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Recipe-phile: Peanut butter granola is a surefire winter kid pleaser

The peanut butter has an odd effect of tenderizing the granola, making it more like crumble topping or streusel than granola. (Amy Thielen / For the Enterprise)

When the cold settles and starts digging roots, as it has lately, I always get the feeling that I should be making more granola.

I love my mother-in-law's granola when I'm at her house: the almost burnt peanuts, the way the darkened clumps bleed into the milk and turn it beige.

But I'm never totally happy with the granola I try to make at home. It's never as sweet nor as crisp as it should be, never quite good enough to make me forsake my daily fried egg and toast.

A friend brought up a bag of special granola a few weeks ago, from a boutique-y food shop in Minneapolis. It was pretty good, if a little finely crumbled, but it had a curious richness to it. The ingredients on the back listed the expected - oats, honey, maple, flax, sunflower, etc ... - and then the unexpected: peanut butter.

Could you add a paste like that to granola? Wouldn't that ruin its crunch?

Turns out, the peanut butter tenderizes it and it holds onto its crunch, too. I tried it a few days ago, and it's fantastic. I woke up too early, as usual, and as I tried to lose the needy kid clinging to my legs (holdy, holdy!) I finally pulled him up to sit on my hip and thought of something to make that would make both of us happy. Peanut butter granola.

I hadn't even wiped the sleep out of my eyes (or out of his) so following a recipe was beyond me. I plopped a hefty spoonful of peanut butter in a bowl, added honey and water, and whisked until smooth. Rifling through the spice shelf, I found the ground cinnamon.

For crispness I needed oil, so I added a stream of canola oil and whisked until it emulsified. Then, (putting the boy down to play) I dumped in about 3 cups of oats. Spanish peanuts were the only type of nut I had, so in they went. So did the last of the bag of dried coconut in the fridge.

Once mixed together, I spread it all out thinly on a baking sheet and baked it at 375 degrees until it was crisp and brown. I like dried fruit in my granola, but not over-caramelized, hardened bits of dried fruit, so I stirred some dried currants into the warm granola after I pulled it from the oven.

Now I'm pretty sure I used a lot more peanut butter than the granola I was emulating, due to a sleepy lack of judgment. But the peanut butter flavor is wonderful. And it has an odd effect of tenderizing the granola, making it more like crumble topping or streusel than granola.

This all begs the question: what about adding tahini? Or almond or cashew butter? Winter is just starting to stretch out its legs; I have lots of time to experiment with this one.

Peanut Butter Granola

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (I'm a fan of Skippy Natural)

1/2 cup light honey

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup canola oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 1/2 cups instant oatmeal (regular okay)

2/3 cup dried coconut (optional)

1 cup Spanish peanuts

3/4 cup dried currants or raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk the peanut butter, honey, water, salt and cinnamon in a bowl until smooth. Whisk in the canola oil in a stream until emulsified and smooth. Mix in the oatmeal, coconut and peanuts.

Pour out onto two heavy cookie sheets, spreading evenly. (I line mine with either a silpat--silicone sheet--or parchment for easier clean-up.)

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until dark golden brown. Twice during baking I pull the sheets out and spoon the edges into the centers, then redistribute, to keep the edges from burning. If you like your granola clumpy (as I do), let it cool completely once it comes out of the oven.

When cool, transfer it from the sheet tray to an airtight container. The granola will keep for up to two weeks.