Breakfast is usually proclaimed to be the most important meal of the day. Why is it then that most of us mindlessly reach for a box of sugary cereal in the grocery aisle, rather than make our own?

I enjoy eating cereal. Not the lighter-than-air sugar-laden, or marshmallow bestowed fluff in a box, but quality, wholesome, cereal grains. You know, the kind of cereal you actually have to chew?

To have more control over the foods we eat, we already make our own bread, we produce our own eggs, and grow our own fruits and vegetables. Not wanting to purchase cereals though, lately I’ve mostly resorted to skipping breakfast altogether.

Although we don’t have the room to grow our own grains here, a variety of organic grains are readily available at most natural foods markets, often in bulk, and through some online retail vendors.

Muesli is a simple blend of grains, nuts, and dried fruit

Homemade organic cereals can not only be a more economical alternative to the overpriced, prepared cereals, but they afford the opportunity to control what ends up in the cereal bowl. Whether you’re trying to avoid corn syrup, GMOs, or artificial flavors and preservatives, or you simply want a breakfast option that’s more satisfying with more flavor, it’s really not difficult to make your own.

Muesli vs. Granola – What’s the Difference?

Growing up in Europe, Muesli was a popular morning staple, and I remember my parents routinely making enormous batches of it from scratch.  Muesli was invented by Swiss nutritionist Maximilian Bircher-Benner in the late 1800s, although today I mostly find it with some of the highest-priced cereals on the grocery store shelf.

Our muesli base, left to right, Rye, Barley, Wheat, and Oat flakes

There’s nothing mystical about muesli.  Muesli is a simple raw cereal, traditionally made without the addition of refined sugars, or added fats. That doesn’t mean muesli is fat-free, as the grains and nuts do contain natural levels of the healthier mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Muesli is an excellent source of B-complex vitamins, and iron, and the dried fruits are a good source of antioxidants.

Muesli is usually more fruit-dense than granola, but without the added sugar, it is generally a little less sweet. Of the two muesli is also the easiest to make, as it simply requires mixing a few raw ingredients in a bowl. Even if you’re challenged in the kitchen, making your own muesli couldn’t be more simple, as there’s little to no cooking required!

I think of the Muesli recipes as having two parts. The grain base, and the additions –  the fruit and nuts.

For the first part, the grain base, you can use any combination of grains you wish. For this recipe you want 4lbs total of grains.

Organic Rye Flakes

You can mix and match them any way you wish.  This recipe uses oats, barley, rye, and wheat, and has a wonderfully complex, nutty flavor.

You could use just oats, but other grains, like Barley, bring more flavor

The second part is the fruit and nut mixture. Essentially you want 3 lbs of dried fruit, and 1 1/2 lbs of unsalted nuts, and/or seeds. Try adding hazelnuts, flax seeds, sesame, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds.

This recipe is simply the version I made yesterday, but with imagination, no two batches of muesli need ever be the same.

Basic Muesli

Prep Time: 15-20 Minutes

Yield: 60 Servings – 1/2 cup per serving

1 lb Rye Flakes
1 lb Barley Flakes
1 lb Rolled Wheat Flakes
1 lb Rolled Oats (old-fashioned preferred)

1 lb 10 oz  Raisins
6 oz Apricots, chopped
1 lb Whole Dates, chopped
3/4 lb Sliced almonds, toasted
3/4 lb Whole almonds, rough chopped

Equipment:

Large Mixing Bowl
Large Kitchen Knife, or Food Processor
Storage containers or zip-top bags

Mix the cereal grains together in a large bowl.

For added flavor, lightly toast the sliced almonds in a large dry skillet, until just golden.

You can omit toasting the almonds, but their flavor is enhanced if they’re lightly toasted

Add the sliced and chopped almonds to the grain mixture.

Chop the dates with a sharp knife, or alternatively, pulse the whole dates in a food processor.

Whole dates can be time consuming to chop…

…but a food processor makes quick work of it. Just be sure to check for pit fragments first.

Chop the apricots into small pieces, and add the dates, apricots and raisins to the grain mixture, and mix thoroughly.

Dried apricots add a little color to the muesli

I find it easier to mix large batches of muesli with my hands.

The muesli can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Muesli is a real whole grain cereal, and remarkably flavorful

Serve with cold milk, or hot if you prefer, or sprinkle over yogurt, and enjoy!

 

Maple-Cinnamon Granola

In America granola seems to be the more favored homemade cereal choice, however, as you can tell from the list of ingredients below, granola is clearly the less healthy option.

You’re still getting whole grains, nuts and fruit, but the addition of sugar, maple syrup, and butter, means it’s not something I’d choose to eat every day.  Generally speaking you can expect granola to have twice the calories, and at least twice the fat of muesli that’s made from similar base ingredients.

Maple-cinnamon granola, with almonds, pecans, raisins, dates, and apple

However, granola can still be part of a healthy breakfast, consumed occasionally, and in moderation. I’d still rather eat this, than ready-made granola. The only problem is, this particular granola made the kitchen smell so divine while it was baking yesterday, and the flavor and texture are so superior to anything you can buy, that it’s going to seriously tax my own level of discipline, and self-control, for the next few weeks.  If you can bake this without stealing a few clusters directly from the oven, you’re stronger-willed than I am.

Prep Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes – including baking

Yield: Approximately 40 servings – 1/2 cup per serving

7-1/2 Cups Old-fashioned Rolled Oats
1-1/2 Cups Sliced Almonds
1-1/2 Cups Pecans, rough chopped
1 Cup Shredded Coconut (optional)
1-1/2 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
3/4 Tsp Fresh Ground Nutmeg

1 Cup Maple Syrup*
1/2 Tsp Salt
24 Tbsp Unsalted Butter (3 Sticks)
1 Cup Light Brown Sugar, firmly packed
2 Tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1-1/2 Tbsp Orange Zest (approx. 1 large orange)

1 Cup Raisins
1 Cup Chopped Dates
1 Cup Dehydrated Apple Pieces

Equipment:

Large Mixing Bowl
Large Kitchen Knife, or Food Processor
Medium Saucepan
2 Half-sheet baking sheets with rim
Parchment Paper
Spray Cooking Oil
Storage containers or zip-top bags

Preheat Oven: 250 F

Maple Syrup

*Tip: Grade B maple syrup is darker, and richer in flavor, than Grade A syrup. Grade B is also usually a little cheaper, and honestly, I prefer the more robust flavor.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and mist the edges of the pan with spray oil to prevent the granola from sticking.

To make the granola, mix the oats, almonds, pecans, coconut, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.

Mix the dry ingredients together, thoroughly

In a medium saucepan heat the maple syrup, butter, sugar and salt over medium-low heat, stirring until the butter and sugar have dissolved.

Granola needs the added fat and sugar to make the texture light and crisp

Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, and orange zest.

Pour the syrup mixture over the grain mix, and stir until the grains are evenly coated.

Stir in the syrup until the grain mixture is evenly coated

Divide the mixture evenly between the two prepared baking sheets.

Evenly divide the mixture between the two baking sheets

Using the back of a spoon or spatula, press the mixture lightly, and evenly across the sheets.

By pressing the granola down onto the sheet, you’ll encourage the formation of clusters of grains

Bake the granola at 250 F for a total of two hours.

Don’t forget to rotate the pans half way through baking

After the first hour, swap the pans, and rotate them, to ensure even baking. Gently stir once, half way through baking, and lightly press the granola back down onto the sheets. Do NOT over stir, or the granola won’t have those crunchy clusters that everyone loves.

After 2 hours, remove the granola from the oven, and allow the trays to cool, undisturbed.

While the granola cools, prepare the fruit. You can use any combination of dried fruit you wish. I used raisins, dates, and apples, but you could also try dried cherries, figs, blueberries, or apricots, providing the total volume of fruit is about 3 dry cups.

You can add any dried fruit you wish, like these dried apples

Once the granola is cool, transfer it to a large mixing bowl, and gently mix in the fruit. Again, don’t over-mix, or the granola will break apart.

Store in an airtight container in the pantry for up to 3 months…although I doubt it will last that long.

Serve with milk, sprinkled over yogurt, ice cream, or simply out of hand as a snack.

Clusters of crunchy, sweet, granola goodness…

If you’re used to eating puffed O’s or extruded flakes, the serving sizes may seem puny, however, when you eat a bowl of whole grains in their minimally processed form, a one-half cup serving is much more satisfying, and delicious!

With all the muesli and granola I made yesterday, I have a hunch I won’t be skipping breakfast again anytime soon!