The first time I made granola, well, I didn't mean to. I was trying to bake my favorite oatmeal raisin cookies, though I somehow forgot the butter. Or was it the flour? The resulting oatmeal raisin granola was good. We ate it all.
Years after that mishap, it was time to try making granola on purpose. It wasn't as simple as expected. The first batch was definitely extra toasty, burned really, and I couldn't have served it to anyone other than my resident taste tester, Danny. But I could tell this recipe had potential. I just needed to get it right.
A few little changes guided by tips from some other bakers, and my second batch was a different story. One of them said that baking granola should remind you of baking cookies because both should be pulled from the oven a couple of minutes before they look done. Both continue to cook and crisp up after being pulled from the oven. I didn't have to be told twice about the relationship between cookies and granola.
I also brought the oven temperature down to 300 degrees from the original recipe and shortened the cooking time. The coconut was added a little more than halfway through the cooking time to prevent it from burning.
And then, when the granola is pulled from the oven, you have to leave it alone. Don't pick at it. Resist the urge to taste it. Walk away. For granola clusters, the cooling process is just as important as the cooking time. As they cool, the honey and oil bind the oats, nuts, and coconut to form serious granola clusters.
The clusters were so big — too big — that I had to break some of them down to fit into jars. Maybe using those thick-cut rolled oats from Bob's Red Mill helped, too.
A good cluster is the reason to choose one granola over another, right? That was true for me before I knew this little trick. By now, that first batch of overcooked granola is mostly forgotten. Our jars have been filled (and emptied) many times since then with this olive oil granola. It is just sweet enough, a departure from some very sugary store-bought granola, and it's filled with slivered almonds, cashews, coconut chips, and dried cherries, figs, and dates.
We eat it with blueberries and milk or vanilla bean yogurt. Or straight from the jar. Danny takes one to keep at his desk, though it never lasts long. There are so many flavors here — tart cherry, fruity olive oil, warm cinnamon, and toasted coconut are especially noticeable — and they all come together amicably in a granola I can't get enough of.
I can't wait for breakfast.
Ileana Morales is a freelance writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.