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Granola can be tricky. It is one of those foods that cries out to be made from scratch, but there are so many variations and ingredients out there. I have tried at least a dozen recipes over the years, but I never made any of them more than once. One version had so many seeds, I felt like I was at a bird feeder instead of the breakfast table; the next had enough sugar to qualify as dessert. Then there’s the whole food allergy issue, which leaves me without many dried fruit options. (Almost all dried fruit is sulphured, meaning sulfites are added to help with the preservation process. It’s not really very hard to decide between breathing and eating dried apricots, but it does limit my granola options pretty mightily.)

After so many granola misfires, I finally narrowed down my requirements. I don’t expect my granola to be a portable superfood, substantial enough to nourish me on a three-day hike. I don’t want a multi-tasker — I’m not planning to add it to anything except milk and yogurt. No flax, no wheat germ, no goji berries, no exotic spices. I want something simple, crunchy, toasted, a little sweet, a little salty… just granola.

I think I finally found my recipe this time. It’s from Brunch! by Gale Gand and Christie Matheson. To show you how serious I am, I resisted most of my usual recipe-fiddling ways. I only made two substitutions: dried cherries instead of dried cranberries and clementine juice instead of plain orange. I resolutely kept the door of the spice cabinet closed, and I even measured out my ingredients instead of eyeballing it. My self-restraint was amply rewarded with every simple, tasty bite.

I don’t judge, though. If you are of the fancy granola ilk, more power to you. This recipe could easily handle the addition of cinnamon, ginger, or cardamom, and you could substitute banana chips or raisins for the dried berries. If you crave more texture, try some sesame seeds or sunflower kernels with your chopped almonds. After it cools, add a big handful of chocolate or peanut butter chips, and you’ve got something a little more indulgent that would be a great topping for fruit crisp or ice cream.

To show you how accepting I am, I got a little extravagant with the photos and made a parfait with layers of granola, vanilla Greek yogurt, and orange blossom honey. But between you and me, I gave that one to my daughter to eat. I’ll take mine plain — just granola, please.

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Almond Granola
makes about seven cups

1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. real maple syrup (not corn-based pancake syrup)
1/4 c. fresh-squeezed orange juice
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. almond extract
4 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick cook)
3/4 c. unsweetened shredded coconut (preferably unsulphured)
1 c. chopped almonds
1 tsp. sea salt
1 c. sweetened dried cherries or cranberries

Oven 325F. Combine honey, maple syrup, orange juice, butter, and almond extract in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until butter melts and ingredients come to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and simmer for about five minutes, stirring often, until mixture is slightly thickened.

Meanwhile, mix oats, coconut, almonds, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour the hot honey mixture over the oats and stir well to coat thoroughly, then spread evenly on a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring once. Add dried fruit, stir to combine, then bake for 20 minutes more, stirring a few more times to be sure granola browns evenly. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Break into smaller pieces and store in airtight container for up to two weeks. Can also be frozen for up to a month.

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