I never make granola the same way twice. Nekisia Davis’s Olive Oil and Maple Granola is my default starting point, but the specifics depend on whatever I have in the house, and however creative (or, ahem, not creative) I’m feeling that day.
Sunflower seeds often make way for salted peanuts. If I run out of pecans, walnuts are ready to swoop in. Maybe the light brown sugar gets supplemented with some dark. Or the maple syrup gets swapped out for molasses.
But then, one weekend, I ran out of rolled oats.
While it was easy to substitute one nut or sweetener for another, rolled oats were a doozy. I thought: I could be like Sqirl and use puffed millet! But I didn’t have any puffed millet. And then I found quick-cooking oats.
I almost never have these around (if you ask me, rolled oats are already pretty quick-cooking to begin with), but a recent batch of cookies called for them, and I had leftovers. According to The New Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst, “Quick-cooking rolled oats are groats that have been cut into several pieces before being steamed and rolled into thinner flakes.”
It sounded interchangeable enough to me. I did a mix-and-match combo of old-fashioned oats and quick-cooking ones, and the result? “The best granola you’ve ever made,” according to my husband, my most discerning granola taste tester. It was distinctly clumpy, like someone had taken a barely-sweet granola bar and broken it into pieces. We devoured the batch in a matter of days.
While old-fashioned oats look like ovals, their quick-cooking counterparts look like someone took those ovals and pulsed them a few times in the food processor. Which is when I started to think: Isn’t that the first step in DIY oat flour? If finely processed oats can bind enough to turn into an alternative flour, wouldn’t coarsely processed oats be more significantly binding than old-fashioned? Are quick-cooking oats the secret to clumpier granola? Have old-fashioned-oat granola recipes been steering us wrong this whole time?
I made two more batches of granola to find out. The first: all old-fashioned oats. The second: all quick-cooking oats. Unlike my usual granola shenanigans, this time I strictly followed the recipe (cough cough, I added a frothy egg white and skipped the tossing step). Would the old-fashioned batch be less clumpy than the quick-cooking one? Would the quick-cooking experiment be another batch of best-ever granola?
Sort of. And sort of. While both batches of granola yielded significant clumps (thanks to zero tossing, the ample sugar quantity, and the egg white), the quick-cooking oats created a texture unlike any granola I’ve ever tried. (And if you’re wondering—yes, the quick-cooking-oat granola did cook a few minutes faster than the old-fashioned-oat batch. But not by a significant amount.)
Our executive editor Joanna Sciarrino compared it to “one of those Nature Valley bars,” which I took as a great compliment. And my granola-fiend husband was “really into” the dense, shortbread-like consistency, begging to be crumbled into a bowl, then covered with cold milk.
While each old-fashioned rolled oat demands to be noticed (look at me! no, look at me!), quick-cooking oats work together—blending into an almost-cookie and letting the peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, you name it, become the textural pops.
From now on, I’ll always have both types of oats in my pantry. I’ll keep playing around with the ratio, because I can’t help myself. But if you want to take the trick for a spin yourself, just turn to your favorite granola recipe and replace half of the old-fashioned oats with quick-cooking ones.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.