Granola is a culinary frenemy. On the one hand, it claims to be helping you out, providing fiber and other health benefits. Then it goes and makes you fat behind your back.
Now if, like me, you really like granola then this is a total bummer. The added problem is that as in other frenemy situations, I'm too much of a pushover to kick it out of my life for good. I needed to tweak granola to make it more honest to its "health food" status. This would involve cutting out the main offending ingredients, like vegetable oil and sugary add-ins. If I could also make it fall-friendly, then granola and I might just make amends.
The first step was to replace the vegetable oil, which is the typical binder for the oats. A mixture of unsweetened apple sauce and canned pumpkin did the trick. It provides enough moisture to hold the granola together, as well as a subtle autumn-fruit flavor. The second step was to replace sugar with maple syrup, which imbues the granola with a yummy maple flavor. Then, to add extra flavor without adding sugar, I liberally spiced the granola with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger. The last step was to consider my add-ins. Instead of sweetened coconut, cashews, or chocolate chips (yes, I've gone there) I used pumpkin seeds, almonds, dried unsweetened cranberries, raisins, and dried apples. This autumny mix is delicious, providing the right balance of crunchy, chewy, fruity, and nutty components.
Like most healthy versions of fatty foods, there are certain downsides to this granola. And because I don't want to be your frenemy, I feel I should note them here. First, in the absence of oil, the oats don't get super crispy and there are far fewer of those crunchy clusters. Second, this isn't very sweet, so if you think you like granola but really what you like is any sugary cereal, this mix isn't for you.
But back to what I love: This granola excels in milk, which for some reason really brings out the pumpkin flavor. The dried apples were an expected favorite, adding to this granola's classic "fall" taste that I'll want to eat all season.
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About the author: Carrie Vasios is the Community Manager of Serious Eats and writes the Wake and Bake, Cookie Monster, and Serious Entertaining columns. She likes perusing her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar.