Published March 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
We’ve had it with the overpriced (and underwhelming) store-bought stuff. For homemade granola with real bite, what you need is some bark.
The slow baking and frequent stirring that most do-it-yourself granola recipes recommend often result in a loose, granular texture—not the distinct clusters we were after.
Our ideal granola would be markedly crisp yet tender enough to shatter easily when bitten.
Our preliminary tests proved that whole rolled oats were essential for a hearty, crisp texture, and that any variety of chopped nuts contributed toasty flavor that developed as the cereal roasted in the oven. We wanted to keep our sweeteners and add-ins simple, so we opted for maple syrup, light brown sugar, and a variety of pantry staples. For the fat component, we went with neutral-tasting vegetable oil. This gave us a super-crisp—but not greasy—texture.
For the big clumps that we were after, we used a spatula to press the granola firmly into the pan before baking. When we pulled the cereal from the oven, it remained in a single sheet as it cooled, during which time the syrup made by our sweeteners and oil bound the solids together. This gave us granola “bark,” which was ideal, since now we could break it into clumps of any size.
All our chunky granola needed was sweet bits of dried fruit. After a few tests, it became clear that the best way to incorporate the fruit was to keep it away from the heat altogether, only stirring it in once the granola was cool.
Finally, we developed a few twists on our basic formula by switching up the fruit-and-nut pairings and accenting them with flavor boosters like coconut, citrus zest, and warm spices.list of recipes