Crunchy whole grain oats, nuts and sweet dried fruit.  This is a combination that has been delighting people for years.  You can buy tasty granola at any store but it is expensive.  The better the granola, the more expensive it is. I decided to make granola when I was running a business that provided healthy school lunches to 5 schools and needed to find some breakfast options that were easy to make, healthy and profitable.  When I investigated how to make my own granola I was surprised at how much oil and sweeteners  were in most granola recipes.  In order to get that great crunchy texture of the oats sticking together and the roasted oat flavor you needed to use a lot of oil and sugars thus making this healthy breakfast food decidedly un-healthy.

I made recipes using honey, maple syrup, brown sugar and corn syrup.  I used olive oil, butter and canola oil.  The honey and maple syrup were too expensive in most recipes because you needed to use large quantities.  The olive oil left a distinctly vegetal flavor.  Butter tasted great but was too expensive and shortened the shelf life of the granola.

Most of the recipes I found instructed you to use a lot of oil or butter on the oats and toast them in the oven.  This tasted fantastic but made the cereal very heavy.

I became frustrated that there really was no way to make a granola kids love, that was not a dessert.  Many breakfast items just seem like desserts to me that I wanted to stay away from them.

I decided to ask around and see if anyone I knew had a suggestion. One of my employees, who was a true hippy and converted her Volkswagen Rabbit to biodiesel herself, piped in and said to use applesauce.  My first reaction was ” oh yeah,,,,the old applesauce for oil trick from the low-fat 90’s”.  Whatever!  Oh my….wait.  “THE OLD APPLESAUCE FOR OIL TRICK”!  Genius.  It may just  work.

We baked up a batch that day and the whole school smelled of warm spices and apples.  It was divine.  The resulting product was just sweet enough to keep the kids happy and healthy enough to keep me happy.  Many little faces peeked around my kitchen door to ask me “Chef Connie, what are you making?”

I have since found many other wonderful recipes on the internet that use this technique..  Some much better than mine and have cobbled them all together to make a healthy and heavenly granola.

You can make your own apple sauce by peeling tart apples like granny smith and rough chopping them.  Toss them into the food processor and pulse until it is the texture of applesauce.  This makes the best granola.

I have to credit Nigella Lawson for a recipe from her cookbook Feast that helped create the final recipe as it was her particular combinations that brought it all home.  David Lebovitz and Molly Wizenberg also need to be credited for inspiration as well.  My recipe was made fabulous by seeing what these talented professionals did with the original idea.

This recipe can be adjusted to make many different flavor combinations.  My favorite are Maple and Pecan, Orange and Almond and Pumpkin and Cranberry.  You can also make Chocolate and Orange for a more decadent version. See below for instructions on these variations.

Healthy Granola

5 Cups  old-fashioned rolled oats

3 Cups almond slivers, rough chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

1 Cup sunflower seeds (unsalted and raw work best)

1/2 Cup dried fruit such as cranberries, dried mango, apricots, dried coconut shreds and raisins (optional)

1/4 Cup brown sugar

2 Tsp ground cinnamon

1 Tsp ground ginger

1 Tsp Sea Salt

3/4 Cup unsweetened apple sauce

1/3 Cup maple syrup

1/4 Cup honey

2 Tbs canola oil

Mix together in a large bowl your oats, nuts, seeds, spices and brown sugar.

In a saucepan on the stove mix applesauce, oil, honey and maple syrup and warm slightly.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients in bowl and mix throughly.

Spread mixture out on a parchment lined baking sheet until it is an even layer.

Bake for 45 minutes stirring every 10 minutes until browned and fragrant.

Remove from the oven and stir in chopped dried fruit.  Let cool completely.

I add the fruit at the end so that it does not burn during baking and keeps its bright colors.

For Maple Pecan Granola omit honey and increase maple syrup to 1 Cup and add pecans.

For Orange Almond Granola zest 2 fresh oranges and reserve the zest.  Add sliced almonds before baking.  Add orange zest after granola has baked but is still warm.  Toss together and let cool completely.

For Pumpkin and Cranberry add 3 cups pumpkin seeds before baking.  Add 2 tsp pumpkin pie spices. Baked granola and when done add dried and sweetened cranberries, toss together and cool completely.

For Chocolate Chip and Orange bake granola as instructed in recipe.  Omit nuts and dried fruit.  Zest 2 oranges and add to warm baked granola.  After granola has cooled completely add 2 cups dark chocolate chips.  I use 70% cacao dark chocolate chips for Ghirardelli.  This particular recipe is used for snacking and not breakfast cereal in my house.  It is also great for granola bars which I will post later this week.