Sugar is bad. Too many carbs are bad. A diet of mostly vegetables is best. Blah, blah, blah. I know, to some extent, this is all true, and yet, and yet, baking something and sharing it with people just feels so right, don’t you think? In her lovely new book, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, Sarah Kieffer takes this idea even further: “There is something deeper, something soul-full that happens when we slice the cake, when we break the bread. There is taste and smell that draws out memories, binding us to those present, those past.” Yes.
I feel a sense of pride, accomplishment, and generosity when baking that I just don’t get when I serve a salad. I mean, I love salad, and I know it’s truly nourishing. But it feels more nurturing to share a homemade scone or cookie with someone rather than a bowl of vegetables.
Sarah’s new book is filled with things I want to bake and more important, can bake as an amateur baker. Most of the recipes are for something you’d find at your fantasy coffee shop, perhaps because that’s where Sarah got her start as a professional baker. There are cozy quick breads; sweet rolls and buns galore; and minimalist layer cakes for birthdays. Many of the recipes are straight forward (but exacting) and crowd-pleasing. You’ll also find the occasional twist, like burnt honey buttercream. (I love that she thinks this might sound pretentious. I think it sounds intriguing and appealing and I can’t wait to try.)
In addition to that buttercream, I’ve flagged the chocolate chip cookies (which are wrinkly with crisp edges and gooey centers); a soft chocolate sugar cookie; and, for a lazy Sunday in the dead of winter, the Cardamom Braided Knots . Since we’re still working our way through Halloween candy (What? You don’t steal from your kid’s bag?), I skipped the sweets this time in favor of making granola.
Sarah’s recipe is dead simple and she leaves plenty of room for making the granola your own. Don’t have maple syrup, for example? Use honey. Want to try another spice? No problem. I also like that she describes baking the granola until golden brown and “no longer wet.” Some recipes talk about baking until crisp, but the truth is, granola doesn’t really crisp until after it’s out of the oven and cooled, something that took me several burnt batches in the past to learn.
In honor of Sarah’s love of cocoa nibs, I added some to the granola. I also added sesame seeds, inspired by the fact that she suggests flavoring the chocolate chip cookies with toasted sesame oil. The result is a very grown-up tasting granola that gives you an excuse to eat chocolate for breakfast!
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- ½ cup olive oil or canola oil
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 5 cups (450 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
- ¼ cup (50 g) packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Cocoa nibs and toasted sesame seeds (optional), for adding
- Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl or liquid measuring cup, mix the syrup, olive oil, water, and vanilla. In a large bowl, mix the oats, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir well, making sure the oats are fully coated.
- Spread the oats evenly between the prepared baking sheets and bake 18 to 25 minutes, stirring often (about every 5 minutes), until the oats are golden brown and no longer wet. Halfway through baking, reposition the baking sheets, moving the top one to the bottom oven rack and the bottom of the top, and rotate the pans 180 degrees.
- Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the granola cool, stirring once or twice. Add small handfuls of cocoa nibs and sesame seeds, if desired and toss with your hands to mix. Enjoy!