I may have a creative tendency or two, but my older sister is true artist. When she graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, the talented painting major could have scored a great job at any number of big name companies. At the time, I remember thinking she was crazy to turn down what seemed like amazing opportunities. Her reasoning, however, was simple. She said her creative energy always felt squashed when she had to work within someone else’s parameters. She simply wanted to paint. And that made her happy.
At the tender age of six, my sister stunned everyone with an impressive sketch of a horse, and a few years later whipped off a spot-on portrait of a family friend. I remember everyone chuckling about how well she captured his prominent nose! I always wanted to be able to draw like that.
I realized years later that, although nobody was ever going to pick me first for a Pictionary team (I still LOVE that game!), I had a little creative energy of my own. Perhaps because my artistic ability is on a completely different level than my sister’s, a challenge issued by someone else is often a stepping off point in my creative endeavors. It’s actually why I enjoy recipe development work. Being presented with a specific product or two reigns in what can otherwise be a job without boundaries–think of the infinite ways to combine a nearly endless list of ingredients, the vast array of cooking methods, uncooked options…and so on and so on.
In this case, I was tasked by my friends at Stonyfield with creating a recipe using Bob’s Red Mill’s steel cut oats and coconut sugar. For an added challenge, the recipe would ideally pair well with yogurt. For those not familiar with coconut sugar, it’s a granular sweetener made from the nectar of coconut palm tree blossoms–and is much like a coarse brown sugar. Despite what it might seem, there’s isn’t a pronounced coconut flavor. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to pick up any coconut flavor. What you might notice are notes of caramel that pair well with warm fall flavors–and the coarse texture makes it a welcome finishing touch on oatmeal, cookies, and other baked goods.
As I pondered where to begin with this challenge, I went through my mental list of baked oatmeals, muffins, quick breads, etc. Honestly, I don’t know where I plucked Mock Grape Nuts out of my head–although my husband does love to mix them into almost any cereal for added crunch.
The final result was something unexpectedly satisfying. The sweetness level can be adjusted to personal preference and these gluten-free “Grape Nuts” (use certified GF oats if needed) can be enjoyed as a cold or hot cereal or as a crunchy topping on oatmeal, yogurt, parfaits and even salads. When I have the urge to munch, I often grab a handful of them. For those who find the popular cereal to be a little too crunchy, the following oat-based bits are plenty crunchy yet easier on the teeth.
Yield: 2 cups
- 1 cup (176 grams) steel cut oats (certified gluten-free if necessary)
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon (14 grams) melted coconut oil (or melted butter*)
- 2 – 3 tablespoons coconut sugar (may substitute brown sugar or maple syrup**)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Place the oats and the water in a bowl. Allow to stand at room temperature overnight (covered or uncovered is fine).
The following day, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and grease a large, rimmed baking sheet. (You may also line it with parchment but I usually do not…keep reading.)
Drain any residual water off the oats (most of it will have been absorbed), and toss them with the melted oil. Sprinkle the sugar and salt overtop, and toss to evenly coat the oats.
Spread the oats in an even layer over the prepared baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir. (If using parchment, they may stick a little at the beginning. Don’t worry, this will lessen as the oats continue to dry out.) Return to the oven for 15 minutes, and then stir again. Repeat for another 15 minutes or until the oats are dried out. The precise cooking time will vary based on oven. After about 45 minutes, if the oats are sufficiently brown but still have some moisture in them, reduce the oven temperature to 250 or 275 F, and continue checking and stirring every 5-10 minutes or until crisp and dry. If the oats are mostly dry but a few pockets of slight moisture remain, you may turn the oven off and allow the oats to sit in the still-hot oven until they are cool.
Remove the oats from the oven. When completely cool, transfer to an airtight container. Use as a crunchy topping for yogurt, stovetop oatmeal, cold cereal, salads, etc. The oats will keep for several weeks at room temperature.
- *Melted butter (or even another mild or fruity oil–like avocado oil) can be used instead of the coconut oil. When I tested with butter, the oats browned slightly more but still turned out quite well.
- **Two tablespoons of sugar creates a slightly more savory end result with a subtle, pleasing salty note. Three tablespoons offers mild sweetness. You may taste before baking and add to taste. Brown sugar may be used if coconut sugar isn’t available. Maple syrup works but extends the cooking time due to the added moisture.