I went home to upstate New York last week for Easter. It’s about an eight-hour drive from New Hampshire if I only stop once for gas, and every hour that passes feels like five. Flying there is much faster, of course, but this time around I had five GALLONS of olive oil in my trunk to deliver to family members (we did a bulk buy, as I mentioned here). I kept imagining the scenario in which I would be pulled over and would have to explain what, exactly, I was doing with a car full of olive oil, but gladly that never happened.
Going home was nice. My mom and most of my siblings still live in the area, so it’s always busy/lively when I go back. I’m still getting used to the idea of my Dad not being there though. It’s been six months since he (unexpectedly) passed away, and I still have a hard time believing he’s not just going to walk back in the door or come sit down at the table with us. I want to talk about him, but most times I can’t do so without a huge lump jumping into my throat and my eyes welling up. In time.
…so back to Easter. There was a lot of food—as always. With nearly everyone in my family being food-obsessed (my brother is a chef and the rest of us are just avid cooks/bakers), there’s always a full spread. Ham, Polish sausage, scalloped potatoes, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, you name it. I decided to add a panzanella bread salad to the mix (loosely based off this recipe, with a lot of garlic and feta added in), using a loaf of homemade sourdough I had brought with me. It was excellent and we ate the leftovers for days. I made a cake for dessert too, following Dorie Greenspan’s celebration cake recipe (a favorite), and filling it with fresh orange curd made from my sister’s abundant CSA citrus share. It was all so good.
Aside from the things we made while I was there, I brought along several jars of my homemade cereal. I’ve been making it for years now, and everyone likes it so much that I literally give it to my mom as a Christmas present.
Why do I make my own cereal? Well, you can probably guess—most cereals on the store shelf, even the “healthy ones,” are filled with unpronounceable things you probably want to avoid. Here’s what my homemade version contains: spelt flour, almond meal, kefir, coconut oil, maple syrup, salt, cinnamon, baking soda, vanilla and maple extracts. All healthy, recognizable ingredients, right? Plus, it’s easy to make and yields a huge batch. Stored in the freezer, it lasts months.
As for the taste, think nutty granola meets muesli (or Great Grains meets Oatmeal Crisp if you want a brand-name comparison). Crunchy and slightly sweet upon first bite, then softening like porridge or oats as it absorbs the milk (I like it best this way). It’s the only breakfast cereal I’ll ever need. And, coincidentally, my best Christmas gift.
[Hover over photos for captions.]
Homemade Breakfast Cereal
Start this recipe the night before you want to make it; I usually start it on a Friday night and finish it on Saturday. The process is this: Soak your ingredients the night before (I talk about the importance of soaking grains/flours in this post), bake it into a cake the next day, then crumble and dry the cake pieces out. Voilà, cereal! It’s really a simple and fun process. Recipe adapted from here. | Yield: About 14 cups.
To soak the night or day before:
4 1/2 cups spelt flour (or regular whole wheat)
1 1/2 cups finely ground almonds/almond meal/almond flour
3 cups plain kefir, buttermilk, or yogurt (thinned with water)
To mix in after soaking:
3/4 cup melted coconut oil
1 cup maple syrup or honey (or 1/2 cup each, or 1/2 cup maple syrup and 10-15 drops liquid stevia)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon maple flavoring, optional
Dried fruit and chopped nuts (I like chopped dried plums, dried cherries, walnuts, and toasted hazelnuts; pictured is just sliced almonds as it was for my mom)
The night or day before you want to bake the cereal: Mix flour, ground almonds, and soaking medium of choice in a large glass bowl. Mix just until no dry flour remains, but don’t overdo it—you want to keep it loose so it’s easy to combine with the other ingredients the next day. Cover with a loose lid and leave on the counter for 12 to 24 hours. (Mine bubbles up quite a bit and grows in size because my kefir is so active; see first photo in series above.)
The next day: Once soaking is complete, preheat oven to 350º F (175º C). Lightly grease two 9×13-inch pans or one large 11×17-inch pan, which is what I used.
In a mixer, combine the second group of ingredients, then add the soaked flour mixture a cup or so at a time, beating until fully blended. I work slowly here, so it all incorporates well.
Pour batter into pans and bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake is lightly golden in color.
Let cool then crumble the cake into small pieces, about the size of marbles or a little larger. Spread on cookie sheets if drying in the oven, or dehydrator sheets if using a dehydrator (I’ve used both with success). In oven, dry at 200º F (95º C) for at least 4 to 5 hours, rotating sheets and turning cereal every hour or so. The cereal is done when the pieces feel completely dry (like granola), with no moisture remaining. In dehydrator, dry at around 135º F (60º C) overnight.
Once cool, add in any dried fruit or chopped nuts you like. Store in the freezer if not using immediately.
Eat with either warm or cold milk (dairy, almond, or otherwise), with blueberries or sliced bananas if you have them. [Note that I usually have about 1/2 cup or less of the cereal itself, as it’s super filling!]