Turning a best-ever homework assignment into the best-ever granola

Last week, my first-grader came home with a school assignment that made my heart swell: “We have to make something together. You know, like cookies or something.”

Avery, a 7-year-old who has struggled a bit recently with homework motivation, was obviously angling for cookies, but I’m not quite ready for cookie season to start. More importantly, it was 8 p.m. when he told me about the project. I needed a dish that was quick to make and involved ingredients that were kid-friendly to measure.

Nuts and oats are easier to scoop for little hands than vanilla extract, sugar and flour, I thought, so I suggested granola, a food he has enjoyed before but isn’t a regular fixture in his diet. “Go to the bookshelf and find a cookbook with a granola recipe,” I said. He reached for Alton Brown’s “Good Eats: Volume 1, The Early Years” (Harry N. Abrams, $37.50), recognizing the author as “the guy who dressed up like a meatball” on a television show. Together, we looked up the “g” recipes in the back and sounded out “granola.” He was in charge of flipping to the correct page.

I read the recipe introduction to him, and we followed Brown’s instructions to use a digital scale to measure ingredients. Avery helped me tare the scale after each ingredient, and we learned about ounces and grams. We also used our knowledge of categories and science to make substitutions. Instead of using cashews, we went for walnuts, and we skipped the coconut.

The almonds in my pantry were already toasted, and Avery guessed correctly that we shouldn’t add them until the end. He was feeling adventurous enough in the moment to let me add chia seeds and flaxseeds, which I explained would make the granola extra-healthy.

We used pancake syrup (not the real maple stuff) and watched the oil and the syrup separate in the measuring cup. His brother, who is studying density in fifth grade, stepped in to give his own science lesson. By the time the granola was in the oven and it was almost bedtime, Avery was still thinking of adaptations we could do if we made the granola again, like mashing bananas or applesauce with the syrup. He was asleep by the time the granola finally came out of the oven. I finished adding the raisins and let it cool overnight.

In the morning, he was delighted to snack on a treat he’d had such a hand in making, and we packed a bunch of it into a plastic container for his classmates and teacher. Even if she couldn’t pass the granola out to the class, she could enjoy it as a little mid-year teacher appreciation. The next day, she stopped me in the hall to ask for the recipe, calling it the best granola she’d ever had. Well, that was the best homework assignment he’d ever had, so I guess we’re even.

Teacher’s Favorite Granola

10 ounces (5 cups) rolled oats

4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) slivered almonds

5 ounces (1 cup) raw cashews, walnuts or pecans

1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)

3 ounces (1/3 cup) dark brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)

1 tablespoon flaxseed or wheat germ (optional)

3 ounces (1/4 cup) maple syrup

2 ounces (1/4 cup) vegetable oil

4 ounces (2/3 cup) raisins or other dried fruit

Heat over to 250 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, almonds, cashews, coconut, brown sugar, salt, chia seeds and flaxseeds. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the oil and maple syrup. Add to the dry mixture and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to ensure even browning.

— Adapted from a recipe in “Good Eats: Volume 1, The Early Years” by Alton Brown (Harry N. Abrams, $37.50)

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