A well-known San Francisco ice cream shop has a most popular flavor called “Secret Breakfast” that consists of whiskey-spiked ice cream punctuated with crispy cornflakes.
I make no secret that this granola contains bourbon (though the alcohol does, unfortunately, bake away in the heat of the oven).
Alcohol tends to dry out baked goods, which can prove disastrous for cakes and cookies, yet beneficial for granola, which should be bone dry and crispy until doused with sweet milk or sprinkled on creamy yogurt.
These crunchy, nut-studded clusters have been my favorite breakfast as of late. The recipe is adapted from one pilfered from my pastry teacher long ago (perhaps to get her back for not divulging her pie dough secrets…).
The baking technique is a brilliant one. Instead of toasting the granola on an open sheet pan, stirring it every 10 minutes, the granola is spread into a thin, even layer, covered with a second sheet pan, and baked undisturbed for 40 minutes. The result is a bronzed sheet of granola that gets broken up into clumps and clusters.
Maple sugar and bourbon make the granola extra crispy, and the vanilla bean brown butter adds amazing depth of flavor reminiscent of the best oatmeal cookies, ever. (In fact, these flavors would make some pretty kick-ass cookies.)
The finished cereal bursts with flavors that blend seamlessly: the aforementioned butter browned with vanilla bean, maple, bourbon, spicy nutmeg and cinnamon, earthy oats and toasty nuts. A hefty dose of salt makes it positively addictive.
Which, unlike bourbon on its own, isn’t so bad. It’s healthful enough for breakfast (the granola, that is); sprinkled over ice cream, it can also transition into dessert territory. This granola has the added bonus of being refined sugar- and gluten-free. Oh, and it makes a great gift, too.
My favorite way to eat this granola is with whole milk and fresh strawberries when in season, though ripe pears make a fine substitute. The alcohol in the bourbon bakes away, but feel free to add a splash back in for your own secret breakfast.
Maple Bourbon Brown Butter Granola
Enjoy this granola with milk and fresh fruit for breakfast, alone for a crunchy snack, or over ice cream for a decadent dessert. It makes a welcome gift, and will stay crisp in an airtight container for up to a month.
Makes about 4 cups
3 ounces (6 tablespoons / 3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1/4 cup (2 ounces) maple syrup
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups (1/2 pound) old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup (2 ounces) whole, raw almonds
1/2 cup (2 ounces) raw pecan halves
1/3 cup (2 ounces) maple sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons bourbon whiskey
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Have a second rimmed baking sheet and piece of parchment ready.
Cook the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat with the vanilla bean and scrapings, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter
browns and smells nutty, about 5-10 minutes. When the butter foams up, watch it closely so that it doesn’t burn. There should be dark brown (but not black, save for the vanilla seeds) flecks of toasted milk solids on the bottom of the pan, and the butter should be golden in color. Let the butter cool slightly, then
stir in the salt and maple syrup to dissolve the salt.
Combine the oats, nuts, maple sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl. Pour the butter mixture over the oat mixture, tossing to combine thoroughly, then stir in the bourbon.
Dump the mixture onto the lined baking sheet, and spread it into a thin sheet no thicker than an almond. Ideally, the edges will be slightly thicker than the center as they will bake faster. Lay the second piece of parchment over the granola, and place the second sheet pan on top, right-side up, making a granola sandwich of sorts.
Slide the whole thing into the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate and continue baking another 10 – 20 minutes, peeking under the parchment to make sure the edges aren’t burning, until the granola is a rich golden brown. It will still be soft, but will crisp up as it cools. (You can test for doneness by letting a small cluster cool on the counter. If it’s crisp at room temperature, the granola should be good to go.)
Let the granola cool completely in the sheet pan sandwich, then break it up into clusters and store in an airtight container for up to a month or two. (If the granola is still soft when cool, no worries; break it up a bit and slip it, uncovered, back into a low oven, around 225ºF, until the granola is golden and crisps up when cooled. You can also revive stale granola this way.)