Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stories of muesli

The foods we make and eat are the end products of personal stories. Ok, so last Wednesday's toasted ham and cheese sandwiches might just tell the story of a long day at work and an empty pantry when you got home, but that's a story all the same (and one with which I'm sure most of you will identify).

Today's story, though, for me, has a unique personal history which will forever make it special in my mind. And the minds and tastebuds of those who came along for the ride in ways big and small.

I've been making my own muesli for what seems like forever. I always liked the idea of it as a breakfast food, but found the commercial ones bland or too sugary. When I was a teenager I tried making my own, and it was great. Easy, relatively cheap and SO much better than anything I could buy. So I kept making it, adapting and improving the recipes, and over time my family and a few friends also benefited from my semi-regular cereal production.

Then I started my own business, making healthy home-delivered family meals for people who liked to eat well, but often didn't have time to do it themselves. The mueslis seemed to fit with my other offerings so I added them as occasional menu items. Then regular items, and eventually things evolved so that the muesli became the core of my business rather than just an add-on (don't be fooled though, the few lines above in no way detail the massive efforts of a few key people in getting the business to that point!!).

Anyway, in July last year, after 4 years of trading, I quietly closed the doors to my first ever business. And while it was sad for me, I think in some ways it was more sad for the people around me, the ones who cheered me on for all that time only to see it not 'work out'. You see, from the outside, I guess it looks like that, but I learned a lot in my time that no amount of watching someone else's business could have taught, and on reflection I really don't feel unsuccessful about the whole thing. My experience landed me a great job when I closed up, and it gave me a real understanding of the joys and the pitfalls of small business should I ever be crazy enough to attempt it again. And besides, I've still got that muesli.

Unfortunately for my nearest and dearest, they don't have that muesli anymore, at least not on tap like they were used to. Wistful, slightly guilt-inducing comments have been made, and their muesli stocks now rely on my occasional baking frenzies to keep them in supply.

So in tribute to the the great support I've received, and a little bit in hope that at least some of those loyal followers will attempt to make it themselves, below is the recipe for my bestseller - Toasted Nut Crunch. And if you aren't already one of my muesli addicts, try it. It's got a great story.

Toasted Nut Crunch Muesli
makes about 3-3.5kg
(yes, it's a lot but your friends and family will thank you for the lovely gift, and it doesn't really take any longer to make than a small amount)

This is the only one of my muesli recipes which calls for a brown sugar mix when baking (all the rest are lightly toasted with honey). You could use 200-300g good liquid honey instead of the sugar mix and it will still be great, but you won't get that same deep, toasty crunch which is the reason its followers love it so much.

1.3kg rolled oats
(not instant oats)

300g rolled barley
(I have occasionally used rolled spelt which is just as good, but harder to find)

150g flaked coconut 'chips'

150g pumpkin seeds/pepitas
15g ground cinnamon

10g ground mixed spice

140g whole raw almonds

140g raw Brazil nuts, chopped into large chunks
(you want almond-sized chunks, so each nut can be chopped into 3-4 pieces. Doing this by hand is tiresome but gives the best result)

300g sultanas

140g dried cranberries

140g dried apple, chopped into sultana-sized pieces

500g dark brown sugar

250ml boiling water

60ml canola or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 180C and have 2 or 3 large roasting trays ready to go.

In a very large bowl, mix the oats, barley, coconut chips, pepitas, spices and nuts. The easiest way is to get in there with your hands and give everything a good turn to combine.

Mix your dried fruits in another bowl and set aside.

In a third bowl, mix the brown sugar, water and oil.

Put your cereal/nut mixture into the roasting trays - don't overfill them as you'll be doing a lot of mixing while they cook, and they also take much longer to toast the deeper the trays are filled. It's best to half-fill them and do more batches if you have to.

Evenly distribute the brown sugar mix among your trays and give everything a really good mix to ensure all the bits are coated with the sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and mix thoroughly, scraping the bottom of the tray to make sure any stuck bits are loosened (I can't stress enough the importance of stirring really well while you cook the muesli - the better you mix it, the more even and toasty the final product will be. So don't get lazy!).

Return the trays to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes before mixing again. Repeat this process 2-3 times until all the moisture has steamed out and your muesli is loose and 'dry' - what you're looking for is an even brown colour with all the grains and nuts separate and free-flowing (no stickiness, this means it's not quite done). The total time the muesli needs in the oven will depend on your tray dimensions and how deep you've filled them, and could be anything between 30 and 60 minutes. Don't worry if it doesn't seem really crunchy yet as it will harden up while it cools.

Tip all your cooked muesli back into the large bowl and mix in the fruit, then let the muesli cool before packing into airtight containers or bags.