Grain-Free Granola So Good, You Won’t Miss the Oats

September  5, 2018
Good luck at stopping after just one bowl. Photo by Rocky Luten

I’ve always had high hopes for grain-free granola—for the prospect of taking toasty, crispy, harmoniously sweet and salty granola and making it even more deeply nutty. I dreamed of granola with textural diversity: soft, milk-steeped bits coupled with the most perfectly crunchy bundled clumps.

But bowl after bowl, I slowly lost faith. The grain-free granolas I’d encounter or make at home had unforeseen issues. Most recipes called for a base of whole nuts, yielding mouthfuls of clusters that were less like a toasty oat crumble and more like a hockey puck. Some leaned too heavily on flaked coconut to provide oat-like texture. I found myself fervently missing the oats, and not just for their ability to impart thin shards of crispiness while absorbing flavor, but also for their subtle sweetness.

Grain-free granola, I began to accept with great disappointment, was little more than toasted trail mix.

Until one day, very near the brink of defeat, it dawned on me: Use sliced almonds as the base. Chopped roughly, they create similarly sized fragments as you’d find within a handful of oats. Some troubleshooting later, I learned that toasting the almond slices longer than you would a standard granola—and doing so at a higher temperature—brings out the nuttiest possible flavor and a crispness that resembles the oat stuff.

Photo by Ella Quittner

But my toiling didn’t stop with the sliced almond breakthrough. I continued to obsess: Was there a way for grain-free granola to go from being a respectable alternative to a downright addictive showstopper in its own right?

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The answer lay in a recipe that more than 2,000 of you consider a favorite: Nekisia Davis’ Olive Oil and Maple Granola. It’s a sweet-and-savory, olive oil-steeped, brown sugar-coated fantasy of a granola that takes everything likable about the cereal in the first place, and turns the volume all the way up.

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Top Comment:
“So. Dang. Good.”
— Emma L.

When Food52’s Creative Director Kristen Miglore first wrote about Nekisia Davis’ recipe in her Genius Recipes column, she said:

“As granolas go, hers is like muesli after a vampy makeover. Olive oil, maple, brown sugar and salt form a rich, shaggy crust on wholesome innards, like the oats, pecans, coconut shards, and various seeds in her best-selling style Farmhand's Choice. It leans sweet, but olive oil fills out the savory undergirding in a way vegetable oil (the granola standard and a total wallflower) never could, and the salt keeps it from cloying. Making it at home requires pretty much only stirring.”

If it was possible to achieve similarly vampy results sans oats, I had to have it.

I set out on several trials, each time solving for a new issue: sub-par crispness, lack of clumping, over-toasted coconut, and a sweetness-balance that tipped too far in the cloying direction (mainly due to a lack of oats sopping up the syrup, though some of you remarked in the comments of the original recipe that you preferred slightly less sweet variations as well). I tweaked and tweaked—proportions, cooking time, oven temperature—and tried out a few twists, before settling on dried tart cherries, like Early Bird's Jubilee blend.

Photo by Rocky Luten

This is the recipe for the final version, the one I think most closely pays homage to Davis’ masterpiece while remaining grain-free. I hope you’ll use it as a blueprint, rather than an edict. It’s meant to be toyed with and riffed on, like an old joke. Swap in another tart dried fruit, like cranberries. Toss in a handful of dark chocolate chips, after it's cooled. Eat it not just for breakfast, but over ice cream, or on top of a slice of pie. Bring it in a little baggie to work and during a lull in the day, break out an A-plus snack.

Better yet, make a double batch, and divvy some up into jars; tie a twine bow around each, and give it as a gift. Just prepare yourself for the riots when it runs out.

An idea for using the oats you've spared

What's your favorite non-breakfast way to use granola? Let us know in the comments!

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Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.


Emma L. September 5, 2018
So. Dang. Good.
Ella Q. September 5, 2018
Thanks Emma!!