Crunchy Nut and Seed Granola Clusters
The granola bar is at one end of the granola spectrum and on the other end is loose granola. Popular as both a cereal and snack food, granola in its two major forms is the go-to food for those who want a nutritious meal or snack on the go. But, what if you want a granola that is more substantial in texture than a cereal but not as rigid as a bar? The answer is the granola cluster: chunks of loosely held together pieces of granola that have the texture of a bar but the flexibility of a crumbly cereal.
Making homemade granola bars is not an easy task unless you’re willing to use copious amounts of brown rice syrup and oil, neither of which I’m inclined to add to make the ingredients stick together. In my attempts to make a granola bar, I stumbled upon making granola clusters which fall in the middle of the granola spectrum. Not quite a cereal and not quite a bar, granola clusters have the best attributes of both in a form that is perfect to use in a parfait, as a topping on yogurt or ice cream, or as a quick snack. The secret: a small amount of brown rice syrup and NuttZo – a blend of seven organic nuts and seeds.
Granola Clusters are simple to make and forgiving because it doesn’t matter if they fall apart because that’s the point. Made in a bowl and then pressed into a pan (like brownie or bar batter), the granola is then baked. When cool, the granola is cut into rows which causes the granola to break into chunks or clusters. Each granola cluster is supposed to be different in shape and size so no matter how the granola crumbles, it ends up exactly like it’s supposed to: in clusters. But, the best part is the taste: nutty, crunchy and delicious…and not too sweet.
3-1/2 cups of rolled oats (not “quick”)
2/3 cup raw slivered almonds
1/3 cup dry roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
1/3 cup dry roasted unsalted pistachios
1 cup dried Montmorency tart cherries (I use Eden or Chukar, both of which are not preserved with sulfites)
1/3 cup ground flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1 cup of Organic NuttZo Nut and Seed Butter (a nut and seed blend that has all the essential amino acids to provide a complete protein)*
*There are three varieties: peanut, peanut-free and chocolate in crunchy or smooth. I used the crunchy peanut variety (in the blue container). Available from www.vitacost.com or directly from the company: www.nuttzo.com. Click on this link to read about Nuttzo: http://itsassimpleasthat.com/2013/05/24/nuttzo/
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large mixing bowl, blend the oats, almonds, pistachios, and sunflower seeds.
- Pour the oat and nut mixture on a parchment paper lined large baking pan sheet.
- Bake the oat and nut mixture for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
- In a small mixing bowl, blend the dried cherries, flaxseed meal, and cinnamon. Set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl, blend the brown rice syrup and the Nuttzo (the mixture will be thick) and set aside.
- Transfer the baked oat mixture back to the large mixing bowl. Add the dried fruit mix and blend.
- Add the brown rice syrup and NuttZo blend to the dry ingredients by adding 1/3 cup at a time blending to ensure the agave and NuttZo blend is evenly distributed among the dry ingredients. The mixture is thick but it will blend through with a strong metal spoon and a few minutes of serious stirring.
- Line a 10 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper allowing the paper to go up the sides.
- Pour the granola mixture onto the parchment paper lined pan and using the flat side of a spatula, press the mixture evenly throughout the pan, patting down the mixture as you go, as if you’re making granola bars.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
- Lift the mixture out by holding the sides of the parchment paper and place onto a cutting board.
- Using a knife, cut into rows which will cause the granola to start to fall apart into clusters. For the large pieces, use your hands to break into small clusters.
- Use the clusters to make a parfait, as a topping on yogurt or ice cream, or just plain as a snack.
- Store unused granola clusters in an airtight glass jar.