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Apple and Amaranth Granola

At this time of year I struggle for breakfast ideas. It’s not cold enough for porridge and I find it hard to get the lovely plums and greengages the season offers so find my bowls of bircher muesli less alluring without a fruity topping. I need something to shake me up a bit and hopefully wake me up a bit as well. The bite of granola seemed to fit the bill.

Raw amaranth grains

I’d been wondering what to do with the amaranth I’d impulse purchased at Whole Foods a while back and decided that a granola might lift it from looking like birdseed to something more appetising. As terrified to get it wet as Zack should have been with his Mogwai in Gremlins after hearing it goes gluey, I popped it in a hot pan first, turning it from plain seed to toasty treat.

Popped amaranth seed

Amaranth is an ancient grain (from a grass I believe) and is similiar to quinoa in that it is gluten free* and high in protein and fibre. It makes interesting sounding porridges, but I think it most appetising dry cooked to keep it nutty and crunchy. Bearing in mind that the seed is so crunchy, I decided to make the rest of the granola a little bit softer by coating it with stewed apple instead of oil. Everything about this recipe was impulse based so it’s in cups, not weights.

Apple and Amaranth Granola:

  • 2 apples, stewed down to make one cup of apple puree
  • 2 cups jumbo oats
  • 1/2 cup amaranth
  • 1/4 cup wheatgerm (optional if your granola is wheat free)
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup pecans, halved
  • 1/2 brazil nuts, halved
  • 1/2 cup honey (or treacle)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

First, stew your apples. Back in Belfast where I made this, it’s dead easy to get proper Bramley apples for cooking, but I struggle to find them in London, so just use anything sharp and tangy. Peel, slice finely, add about a tablespoon of water and stew until soft and like a puree. They’ll collapse in on themselves if left at the lowest heat with a lid on for about 20 minutes.

Then using a hot dry pan, toast your sesame seeds and set aside. Have a lid handy and then into the same pan, put your amaranth and toast until about 40% of it looks like tiny white popcorn and the rest is golden brown. It won’t all pop, but what does will go everywhere so you’ll need that lid!

Place all your dry ingredients in a bowl. You can add more types of nuts if you like. Hazelnuts would be lovely. Some flaked coconut is fabulous. You could add in some linseeds or sunflower seeds. Play around to get your perfect mix. Heat the pureed apple and the honey together and then mix into the dry ingredients, mixing well to make sure they are all coated.

Cook on a shallow tray so the granola is well spread out in the oven at 200℃ for about 20 minutes. Turn it over at this point and give it another 10 minutes until golden and crispy looking but not burnt. Cool in the tray and put in an airtight container immediately as this granola is a bit softer than oil based ones and will wilt gently if left out for too long.

Eat clusters of it with your bare hands while doing so or wait until you can get it into a bowl where it is fabulous with fresh berries and yoghurt. Healthy and filling, this doesn’t taste wholesome or lacking in flavour. The amaranth is nutty and packed with flavour and the chunky nuts make this feel very luxurious indeed. Considering it takes so little time to make, I’ll definitely be doing this again instead of spending serious money on boxed mueslis or granolas. Their packaging migh look nice on the table, but you don’t get to pop your own ancient grains with those….

*this whole granola can be gluten free if you choose oats that guarantee themselves GF in processing. See the Coeliac Society for more info from people in the know.

Finished potato apple bread

Potato Apple Bread

Finished potato apple bread

I grew up on apples and even though more fashionable and fancy fruits have come along since then, none of them have replaced the apple as well, the apple of my eye. Our grandmother lived near County Armagh – with its world famous apple trees – and had an orchard of her own on the farm that produced beautiful Bramleys in abundance. A visit to her’s wasn’t complete without a slice of apple pie.

Another treat I remember when I used to stay with her in the school holidays was the Ulster classic of potato apple bread. Sheets of stodgy but delicious potato bread, filled with tart apple and fried til golden brown on the outside. It is a total treat at anytime, but particularly tastes of autumn when you could pick the apples freshly. It also used to pop up as a seasonal treat in the bakeries of Belfast as the leaves turned and the school year started.

I always thought it was a fiendishly tricky thing to make until I whipped up a batch of potato bread for the first time a few years ago and realised it’s as easy as falling off a log. It followed that the apple version couldn’t be much trickier. And after getting my hands on some Lambeth apples courtesy of Incredible Edible Lambeth and the London Orchard Project at the new monthly Make It Grow It Sell It market, the time had come to try it out.

Potato bread is traditionally made with leftover mashed potatoes, but if you manage to have leftover mash in your house then you’re a better person than I. Instead I peeled about 300g of Maris Pipers, boiled until tender, drained and dried well and added a knob of salted butter before mashing well. Don’t add milk or you’ll end up with something akin to babyfood with this recipe. The salted butter stops the potato being bland so don’t skip it.

Then add around 3/4 cup or 75 grammes of plain flour into the mashed potato and form a dough. You may need more flour ,depending on the wetness of your spuds. Mix well to form a stiff but malleable dough. Knead for a few minutes to firm it up and try to keep it moving all the time or it sticks to your surface and forms a gluey mess.

While you are making the potato dough, put your apples on to stew down. I like them fairly chunky so don’t chop too finely and don’t add more than a tablespoon of water to them while they cook. I don’t add any sugar as I prefer the tart tanginess of apple than the sweet applesauce vibe. You could add cinnamon or cloves if you like too, but I didn’t bother.

Take about a fist-sized lump of the potato dough and roll out on some greaseproof paper until it’s as thin as you can without it being difficult to work with or likely to rip. Then place on a plate and cover with your stewed apple, leaving a good lip round the edge. But don’t skimp on filling! Then roll out another fist sized lump of dough on the greaseproof paper and place on top of the appley bit and seal well with your fingers making an enclosed sandwich.

Slide into a well-heated oiled frying pan. Give it about 4 minutes either side, but keep an eye so it doesn’t burn. Potato bread seems to stay raw for ages and then cook completely before you’ve even realised. Once golden and gorgeous on either side, I like to eat it as quickly as the insanely-hot apple filling will allow without hurting yourself.

It works really really well. The slightly salted potato brings out the sweet tang of the apples and it makes a perfect breakfast if you fancy a change from standard tattie bread. You can also serve it cooled down for elevenses or an afternoon snack with a big mug of strong tea. There just isn’t a time it’s not utterly delicious. Just make more than you expected: everyone wants seconds of this one!