Several years ago, we attended a memorable dinner at the famed New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park. This was before Covid shut down the world, and before the restaurant raised eyebrows by reinventing itself as vegan. Our usual New York City haunts were modest neighborhood restaurants like the now-closed Red Cat in Chelsea. But on this particular evening we were raised into the culinary stratosphere, invited by our friend Joe Yonan, who was celebrating not only a birthday but also some hard-earned success in the world of food writing.
At the end of a meal so long that the first few courses we’d eaten had receded from memory, we were each offered a mason jar of granola for breakfast the next day. I couldn’t help opening it. The granola was, hands down, the best I had ever tasted. I know this sounds wrong, but I looked forward to breakfast.
Joe put me in touch with someone at the restaurant to see if they might share the recipe. They understood my need, I guess, and could not have been nicer about sending it my way.
I’ll admit I’ve fiddled with it. I’ve tried varying the amounts of salt or oil and making other little substitutions, but only a few have become permanent changes. Yes, I really do recommend using the entire tablespoon of salt given in the original recipe, and all of the oil. This isn’t health food, but it is delicious.
Whereas the restaurant’s recipe calls for rolled oats, I think the texture is best using both rolled and steel-cut oats. Instead of the pistachios in their version, I use pecans. Those I order every year from Sunnyland Farms in Georgia because, well, I like pecans.
There is one quality I’m after that I still have not figured out how to achieve. On a visit this fall to Portland, Maine, our friends Charrisse and David introduced us to the granola at Big Sky Bakery. It comes in big chunks that we ate almost as if they were cookies. This, I thought, might be exactly the way granola is meant to be eaten, with tea, on a winter afternoon. Or for a not-so-sweet dessert.
I’ve been experimenting. I’ve tried the whipped egg white method for achieving chunks but found this tends to undermine the desirable crispiness. I also followed the lead of cookbook author Laura Wright, who recommends adding ground flax seeds for clumping and crisping — an addition I’ve kept because it does give me what I would call shards, though not the cohesive chunks I yearn for.
I’m still searching for the secret to granola chunkiness. In the meantime, I’d say this recipe is the best granola in the universe. And you need it now because it’s perfect for packing in Mason jars à la Eleven Madison Park to offer as holiday gifts.
It’s impossible to mess this up, and it is easily doubled or tripled. Substitute other kinds of nuts or dried fruits, depending on your preferences (and the robustness of the supply chain). To achieve modest clumps (though still not my dream chunks), resist the urge to stir the granola as it cooks, and allow it to cool, undisturbed, on the baking trays. Make sure it’s fully cooled before you pack it into quart jars.
Wiley Cottage Christmas Granola
Makes about 3 quarts
1¾ cups rolled oats
1 cup steel-cut oats
1 cup shelled pecans
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
⅓ cup pumpkin seeds
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
½ cup light brown sugar
⅓ cup maple syrup
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup dried sour cherries
Preheat oven to 300o F. Break the pecans into pieces.
In a large bowl, mix together both kinds of oats, the pecans, coconut chips, pumpkin seeds, the sour cherries, and the salt.
In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the brown sugar, maple syrup, and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the oat mixture, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and spread granola over it. Bake until dry and lightly golden, 35 to 40 minutes, turning the tray twice during baking to cook the granola evenly.
Remove granola from oven. Allow to cool to room temperature before breaking into shards and storing.