Ever since I started making it several years ago, I’ve been loyal to one granola recipe that I picked up from a Brooklyn company called Early Bird.
Made with olive oil, maple syrup and a good hit of sea salt, it is perfectly balanced between savory and sweet, nutty and seedy, with a gentle dose of fragrant spice to round things out.
Sometimes, I’d change the nuts, dried fruit and spices, but I always maintained the basic ratios because, as granolas go, this one had everything I wanted as a topping for my yogurt and fruit.
It did not, however, have everything my husband wanted as a cereal in his bowl. For him, the granola was missing an important element found in certain packaged brands: thick, nubby clusters.
Clusters provide textural contrast to the chewy crispness of oats, bulking out the mix and adding a different kind of crunch – an airier, less dense one.
The question was, could I find a homemade version that pleased us both?
This turned out to be no easy task.
Most homemade-cluster granola recipes rely on egg whites to glue the oats, nuts and seeds together. This works, but the texture veers toward sticky and brittle rather than crisp and light.
Other kinds of gluelike matter didn’t succeed either: More honey made it cloying, date syrup made it taste like oatmeal cookie crumbs, peanut butter overpowered all the other ingredients, and applesauce just made it weird.
In the end, the solution was not glue, but paste.
That is, grinding some of the oats and coconut into flour, then adding liquid to make a paste that coats the whole oats and nuts and helps them cling to one another. It’s not a cemented bond, more like a tentative coupling that shatters and crumbles when it meets a tooth. Which was just what I wanted.
In terms of the liquid, water worked. But since it didn’t add any flavor, I experimented with the likes of apple cider, orange juice, kombucha and coconut water before finally settling on coconut milk for its very gentle sweetness. Almond milk also works, in which case you could add a drop of almond extract to the mix.
Either way, you’ll end up with a clustery granola with a deep coconut-spice flavor and a light, crunchy and delightfully clumpy texture. Cover some with milk, sprinkle some on granola or just eat it out of hand.
Coconut almond cluster granola
Yield: 8 1/2 cups; total time: 1 hour, plus cooling
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 tablespoon olive oil (or use more coconut oil)
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
2/3 cup packed turbinado or light brown sugar
2/3 cup coconut or almond milk
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger or cardamom
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds (optional, or use more pumpkin seeds or almonds)
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine coconut oil, olive oil, maple syrup, sugar, coconut milk and salt and bring to a simmer. When sugar has dissolved, stir in vanilla extract and let cool slightly.
In a food processor, grind 1-1/4 cups of the oats and 1/4 cup of the coconut into a flour. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in remaining oats and coconut, the spices, the nuts and the seeds. Pour maple syrup mixture over and stir to combine. Let sit 10 minutes.
Using your hands, drop oat mixture onto prepared baking sheets in one layer, and pinch together into clumps with your fingers.
Bake 40 to 50 minutes, flipping the mixture (taking care not to break up the clumps) every 15 minutes. The mixture is done when it’s golden brown all over and starting to crisp. It will continue to crisp up after as it cools. Transfer pans to wire racks and let cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.