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FEBRUARY 26, 2006 — Tired of spending $6.95 for a 10-ounce package of gourmet granola? Then don't. Here's an easy master formula. Follow one of the eight variations, or use one to inspire your own cereal blueprint.

Choose the right oats: For the best results, reach for old-fashioned (not quick) oats, which will bake into crisp, golden granola. Cereal made with quick oats clusters better, but the texture is powdery, not crisp, and it tastes of raw starch.

Create clusters: To help the cereal cluster, add a smidgen of water. In combination with the oil and liquid sweetener, the water mixes with the wheat germ to create a delicious mortar. Squeeze the cereal with your hands before baking to seal the bond and form small clumps.

Use both liquid and dry sweeteners: I prefer straight maple syrup, but try honey or a combination of honey and maple syrup, or maple syrup and molasses. Mix the brown sugar with the dry ingredients; it will sit on the cereal's surface to add color and flavor. You can reduce the sweetener slightly (omit the brown sugar), but you may need to increase the baking time to achieve the best color. If serving the granola with milk or over plain yogurt, remember that it needs to be sweet enough to carry the dairy, as well. And don't forget salt: Just a pinch brings out the cereal's flavors.

Bake at a low temperature: That helps the cereal to crisp up and brown thoroughly and evenly. Add the dried fruit partway through baking so it dries out just enough to keep the cereal from turning soggy.

You can double the recipe, but bake the granola in two pans. You also may need to increase cooking time. The key is to cook the granola until it is an impressive golden brown.

Master Granola Recipe

(Makes 1 quart)

Adjust oven rack to middle position, and heat oven to 275 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch metal pan with cooking spray, then set aside. Mix oats, wheat germ, brown sugar, salt and Extra Ingredients --except dried fruit -- in a bowl. Bring syrup, oil, water and any Flavoring indicated below to a simmer in a saucepan over low heat. Drizzle over oat mixture, and stir to combine. Pour mixture onto prepared pan. Working a handful at a time, squeeze cereal to form small clumps. Bake for 30 minutes. Stir in dried fruit. Continue to bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool. (Granola can be stored in an airtight tin for up to two weeks.) For nutrition information on each granola variation, look at the end of this article.

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2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 Tbs. dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup Extra Ingredients (see complete list below)
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 Tbs. flavorless oil, such as vegetable or canola
1 Tb. water
Flavoring (see below)

1. Classic Granola

Extra Ingredients: 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, 1/3 cup sweetened flake coconut, 1/3 cup dark or golden raisins
Flavoring: 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
You can replace the 1/4 cup of maple syrup with 2 Tbs. each of maple syrup and molasses.

2. Crunchy Granola

Extra Ingredients: 1/4 cup slivered almonds, 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, 2 Tbs. sesame seeds, 6 Tbs. currants
Flavoring: none

3. Granola with Tropical Flavoring

Add the coconut along with the cashews and banana chips.
Extra Ingredients: 1/4 cup chopped roasted unsalted cashews, 1/4 cup chopped banana chips, 1/4 cup sweetened flake coconut, 1/4 cup chopped dried pineapple
Flavoring: 1/2 tsp. ground ginger

4. Granola with Cherries and Almonds

Extra Ingredients: 1/3 cup sliced almonds, 1/3 cup sweetened flake coconut, 1/3 cup dried cherries
Flavoring: 3/4 tsp. almond extract

5. Trail Mix Granola

Extra Ingredients: 1/4 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts, 1/4 cup sweetened flake coconut, 1/4 cup dark or golden raisins, 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips*
Flavoring: none
*Stir chips into the granola only after it has completely cooled.

6. Orange-Berry Granola with Pecans

Extra Ingredients: 1/2 cup chopped pecans,1/4 cup dried cranberries, 1/4 cup dried blueberries
Flavoring: 1/2 tsp. finely grated orange zest

7. Pear Granola with Hazelnuts and Vanilla

Extra Ingredients: 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, 1/4 cup chopped dried cherries, 1/4 cup chopped dried pears
Flavoring: 1 tsp. vanilla extract

8. Orange-Flavored Granola with Pistachios, Mangos and Dates

Extra Ingredients: 1/2 cup chopped roasted pistachios, 1/4 cup chopped dates, 1/4 cup chopped dried mangos
Flavoring: 1/2 tsp. finely grated orange zest and 1/4 tsp. allspice

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Nutritional information for granola and variations. Based on 1/2 cup servings.

Classic Granola: 256 calories, 6g protein, 34.9g carbohydrates, 11.4g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 3.9g fiber, 85mg sodium.

Crunchy Granola: 255 calories, 7.3g protein, 30.2g carbohydrates, 12.7g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 4.6g fiber, 77mg sodium.

Tropical Granola: 257 calories, 5.8g protein, 35.3g carbohydrates, 11.3g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 3.8g fiber, 84mg sodium.

Granola with Cherries & Almonds: 258 calories, 6.6g protein, 34.2g carbohydrates, 11.1g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 4.4g fiber, 85mg sodium.

Trail Mix Granola: 270 calories, 6.5g protein, 37.3g carbohydrates, 12g fat , 0mg cholesterol, 4.1g fiber, 229mg sodium.

Orange-Berry Granola with Pecans: 264 calories, 5.7g protein, 34.3g carbohydrates, 12.5g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 4.4g fiber, 78mg sodium.

Pear Granola with Hazelnuts & Vanilla: 272 calories, 6,5g protein, 35.9g carbohydrates, 12.3g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 4.7g fiber, 78mg sodium.

Orange-Flavored Granola with Pistachios, Mangoes & Dates: 259 calories, 6.7g protein, 36.1g carbohydrates, 10.9g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 4.4g fiber, 80mg sodium.

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Contributing Editor Pam Anderson is the author of six cookbooks. Her latest is "Perfect One-Dish Dinners" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $32). She blogs at threemanycooks.com.