After diving into a taste test of a wide array of protein bars, I’ve decided it’s time for a detox. The body can only take so many concoctions of whey protein and fiber additives before crying for mercy. My wife has taken to not so affectionately referring to my collection as “frankenfood”. The background is that I’m working to shift to a more vegetarian, or at least pescatarian, diet and have had the associated (and likely misguided) anxiety about protein intake that many carnivores have in this situation.
If anything, this experimentation has opened my eyes to the potential for replacing many foods in my life with more healthful alternatives. After trying (and being impressed) with a few granola bar recipies (more to come), I’ve decided to take on what seems to be a more rarely pursued feat: homemade breakfast cereals.
If I am to take on reproduction of cereal, I might as well do so by starting with the greatest cereal of all time. I am, of course, referring to Cracklin’ Oat Bran. The healthy-sounding name belies its true identity as sweet, flavorful, crunchy cereal that is more like a crunchy cousin of a oatmeal cookie than any sort of nutritious food. My online search came across this recipe, which seems to be the most popular reproduction. I found it far too buttery and sweet, even more so than the original version. Despite this, it clearly had some of the elements correct, and came across as a cousin of the original rather than just a member of the same species.
Armed with a nutrition analyzer and an ingredients list, I sought to modify this version to achieve two goals: bring the ingredients more in line with the original version and improve its nutritiona profile by reducing the fat and sugar while maintaining fiber and protein.
Here’s the ingredient list from Kellogg’s version, along with my comments about each:
- Oats – a must have
- sugar – brown sugar seemed to be the best for the flavor profile here
- wheat bran – to simplify the recipe, I just stuck with oat bran (below)
- vegetable oil – I used coconut oil
- oat bran – of course, it’s two of the three words in the name!
- corn syrup – it may be irrational, but everyone is scared of this ingredient, so I left it out
- wheat starch – didn’t have any of this on hand, but I figured some whole wheat flour could replace this along with the wheat bran
- coconut – yes, the linked web version didn’t have enough of this
- molasses – sure, why not
- malt flavor – I have plenty of barley malt syrup for bagels, so let’s toss some in
- cinnamon – and lots of it
- salt – just a little bit
- baking soda – sure
- soy lecithin – Amazon has not yet delivered my shipment, and it has that artificial sounding name; I hoped that flax meal could substitute for binding and added fiber
- flavoring – so mysterious
- nutmeg – a little bit goes a long way
I reduced the total amount of ingredients so I could experiment with modifications without wasting too much (or pushing this on every friend and relative in sight). Here is what I ended up with:
- 80 g oats
- 30 g oat bran
- 25 g brown sugar
- 25 g unsweetened coconut
- 30 g whole wheat flour
- 15 g flax meal
- 1.5 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- pinch of nutmeg
- 14 g coconut oil
- 10 g barley malt
- 10 g molasses
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
This proved to be too dry and was missing some sweetness, so I added
- 30 g water
- 10 g honey
I spread this onto a small sheet pan into a layer about 1/4 inch thick and baked at 325 °F for 25 minutes. I let it cool and then cut it into squares. In the picture at the top of the post, the old version is on the left and the new version is on the right.
The taste? I think my version is closer to the original but less sweet. It has a bit more of a grainy texture, perhaps due to the flax seeds, which may also bring out a touch of bitterness. Overall, though, I think it’s pretty good. It still needs a bit of work. Right now the texture is a bit too crumbly, so I could imagine it turning into cereal dust if a large batch is knocked around a box. Some more moisture would probably help, or some natural binder to help it stick together (this may be where the soy lecithin comes in). More experimenting to come.?