Making granola is always a happy event in my kitchen, because it means I have time to potter around for 45 minutes whisking together delightful combinations of honey and spices and stirring huge oven trays laden with toasting, cinnamon-scented oats. It leaves the house smelling like a Scandinavian bakery for hours, and, best of all, enables me to stockpile a couple of big jars of glorious homemade granola to last me the next few weeks. Now that the festive season has arrived and I have handed in my PhD (just thought I’d casually drop that in - !!!), I thought I’d use a bit of newfound free time to experiment with a Christmassy version of this breakfast staple. It has the familiar nutty crunch of baked oats enveloped in honey, but with added seasonal twists.
I use apple puree as the basis for my granola – it lowers the oil and sugar content and helps use up apples from my tree. You can make this in minutes by simmering diced cooking apples with a splash of water until they collapse – I often make several batches at once and freeze 320g portions in small bags to defrost for future granola sessions. To this you add runny honey for sweetness, a little oil just to help everything coat the oats evenly, a dash of vanilla and some salt to heighten the flavours. It’s that simple.
Things get festive after this: I threw in a Christmas arsenal of spices, from the familiar (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mixed spice) to the slightly more exotic: orange peel powder, from JustIngredients. This emphasizes the warming citrus note of fresh orange zest, which goes in too. Clementine zest would be even more seasonal, if you wanted to try that instead. To this golden, spiced puree you simply add a kilo of muesli base mix, which you can get in large supermarkets (look in the whole foods section) or health food shops. Stir well to coat all of the flakes in the puree.
The granola bakes in the oven for 40 minutes, and you must stir it every ten to help it cook evenly. For the last ten minutes, you add the nuts to get them lightly toasted. Nuts are a Christmas staple, and I could have used walnuts or almonds here, but pecans seem somehow quintessentially festive to me – perhaps it’s their association with butterscotch, caramel and treacle, other decadent holiday flavours. Pumpkin seeds add a lovely crunch and a warm, earthy flavour, and dried cranberries give a final pop of sweetness. It has to be cranberries in a Christmas granola – their dark red jewel-like appearance is the metaphorical star on top of the tree. However, the beauty of this recipe is that you can swap the nuts and fruit around as you wish – just stick to the same weights. An almond and dried apricot version is also very good, and still rather festive.
The Christmas day breakfast is always a rather uncertain affair. How on earth can we precede that lunch with anything comparably decadent? Should we even be eating breakfast on the morning of such a huge feast? This granola is perhaps the answer: healthy enough to precede all that turkey and pudding, but still indulgent and festive, it would make a fine breakfast on the big day. I like to serve mine with a segmented orange and fresh berries, but you could also add yoghurt or milk and fresh fruit. Incidentally, this granola also makes a lovely gift, piled into pretty clip-top jars and tied with ribbon and a handwritten label. If you’ve never experimented with making your own granola before, and you have a free hour or so, I promise the results are worth the wait – and what better time to try than during the downtime of the Christmas season?
Christmas granola (makes 1.5kg):
- 320g cooking apples, peeled, cored and finely diced (prepared weight)
- 4 tbsp water
- ½ tsp mixed spice
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- 1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp orange peel powder
- ¾ tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Zest of 1 orange
- 4 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
- 120g runny honey
- 1kg muesli base mix (available in health food shops)
- 100g pecan nuts, roughly chopped
- 40g pumpkin seeds
- 100g dried cranberries
First, put the apples in a small saucepan with the water. Bring to a simmer and cook, with a lid on, stirring occasionally, until the apples are completely collapsed and pureed. Leave to cool with the lid on.
When cool, put the apple puree in a large mixing bowl. Add the spices, orange peel powder, salt, vanilla extract, orange zest, oil and honey and whisk well to make a thick, glossy puree.
Pre-heat the oven to 160C. Combine the muesli base mix with the spiced apple puree and mix well with a wooden spoon until totally combined and moist. Spread the mixture out over two large baking sheets, as evenly as possible.
Bake for 10 minutes, then take the trays out of the oven and stir each well to distribute the granola evenly over the trays (this helps it brown evenly). Bake for another 10 minutes, then stir again, then another 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and stir again. Scatter the pecans and pumpkin seeds across the two trays of granola, and bake for a final 10 minutes (so, 40 minutes in total, stirring at 10-minute intervals, with the nuts and seeds added for the final 10 minutes).
Remove and leave to cool before adding the cranberries. Store in an airtight jar and enjoy!