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Waking up to homemade granola, muesli will cure back-to-school blues

Granola doesn’t mean anything in Danish.

The Danes — like just about anyone who lives in a place where yogurt is also consumed — often eat a breakfast of toasted oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. But they call it muesli, even when served in a cafe called Granola in Frederiksberg, a city within Copenhagen.

The terms muesli and granola are often used interchangeably in the U.S. and abroad, but they are different: Muesli is the uncooked version of the toasted-and-crunchy granola. In Denmark, however, muesli is a toasted, crunchy mix of nuts, seeds, oats or even rye breadcrumbs.

I was eating this not-muesli throughout Scandinavia last week on an ancestry trip with my sister that you’ll be reading about in coming weeks.

Within an hour of arriving in Stockholm, I was at my Airbnb house, where the grandmotherly host, Lidia, was offering me two boxes of granola and three kinds of yogurt to choose from. When I told her I was going to be writing a back-to-school story about making your own granola, her response was telling: “Why?”

Whether you are juggling a house full of backpackers or elementary school kids who can’t find their backpacks, making granola might seem like a hassle. Stores, even on this side of the Atlantic, now offer dozens of varieties of both granola and muesli. If those fall short of your expectations, every time I go to a farmers market, I find a new artisan granola made to suit foodie palates.

But then I returned to Austin and looked in my pantry to find three half-eaten boxes of granola. One is too sweet. One had an essence of pumpkin (leftover from last fall) that was just too much for me to finish. Another had too many coconut flakes. Sometimes, the options available at the store aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, or you simply want to have more control of the quality of the ingredients.

At the cafe Granola, I had chatted with chef Jack Forsmann, a Dane who lived all over Europe before returning to Copenhagen. At the cafe, they make granola in big sheet pans, but when he’s making it at home, he uses a frying or saute pan to toast the oats first and then the nuts.

Using a pan is a great way to make a small batch of granola to experiment with different combinations of ingredients, Forsmann says. Whether using a pan or an oven, stick with low heat. They bake their granola at the cafe — again, starting with only the oats first — at about 200 degrees, turning it every 15 minutes. “Every 15 minutes, the oven beeps and we look at it. It’s super easy to taste as you go and find out if something is missing and do something about it,” he says.

He mixes the oats with a little honey, but no oil. Forsmann prefers to let the natural oils in the nuts release into the mixture as it bakes.

He also takes a strong stance on salt. “In today’s world, people are super obsessed with salt. I have so many discussions with people about salt,” he says. We already eat too much salt, and a breakfast cereal like granola is the last place you should add it. But if you want to add some, wait until after you’ve cooked the mixtures so you know how the ingredients taste after they have spent some time in the heat.

It wasn’t until I was in Denmark that I realized that you could make granola without oats. That version came from a coffee shop called Original Coffee, whose crunchy topping for yogurt was made with rye breadcrumbs, honey, sesame and pumpkin seeds. It tasted like Grape-Nuts.

“You see that in Denmark more and more. People wanting to do a more Nordic touch,” Forsmann says. The rye breadcrumbs also add a hint of bitterness, which makes sense if you are serving it with a sweetened yogurt. (If you don’t want to make your own rye breadcrumbs, you could actually use Grape-Nuts instead of oats.) On the flip side, if you are making a sweet granola, consider balancing it with an unsweetened yogurt.

Using that logic, you can get away with serving a saltier or even savory granola with a sweet yogurt. If you don’t like honey or are tired of using it, serve granola and yogurt with a side of jam to act as a sweetener.

The key to great granola is a variety of textures, which is why Forsmann uses both hazelnuts and almonds — both chopped differently — in his house granola. “Just oats and coconut and dried fruit would be a bit boring,” he says. “The different textures give you a whole different experience.”

Coconut-Lime Granola with Cashews

Lime isn’t a flavor you usually see in store-bought granola, but this version calls for enough lime zest to make your mouth pucker. Cut back on the quantity if you want only a hint of lime, and as with all granola recipes, feel free to swap in your favorite nuts or leave out ingredients you don’t like, such as the coconut. Honey or agave nectar is a fine substitute for the maple syrup, too. The butter or oil in this dish will help the granola make clusters, so if you prefer a more crumbly granola, cut back on the fat.

4 Tbsp. (1/2-stick) melted unsalted butter or coconut oil

1/4 cup maple syrup

4 tsp. finely grated lime zest (from 1 lime)

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

1/2 cup roasted salted cashews, chopped

1/4 cup flax seed meal

1/3 cup dried fruit, such as sour cherries or golden raisins, chopped

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the butter, maple syrup, lime zest and salt. Add the oats, coconut, and cashews, and stir until everything is well coated. Add the flax seed meal and toss to combine.

Transfer the mixture to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and spread it out over three-quarters of the sheet. Bake until the oats and coconut are deep golden and crisp, 30 to 40 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. Transfer the sheet to a rack to cool completely.

When the sheet is completely cool, use an overturned spatula to scrape under the granola and break it into pieces. Add the dried fruit and toss to combine. Store the granola in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks. Makes about 5 cups.

— From “Gluten-Free for Good: Simple, Wholesome Recipes Made from Scratch” by Samantha Seneviratne (Clarkson Potter, $22)

Cherry-Almond Granola

Cherry and almond is a natural pairing. This granola will make you think of cherry pie or, with the addition to cacao nibs, Black Forest cake. Stick with rolled oats when making granola. Quick oats work for an uncooked muesli, but the texture is usually too fine for granola because the pieces burn quickly in the oven or a dry pan.

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups sliced raw almonds

1 cup dried cherries, chopped

1/4 cup cacao nibs

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup agave syrup

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees and line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the rolled oats, almonds, dried cherries and cacao nibs. Sprinkle the salt, cinnamon and ground cloves over the mixture and toss to combine, making sure that the spices are evenly distributed.

Pour the oil, agave syrup and vanilla over the oats mixture and stir with a spatula to coat the dry ingredients evenly. Spread the granola mixture into the prepared pan and flatten into an even layer. Toast the granola in the oven until brown and fragrant, 25 to 30 minutes, stirring three to four times to ensure even browning. Upon removing the granola from the oven, push it toward the center of the baking sheet. This will help it form clusters. Cool the granola completely before packing into jars or bags. Makes 3 pints.

— From “Food Swap: Specialty Recipes for Bartering, Sharing & Giving” by Emily Paster (Storey Publishing, $19.95)

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Muesli

The traditional way of defining muesli and granola has been that muesli is mostly raw while granola is cooked. This muesli from “Rise and Shine: Better Breakfasts for Busy Mornings” by Katie Sullivan Morford blurs that line by calling for lightly toasting the ingredients and then soaking them in yogurt or milk before serving. You could also skip the cooking and simply mix together these raw ingredients. Toasting the nuts and seeds first will bring out their flavors, though.

This mix is a good segue recipe for granola lovers who don’t think they like muesli, and the author shared a really smart tip for eaters, perhaps kids, who don’t like, either: Mix 1/4 cup granola or muesli into your child’s favorite breakfast cereal to introduce the new flavors and textures. As with all breakfast cereals, feel free to top this one with fresh berries or fruit. The muesli will keep for up to two weeks at room temperature.

2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick oats)

1/2 cup slivered almonds or chopped nuts of your choice

1/3 cup raw pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)

1 cup whole grain cereal flakes, such as Uncle Sam cereal, or crispy brown rice cereal

3/4 cup freeze-dried raspberries or strawberries (or raisins or dried cranberries or cherries)

1/2 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (about 2 ounces)

1/4 cup chia or hemp seeds

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the oats, almonds and pepitas on a baking sheet and spread out. Bake for about 12 minutes, until the oats are lightly toasted and the pepitas begin to brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Transfer the cooled mixture to a large bowl. Add the cereal, freeze-dried raspberries, chocolate and chia seeds. Stir well. The chocolate may melt slightly and form little clumps, which is part of the muesli’s appeal.

Store in an airtight container. Shake the container to evenly distribute the ingredients before serving with milk or yogurt. Makes about 6 cups.

— From “Rise and Shine: Better Breakfasts for Busy Mornings” by Katie Sullivan Morford (Roost Books, $19.95)

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