A Granola Makeover Story
I have a confession to make. Although I am proud of the fact that I make my own granola, I am embarrassed to share it with others. “Why?” you might ask. Well, let’s just say that my granola lacks a certain “clump factor” that anyone who has purchased granola from the store has come to expect. I had long since resigned to eating from my secret stash of runny granola when my friend Lucy reminded me about a conversation we’d had about different strategies for making clumpy granola. The challenge piqued my interest, and I decided that it was time to tackle this problem once and for all.
I will now swallow my pride to reveal the “before” picture of my non-clumpy granola:
The challenge of getting granola to clump has been discussed on various online forums, and contributors have proposed a variety of solutions. I decided to test a few of the more popular methods. However, there are certain obvious ways to make granola clump, such as drenching it in absurd amounts of liquid sugar, that don’t jibe with my goal of healthy baking. Therefore, I had to set a few ground rules. First, I decided to keep the same basic recipe that I had been using, which calls for modest amounts of sugar and oil. Second, I wanted to find the simplest, least fussy solution – something that would be easy to do so that I wouldn’t be tempted to revert to my old recipe out of laziness.
Here are the methods I decided to test and their theoretical underpinnings:
Egg white method: Egg whites, which consist primarily of water and protein (mostly albumin), are used to coat the granola prior to baking. As the granola bakes, the egg whites denature and form an interconnected solid network. Oats that are in close proximity on the baking tray will be joined within this network of denatured protein, creating a cluster.
Oat bran method: Substituting ground oats (or oat bran) for some of the rolled oats is a technique that some people swear by for clumping their granola. Presumably, the ground oats soak up the sweetener and form somewhat of a glue that bridges adjacent oats.
Jamie’s Non-Clumpy Granola
(adapted from a recipe posted by The Kitchn)
- 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
- ¼ cup sliced or slivered almonds
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- ½ cup raw sunflower seeds
- ½ cup raw pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
- 2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil
- 4 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 300F and place rack in the center of the oven. Line a half sheet pan (18″ x 13″) or two smaller baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients (rolled oats, almonds, seeds, and shredded coconut).
- In a small sauce pan, stir together the oil and honey and heat gently. Take off heat and stir in vanilla. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients and toss together, making sure all the dry ingredients are coated with the liquid.
- Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet(s) in a thin layer and bake for about 30-45 minutes or until golden brown, stirring about every 15 minutes so that the mixture browns evenly.
- After removing the pan from the oven, place it on a wire rack (or the stove top) to cool. You will notice that the granola may still be sticky when it is removed from the oven, but it will become crisp and dry as it cools.
- Once the granola has completely cooled, store it in an airtight container or plastic bag. It will keep for several weeks. Store in the refrigerator or freezer for longer.
Variation 1: Egg white method
After coating the oats and seeds with the oil/honey/vanilla mixture, stir in two egg whites. (I didn’t beat or whip them before stirring into the granola, although some recipes suggest to do this.) Bake the granola as instructed in the original recipe, being careful not to overstir. (Update: Actually, not stirring at all produces the clumpiest granola.)
Variation 2: Oat bran method
Substitute oat bran for one-third of the rolled oats (i.e., 1 cup of oat bran + 2 cups of rolled oats) and combine with the dry ingredients. Prepare the recipe as instructed.
The original recipe produces a crunchy, albeit non-clumpy granola. I typically sprinkle it over my oatmeal or muesli, so the lack of clusters is not a huge problem. However, I do have the problem that the smaller components (like the chia seeds) settle to the bottom of the container. You can see how the black chia seeds settle to the bottom of the mixture in this picture taken of the bottom of the bowl.
The egg white method was the clear winner of this competition. It produced nice granola clusters that bound up the smaller components, preventing the chia seeds from settling to the bottom of the bowl.
The oat bran method failed to clump the granola, presumably because my recipe lacks the amount of sugar necessary to generate an oat bran “glue.” You can see the oat bran dust and chia seeds that have settled to the bottom of the bowl.
In summary, the egg white method produced the desired clumpy granola.
When I showed Bill the different containers of granola I had made, his mouth was full of another type of cereal. He pointed at the clumpy one, nodding enthusiastically to indicate his approval. He then turned to the one made with oat bran, frowned, and shook his head disapprovingly. I tend to agree with his assessment.
And now, I triumphantly present the “after” picture of my granola makeover:
And it’s not a makeover story if there’s no “before and after” picture:
Although the egg white method worked reasonably well, there are some future refinements I might consider. First, I noticed that stirring the granola during baking broke up some of the clumps. However, stirring is necessary to ensure even cooking; otherwise, the outer edges will burn and the inside portions will not brown. One suggestion is to add the egg white to the granola halfway through the baking process and then discontinue stirring. Another suggestion is to add the egg white before baking and arrange the granola around the edges of the baking sheet, leaving the center of the sheet empty, as described here. Finally, I wonder if the same effect could be achieved using a “flax egg,” which is often used as a binder in vegan baking.
(Update: I made this again using the egg white method, and I found that it is actually possible to bake the granola without stirring it at all. Just watch it toward the end to prevent burning. The egg white/no stirring method is extremely effective in producing large sheets of granola.)
And finally, some granola tips:
- Don’t leave the granola out to cool overnight! It will lose its crunchiness. Instead, just leave it out long enough to cool (about an hour or two), then seal it in a container or bag.
- Please, please, please don’t bake dried fruit with your granola! This produces rock-hard, tooth-breaking, inedible pellets of burnt fruit. Just mix it in after the granola has baked and cooled. Thank you.