Granola, bunch of oats…

DESPITE us French peoples’ stubborn point of view for having the best breakfast options in the world, a few months ago I was merrily convinced that porridge deserved a much higher (or is that lower?) position on people’s breakfast shelves. Since then, every couple of days, I obediently prepare my bowl of porridge before going to bed, in anticipation of my very proper English breakfast.

However (and don’t tell anyone), I admit to having sometimes cheated a bit by adding nuts, seeds or even sultana to this soggy… oups, sorry…addictive potion to give it a crunchy twist. How bad of me. See, my indulgent breakfast when I was kid was cereal flakes mixed with Nutella. Heaven did really exist.

In my quest for childhood food memories and the perfect breakfast – à la française (croissant excluded) – my journey brought me back to Granola. Not as floury as Muesli while still offering a lovely crunchiness that porridge can’t compete with.

Granola is defined, according to the experts – i.e Wikipedia – as “a breakfast food and snack food consisting of rolled oats, nuts, honey, and sometimes rice, that is usually baked until crispy. During the baking process the mixture is stirred to maintain a loose, breakfast cereal-type consistency. Dried fruits, such as raisins and dates, are sometimes added.”

But what is the secret of a successful granola?

It’s a tricky balance. Granola should crunchy yet still light, more-ish yet not too sweet, slightly clustered with no oily aftertaste. Camilla, Rude Health

It needs to have the right amount of pure ingredients in it with no added bulking up grains or sugars. It needs to be toasted to perfection – nice and crunchy, but not dry. Lucy, Love Dean

The skill of the maker! There are so many key factors that determine it’s successful outcome, it is actually a science from the blend of ingredients, the method in which it is mixed and baked. Karolina, Perfekt Nutrition

I believe the secret to a successful granola is the crunchy texture and the nice balance between nuttiness and fruitiness. Natalie, Sweet Things

So Granola is all about oats, seeds and nuts. Nuts, that’s why Granola drives you crazy. While Indiana Jones was climbing the mountains for the search of the Grail, I was pouring my spoon (and yoghurt) into different bowls in the quest for the ultimate recipe.

But as a well-prepared adventurer, I first did some research about the different ingredients that a granola usually contains. Spelt Flakes, Puffed Amaranth, Golden linseeds, Cranberries, Jumbo rolled oat… A granola tasting teaches you a lot about the different nuts and oats that Mother Nature has been kind enough to give us to susbtain our appetite.

Granola should always contain oats… and little bit of love. Mandy, Dorset

A sweetener to make it crunchy and sweet. I don’t really think there are any other rules. Lotte,Southern Alps

Granola should always contain oats, nuts and seeds. These ingredients are powerhouses of nutrition. Lizi, Lizi’s

Granola should always be ‘roasted’ as a rule and generally needs syrup or sugar and a bit of oil to help with the ‘crisping up of it. Lucinda, Munchy Seeds


Munchy Seeds
Jumbo oats, Sultana, Sunflower seeds, Pumpkin seeds, Honey, Sunflower oil, Coconut, Maple syrup, Sesame seeds, Flax, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Orange zest. 504kcal per 100g

Specialises in seeds, the granola is a reflection of the brand positioning. It comes with a nice colour and a promising look with the right balance between the seeds and the oats. The orange zest flavour with the addition of cinnamon and nutmeg gives a very flavoury kick that you don’t find in any of the other brands. However, despite the oats, the granola doesn’t offer a true crunchiness and there is a proper nutty taste missing.

Breakfast or brunch are the best moments to enjoy granola with two spoons full of yogurt, one spoon of stewed rhubarb from the garden and a good sprinkling of Munchy Granola over the top. Moorish, wholesome and utterly delicious.

www.munchyseeds.co.uk

Rude Health
Oats, Sunflower oil, Spelt Flakes, Honey, Barley flakes, Date syrup, Roasted almonds, Sunflower seeds, Puffed Amaranth, Roasted hazelnuts. 484kcal per 100g

The brand who put excitement back for porridge just launched their new granola with one key ingredient, the ‘Amaranth’ a seed that the Greeks associated with immortality, now a popular street food in Mexico they toast in honey and eat like popcorn.

With Munchy seeds, Rude Health is one of the only brands to come up with something truly different. Rude Health has mainly focused its recipe on nuts as the look suggests it. The granola is full of nutty flavours enhanced by the puffed amaranth that brings a surprising lightness to the mix. However, the nutty taste is still very heavy and without yoghurt, the taste can get sickening. The granola will gain to include more seeds to create a right balance and lighten the taste. But some reasons, there is something very addictive to this granola and despite the taste, you can’t stop yourself from going back again and again.

The particular pleasure of granola is that it’s as good straight from the packet as it is in a bowl with milk or yoghurt, and it makes the best instant crumble topping too. Our favourite at the moment is The Granola with Court Lodge pouring yoghurt and a blob of rhubarb compote for breakfast.

www.rudehealth.com

Lizi’s
Jumbo rolled oats, Rapseed oil, Dessicated coconut, cashews, almonds, hazels, walnut, Black treackle, fructose, Pumpkin seeds, Golden linseeds, Sunflower seeds, Oligofructose Syrup. 496kcal per 100g

Low Glycaemic Index is the key selling point for this granola created by Lizi Shaw for her guests when she was running a Bed & Breakfast. Lizi’s organic granola belongs to the ones who really get the balance and the variety of seeds and oats right. The dehydrated coconut adds a soft and even exotic flavour to the whole taste. The crunchiness works well. However, it is still soft and not as strong as the others.

Granola can be enjoyed as a good start to the day, giving you slow energy release because of the oats, nuts and seeds. It can be enjoyed with yoghurt as a snack throughout the day, and it can be dribbled over ice cream or a fruit compote for an easy peasy dessert.

www.lizis.co.uk

Dorset
Oats, Honey, Sunflower seeds, Blanched flaked almonds, Rye flakes, grape seed oil, pecan, pumpkin seeds, natural vanilla extract. 484kcal per 100g

The granola looks appealing with a nice colour between the nuts, the oats and the seed, promising a good crunchiness. However, the flavours flatten in the mouth and the crunchiness gets soggy very quickly. The seeds overpower the whole flavours balanced by the hint of vanilla and honey which brings a pleasant kick to the whole mix.

Breakfast with Honey Granola with cold fresh milk but then again there is ….Chocolate Granola as a quick pudding with some of Rachel’s Coconut Greek yogurt – just divine.

www.dorsetcereals.co.uk

Lovedean
Jumbo oats, Sunflower seeds, Pumpkin seeds, Linseeds, Hemps seeds, Pecan, Brazil nuts, Hazelnuts, Sunflower oil, Hemps oil and Pumpkin oil. 504kcal per 100g

Lucy created the LoveDean Granola for her children as she was sick of there not being a healthy cereal around for them to start their day with. The ones she found on the market had too many preservatives, e-numbers and sugars and that’s how the whole adventure began.

LoveDean offers a good crunchiness with a good balance between oats and seeds. However, once in the mouth, the taste of the seeds tends to overpower the whole spoonful. The granola is quite sweet and works better when enjoyed with yoghurt.

The most popular way of eating granola is to have it with Greek Yoghurt or with semi –skimmed milk. It is also very nice to add some fresh fruit. I always keep one of my mini pots in my handbag for those moments when there is not time for lunch.

www.lovedeanlarder.com

Perfekt
Jumbo rolled oats, Sunflower seeds, Pumpkin seeds, Golden linseeds, Agave nectar, Almonds, Pecan, Brazil nuts, Rapseseed oil hazels. 474kcal per 100g

Katarina began making her own granola because most mueslis were too high in sugar from the dried fruit and porridge were too heavy on starchy carbohydrates with no protein which people needed to balance blood sugar levels and prevent hunger pangs mid morning.

The granola offers a good crunchiness and each spoonful gets a full flavour of the grains with a good balance. The vlight honey cooking prevents the granola for being too sweet. The agave nectar adds a nice touch but tends to be  a bit too overpowering.

Granola is the best option for breakfast, or a healthy convenient snack during the day. I love to enjoy it with yoghurt and a grated pear, or on top of butcher muesli with toasted almonds and blueberries- divine! It us really comforting with hot milk when you nerd cheering up.

www.perfektnutrition.com

Southern Alps
Oat flakes, sunflower seeds, rice syrup, raisins, slow dried apple, apple juice, almonds. 377kcal per 100g

To create their granola, the Southern Alps team have decided to toast the oats in apple juice and a little rice syrup.  To be able to supply enough apples for the recipe (1 kg of dried apple requires 10 kg of fresh apple), they teamed up with entrepreneurs from Argentina who found the best apple farms and developed the cooking process.

However, the apple flavours is overpowering and leaves a souer and bitter after taste. the different sizes of the ingredients is quite disturbing once in the mouth. The granolo is much more enjoyable with a spoon of yoghurt which softens the powerful flavours.

Granola is traditionally a breakfast to enjoy with milk, soya, rice drink, yoghurt…..anything really. But people have begun eating it as a snack any time during the day or if they come home late from work and need a little something before going to bed. I also think that lots of women eat early with the kids, or go to the gym in the evening and feel hungry late in the evening….and they eat the cereal as a healthy but filling snack.

www.southern-alps.co.uk

Sweet Things
Oats, syrup, Sunflower seeds, Pumpkin seeds, Raisins, Cranberries, Pecan nuts, Madagascar vanilla extract.

Specialises in brownies and home-made cakes, Sweet Things has used her experience and know-how to create a powerful granola. A lot less seedy than the others, the granola is perfect for the chunkiness lovers with a very pleasant fruity flavours coming from the cranberries. However, some clusters are really big and a bit hard to chew.

Granola is more indulgent a weekend breakfast treat to be served with natural yoghurt, maple syrup and fresh berries, or a mid morning snack eaten on its own in handfuls to keep you going until lunch.

www.sweetthings.biz

Ottolenghi
Whole oats, Almonds, Brazil nuts, Maple syrup, light muscavado sugar, vegetable oil, salt.

The reputation of Ottolenghi’s recipes is set. Each salad, main course, cakes, sides is a expression of love for flavours, the ones which will stay in mind for a while. The ones close to perfection. And its Granola reflects this well-established reputation. A spoonful of Ottolenghi’s granola opens the door to the kingdom of nuts.

But is it really what you can still consider being granola? That’s the big question. The taste is just amazing. The granola offers a strong crunchiness and the flavours are brought to a completely different level to the previous ones but should it been consider as granola? Ottolenghi’s fan will recognise the talent of the brand to bring flavours at their best. However, the maple syrup taste is quite strong and it’s £7 asking price makes sure it is enjoyed in small portions.

www.ottolenghi.co.uk

So, would Granola be the best option for breakfast? But, so what about Muesli or Porridge then?

You might as well ask me to choose between my children! Never. Camilla, Rude Health

It comes down to personal preference. Granola is sweet and crunchy. Muesli is not sweetened and often a bit softer, and it may have some texture due to the chewy fruits or crunchy nuts – porridge is hot, soft and sloppy.  Lotte, Southern Alps

Granola – definitely.  It is so versatile.  You can use it for toppings in salads, add it to your bread mixture, toppings on ice cream – it’s endless. Lucy, Love dean

Granola, muesli and porridge all have their place. Porridge is a perfect breakfast fuel on a cold Winter’s day, muesli is a summery feel good breakfast. When I need a bit of sweetness but goodness at the same time, I reach for the granola. Natalie, Sweet things

As I learned it through my conversation and tasting moments with friends, Granola is a personal thing, depending on the brand or the recipe you grow up with. Some like it more oaty, some more seedy and some are in love with a puffier option.

I like when my granola is crunchy, with a good balance of nuts and oats and a bit of seeds for the texture. While going through experiences with the different granola, I mixed Rude Health and Munchy Seeds granolas together to balance a strong nuttiness on one side and too much seeds on the other side… The jar is in the kitchen and the level is getting lower and lower every day. The perfect match?

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Brownies – The ultimate tasting experience

IN life, a project can start with a simple email or a phone call. From a simple suggestion to taste a chocolate pudding, who would have ever imagined that, a few weeks later, the tasting would have turned into the crazy idea of organising a review of brownies from different brands and bloggers willing to take part in the project.

Beyond the tasting and reviewing (which is far from being the hardest task to accomplish, I must admit!), I discovered people with a true love for brownies. A passion so intense that they can spend hours talking about these wonderfully intricate small squares of chocolate. Small, but so much to say!

A brownie should be chewy on the outside – a kind of baked fudgy casing – with an almost glossy, meringue-like, light crunch to the top. Biting in breaks through the top easily, straight to the deep cakieness – and on to the soul of the piece: the dark, fudgy centre.” Petra, ChocStar

A chocolate brownie is ‘a rich dense chocolate cake slice’. It should be moist, dense and fudgy with a paper thin crisp top.” Sarah, Serious Treat

My perfect idyllic chocolate brownie is rich, chocolaty, fudgy and gooey with chocolate pieces in it and ideally a slight crust on top. Ingredients must be natural and good quality including chocolate such as Belgian. Nuts are wrong and detract from the overall chocolate taste in my opinion. A brownie should be a pure indulgent treat, totally different to a slice of cake.” Natalie, Sweet Things

A brownie may cheer you up in the middle of the afternoon, an enjoyable moment of pleasure. Brownie makers, however, take the definition of a perfect brownie very seriously and spend hours creating the ultimate recipe. From the varying – and often contradictory – definitions they come up with, I’m sure they’d send just as much time arguing the said definition.

The absolute perfect brownie is simple and pure – it doesn’t contain booze, nuts, raisins or cherries. It is simply 70% chocolate, eggs, flour, butter, sugar and vanilla. It should be something you can also pick up with your hands and take an almighty bite out of, getting your hands and face a bit sticky as the intense chocolaty-ness hits you. Most importantly, a brownie is the perfect brownie if when you’ve just finished it, you’ll wish for just one more bite.” James, SoBo Chocolate

“A brownie is a small, chewy, cake-like cookie, usually made with chocolate and possibly containing nuts or dried fruit which brings huge joy to children, many adults and to the cook who made them. The best brownies always look home-made – if they’re too perfect they probably don’t taste too good!” Paul, Paul’s cooking

A brownie should be soft and slightly gooey in the centre but not undercooked with chunks of chocolate and pecan nut, strong chocolate taste with no artificial taste nor powder taste. We find that enrobing the brownie chunks increases the chocolate taste and make a nice contrast from crisp coating to soft interior.” Anne, Artisan du Chocolat


So, with pen, paper, water, a bottle of 2004 Domaine Pouderoux, Maury and 1988 Vin Santo Castelio di Verrazzano ready, Aforkfull, R_McCormack, Bridedwithfood, chocolatetour and my dearest D were ready to dig in and enlighten ourselves in the mystery of brownies.

What started as a simple tasting, though, turned out to be a very instructive master class. What I thought was an insignificant piece of chocolate cake had actually much more to say in its defence than I could have imagined, especially with the incredible range we had at hand – Bea’s of Bloomsbury, Paul A Young, SoBo Chocolate, Leon, Gu, ChocStar, Paul’s cooking, Garlic Confit, Serious Treat, Gower Cottage, Sweet Things, Cocomaya, More Artisan, William Curley, Artisan du Chocolat, Cocoa Loco and Wholefoods.


Learning #1: This ‘interesting beast somewhere between a cake, pudding, chocolate bar and a ….well cake again’, as Garlic Confit defines it, likes to differentiate itself. The most creative ones will play the fudgy and gooey game while the others will concentrate on the right balance between the crispiness and the chewiness. The brownie lives and likes to be eaten for itself and, among the 19 brownies tasted, none of them looked or tasted the same. Team spirit is definitely not a notion that a brownie will fight for.

“Traditionally Brownies are made in a bar or square mould and cut. They are often soft in the centre giving a gooey texture. We serve ours in a small cup to give the appearance that it has been made just for you. Our Brownies have a soft centre with roasted walnuts and a crusty top adding texture to the Brownie.” William, William Curley

Learning #2: Being creative is good…but not too much! Playing with flavours and texture adds a nice touch to the brownie world, it brings something different and unexpected but sometimes the classic remains the best.

“A brownie should have a little crunch on the outside and be deliciously moist on the inside as well as having a luxurious chocolate taste that coats the inside of your mouth as you munch, with an intense chocolaty velvetiness that continues to excite the taste buds as you eat.” Kate, Gower Cottage


Learning #3: The choice of the ingredients and especially the quality of chocolate will make the success of the brownie. Use bad chocolate at your own risk! It usually results in a buttery, sugary cake that our poor palates have trouble enjoying for more than a bite.

A brownie is chocolate that can be consumed with a dense but velvety finish in the mouth.  A brownie should not in any way, shape or form, resemble cake. Brownies are one of the few desserts by which the quality of the chocolate is most seen, particularly ours as chocolate is the number one ingredient by weight in our brownies.” Bea, Bea’s of Bloomsbury


Learning #4: Judging isn’t an easy task. Expectations are high and you don’t want to disappoint anybody. Beyond that, each brownie was not made with the same audience in mind, nor were they made for the same purpose.  Some are meant to bring us back to childhood, while others are epitome of chocolate perfection. But you have to make a choice and taking a decision – even if the fear of being blacklisted by everybody – suddenly crosses your mind (eek!).

Learning #5: Water is your best friend! Drink a lot of water when you organise a brownie tasting… and stay away from chocolate for the next couple of days.

After having enjoyed a few bites of each brownie, debating the taste and the texture, discussing the look, figuring out the quality of the chocolate and the necessity of adding flavours, rinsing your palates from sugar and duelling with the imminent stomach ache, it was time to compare notes and determine favourite choices.

But how to feature it? A lot of questions came up to find a way to present our feedback.

Should we give a prize to everybody? I don’t think so as the list was very long.

Should I mention what we liked and what we disliked? I guess it could be a good learning.

Should I list the brownie based on our rates? It wouldn’t be fair as some were made by professional chocolatiers and others by bloggers.

We finally decided to announce our 5 favourites and explain our choice based on everybody’s feedback.

William Curley. A crunchy and gooey texture all at once with a light nutty taste obviously made with very good quality chocolate that created a perfect balance. Funnily enough, the brownie looks more like a muffin but the taste is definitely what you expect from a brownie.

Cocoa Loco. A denser brownie with a texture made of different layers that gives a nice crispiness in the mouth but still keeps its gooeyness. The chocolate is very tasty but not overpoweringly so with a light sugary taste.

Sweet things. A nice full chocolate taste that stays in the mouth providing a comforting feeling. The brownie is nicely dense and fudgy without being too gooey. The glitter sparkles on the top adds a nice touch!

ChocStar. The perfect texture, both crunchy at the top and fudgy inside.  The brownie has a very nice smooth chocolate taste in mouth without being too sugary.

Cocomaya. Despite being a bit heavy without any true crispiness, the texture feels very good.  The chocolate is rich and intense with an interesting hint of sea salt.

SoBo. The Nut-lovers’ choice, the fudgy brownie started with a nutty taste which it held throughout.

I would like to give a special mention to Bea’s of Bloomsbury white chocolate brownies. The texture reminds more of a flan but it has a very pleasant and smooth taste.

For someone passionate about food, it was a unique opportunity to have the chance to taste all these brownies at once and I would like to thank all the chocolatiers as well as the bloggers Paul’s cooking & Garlic Confit who were willing to take part in this truly interesting and rich experience. Merci !