze to my granola; often in lieu of (and sometimes along with) vanilla. In the past, I've dosed my granola with the likes of amaretto and dark rum, but in this case, the sweet, fruity, and herbal overtones of sweet vermouth were speakin' to me. Fwiw, I also considered a 10 yr balsamic vinegar, but thought that it might be a bit over the top.
- Intensely dark chocolate is a very polarizing thing. Some of you are gonna think it a bit too bitter, while others are gonna think I totally nailed it. I happen to appreciate that slightly astringent bitterness of the cocoa for the same reasons folks drink strong black coffee. I also think that the contrast between the bitterness of the chocolate and the sweetness of the strawberries is what makes this work. If you're weary of the 85% stuff, kick it back to 70%; or if you're just plain scared of the dark, use semi-sweet chips to allay your anxieties.
- I'm not really sure why I started grinding part of the oats into flour. I think it was originally to rough up old-fashioned oats to help me thru breakfast, but I may have gotten crazy once with the mini-prep and was left with something more flour than breakfast fodder. Whatever the reasons, it was a happy accident. Those bits of oat flour along with the flax seed, wheat germ and wheat bran tend to coagulate around bits of puffed wheat, making them toasted, sweet, and a bit crunchy. And hey let's face it: Anything you can do to make puffed wheat taste like food and not packing material is an improvement.
If you've never made your own granola, don't you think it's time to start? I get a little indignant every time I spy the price tag on a bag of store-bought granola. Sure, it might taste pretty good, but at the end of the day, you're paying a premium for plain ol' rolled oats (and maybe a few bits of dried fruit and the occasional chocolate chip). You could spend money like a rock star on fruits and nuts for a DIY granola and still come out pennies on the dollar. This recipe makes two pounds of some of the best granola that'll ever cross you palate, so if you're feeling benevolent, I've not know a single soul who have ever turned this stuff down if you're so inclined to share.
I'm always looking for ways to get my family to eat more whole grain, and nothing makes me more proud than to have my six-year-old specifically request homemade yogurt topped with some of this granola for his breakfast. And beyond that, I like making granola just because the stuff's so much fun to snack on. If I keep the container on the counter, I can't help but steal a handful every time I pass thru the kitchen. Good granola should be just sweet enough, good granola shouldn't be greasy (but it shouldn't be dry either), and most importantly, good granola should have a bevy of different textures, and flavors going on so that each bite is never the same as the last.