[dropcap]S[/dropcap]omehow it’s easier to wake up when there’s a trail before me. I might have gotten in to camp too late. My sleeping bag might be dewy. I might have to put on yesterday’s sweaty shorts. But I breathe clear, cool air and see the sun; I am hungry for the day.
It’s these camp mornings when I realize a human being couldn’t wake up to anything better. Well, nothing but breakfast.
When I’m on the trail it’s important to have a meal that is quick, is easy, and lets me pack out of camp before noon. But, because processed protein bars and their ingredient labels give me the heebie-jeebies and instant grits taste like warm cardboard, my options are limited to instant oatmeal, dried fruit, nuts, or a tree bark and melted croc omelette (sometimes breakfast gets desperate.)
And this is why, on the seventh day, God created granola.
There’s a lot of granola out there; it’s mostly over-priced, overly-sweet, and overly-processed. But this spicy cardamom, cacao nib bitter, coconut sweet granola is different.
A twenty-something with a yoga mat, nose ring, and kombucha scoby, I am well acquainted with the art of homemade granola. I even bake granola part-time. Seriously. This granola is trail certified and taste approved; a crunchy, dense wafer of honeyed oat goodness, it stores well on humid trails and is able to be consumed not in messy oat bits but in sweet clusters that save the wilderness from Leave No Trace disasters.
The secret to granola “bark” is in the spatula. After you pour coated oats into a rimmed baking sheet, firmly compress the mixture with the back of your spatula. Don’t stir the granola while it’s baking. Instead, just turn the pan around a couple times in the oven.
Cranberry Cacao Nib GranolaMakes about 9 cups
- 1/3 cup maple syrup 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup coconut or vegetable oil
- 5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 cup unsweetened, shredded or flaked coconut
- 2 cups raw almonds, chopped coarsely
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup cacao nibs
1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 11×17-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Whisk maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, almond extract, salt, and spices in large bowl. Whisk in oil. Add oats, almonds, and coconut and mix with hands until the spice syrup thoroughly coats dry ingredients.
3. Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread across sheet into a thin, even layer (about 3/8-inch thick.) With a stiff metal spatula, compress oat mixture until very compact. Bake until lightly browned, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. Remove granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. Stir in dried fruit and cacao nibs. Store granola in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or until you eat all of it on your next hike.