My big brother Mark has been my best friend since my parents brought me home from the hospital. Shortly after my arrival, my mom took him to the park and asked how he was feeling. At two and a half he already knew that actions spoke louder than words. He hit her with a stick. But he never held it against me and we’ve been thick as thieves ever since. Most of the time I think of him as only chronologically older, but he always gives the most sage advice. He knows me so well, he knows not to tell me what he would do in a given situation or give me generic advice that, while theoretically correct, I'll never follow. He knows what’s right for me and he has never led me astray. More often than I would like to admit I am late in taking his advice, especially when it comes to cooking. I can hear him now: “Make your own chicken stock - there’s no active time and it’s FREE!!!!” It took me years to listen to that one and now I hate thinking about all of the chicken bones I threw away before I caught on. “Get a pressure cooker. You will be able to cook so many more things on weeknights.” I know he’s right. I still need to get a pressure cooker.
One of his best pieces of cooking advice, “Don’t buy granola. It’s so expensive and homemade granola is way better.” As usual, I didn’t start making my own granola soon enough but once I did I never looked back. Turns out, homemade granola is way better than store-bought granola and so much less expensive. Hmmm. I feel like someone told me that once, a long time ago. Now I’m the one proselytizing everyone I know to convert to homemade granola. As much as I love eating granola and knowing that I have some around for quick breakfasts, car snacks, fruit crisp topping and so on, I also love making granola. I love how you can improvise, throw in whatever you’ve got in the cupboard, how it’s almost impossible to mess up. I love the texture and the way it makes your kitchen smell when it’s in the oven. I remember making granola the day after we brought Emmett home from the hospital. Back when I felt like it should be illegal to have let us leave there with a 7lb human who was only two days old. It made me feel like I was at home, like things were normal, albeit a new normal.
I’m not the only one around here who loves granola. The stuff goes fast in our house. Fortunately, I’ve married into a reliable source of prime granola ingredients. Irish oats! Golden syrup! Sea salt! Yes. Please. This recipe makes a lot of granola (if it didn’t I would have to make a new batch every week) but feel free to halve it. The combination of olive oil and salt gives it an almost savory quality and the golden syrup balances it out without making it overpoweringly sweet. The incorporation of egg whites serves as glue to stick big clumps of the granola together if you like it chunky like I do. If you don’t like chunky granola, just leave the egg whites out and stir the granola every 15 minutes or so while it’s in the oven.
Lyle’s Golden Syrup Granola with Celtic Sea Salt
6 cups Irish oats*
2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes or a mixture of coconut flour and coconut flakes
3 cups hazelnuts (sliced almonds or other nuts, chopped)
1-2 cups dried dates (or other dried fruits, currants, raisins, dried cherries, etc.)
Spices (apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, cardamom etc.) (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, brandy, rum, orange juice (optional)
3 teaspoons Celtic sea salt
1 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup**
2/3 cup olive oil (also great with coconut oil or a combination of walnut and vegetable oils)
4 large egg whites
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat to 300F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment.
Boil water in a kettle or small saucepan and pour over dates until they are just covered. Add a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract, orange juice, brandy or rum to the water-date mixture if you wish (this will infuse them with a little more flavor) and set aside for about 20 minutes.
Place the oats, nuts, coconut flakes/flour, salt, spices (if using) into a large bowl, and stir well. Stir the golden syrup and olive oil together, then pour into the oat mixture and stir until the dry ingredients are coated evenly.
Strain dates, discarding soaking liquid, and chop (I like to chop them roughly but you know how you like them). Add the chopped dates to the dry ingredients.
Whisk egg whites until frothy. Stir the egg whites into the granola mixture until they are evenly incorporated.
Divide the mixture between the two prepared sheet pans, spreading it into a single layer on each pan. The granola should bake for about 45 minutes total. About halfway through the cooking time, take the pans out and turn the granola over with a large spatula. Try to keep large clumps in tact. Rotate the pans from top to bottom when you put them back in the oven.
At this point, check the granola every 10 minutes or so and gauge its doneness by color. It’s ready when the whole pan is an even, toasted, golden color. Remove the pans from the oven and allow to cool completely (This never happens, but that’s ok. The recipe makes enough for at least a few handfuls of the warm good stuff to be consumed on the spot).
Once the granola is cool, break into whatever size chunks suit your fancy.
*Thanks to my father-in-law, I’ve always got quite a variety of porridge oats in my cupboard and I like to make my granola with a mix of whatever I have around for maximum texture. Most granola recipes call for rolled oats but I use a mix of steel cut, rolled and even quick cooking. The Irish Boutique stocks a number of different brands and types of oats.
**Lyle’s Golden Syrup can also be found at the Irish Boutique. I love the old-timey can so much that I never throw one away. Instead I used them around the house to hold crayons, paperclips or as bud vases. So cute!
Most granola recipes call for adding the dried fruit after taking the pan out of the oven. I soak my fruit and cook it with the granola mixture because I like the fruit to be part of the chunks (not floating around there separately). If you don’t care about this or don’t like the big chunks in the first place you can skip the soaking. Just add chopped dried fruit after the pan comes out of the oven. Don’t add unsoaked dried fruit to the pan before cooking because it tends to burn and become hard.