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DIY Grape-Nuts Cereal


Born and educated in Ohio as I was, drives made through the beautiful farmlands of nearby Amish communities or miles clocked behind their buggies on nearly empty country roads are scenes I associate with almost all the family car trips of my childhood. I fully acknowledge that it’s a lifestyle I’ve romanticized as a result, but I don’t see the harm if it leads to me watching interesting documentaries on PBS or picking up the occasional cookbook.

My recent nosing around is how I came to own Cooking from Quilt Country by Marcia Adams. It’s a volume packed with simple and hearty Amish cooking, but the first thing I really wanted to try out of the book was the recipe for what Adams referred to as Graham Nuts but most of us know as Post Grape-Nuts. Conveniently, the recipe called for two cups of buttermilk, an ingredient I had in excess after my last post.

When all was said and done, these cereal bits were tasty and characteristically molar-cracking. They were also very, very sweet and flavorful, thanks to the brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. My husband dubbed them “Grape-Nuts meet Cinnamon Toast Crunch” to give you a sense of where things fell. The recipe even suggested serving the cereal with more brown sugar on top! This is awesome on the one hand—and if you are a hardworking farmhand, possibly totally acceptable—but it hardly makes for the kind of super healthy breakfast cereal I equate with the name. So I took to the internet, but found only recipes along a similar theme, some even adding butter and other oils and sweeteners. Not the direction I was looking to go.

For my version, I decided to reel things in. According to the ingredients listed on the commercial Grape-Nuts box, the cereal contained only whole grain wheat flour, malted barley flour, salt, and dried yeast, plus added vitamins and minerals. The taste was only very slightly sweet, but attractive due to its rich nutty flavor. That’s what I wanted to capture. I researched the differences between true graham flour (used in the original Amish recipe) and the varieties of whole wheat flour available on the market, and finally got a firm grasp on where wheat germ and wheat bran fit in on this product span. (If any readers sprout and/or simply mill their own flour, I’d love to hear how this recipe works for you.) I also considered alternative sweeteners that would deliver a less forward flavor punch and more of the slightly sweet malty flavor of the boxed cereal.

Graham flour

Graham flour offers a coarser grind than traditional whole wheat flour.

Knowing that if I put all my flavor eggs in the wheat basket I needed to make sure I picked a really flavorful starting flour, I decided to go with Hodgson Mill Old Fashioned Whole Wheat Flour, which is on the shelves at my local grocery store and offers a coarser graham flour grind. Depending on what’s available in your area, you could also use a more traditional whole wheat flour or supplement AP flour with appropriate proportions of wheat bran and wheat germ. I also had some barley malt syrup on hand from a recent bagel-making adventure, and discovered that this sweetened the cereal perfectly.

DIY Grape-Nuts: Let's compare.

DIY Grape-Nuts (right) offer plenty of crunch, yet are slightly less dense and less uniform than the commercial option.

In terms of cost, I figure you’re looking at about $2.80 in raw ingredients for seven cups/19 ounces of homemade cereal vs. $3.49 for six cups/24 ounces of the commercial version. While there is nothing challenging about this recipe, it does require some babysitting. The texture of the DIY batch is plenty crunchy, yet slightly less dense and less uniform than the commercial option.

DIY Grape-Nuts Cereal

17.5 ounces (3 1/2 cups) graham or whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup barley malt syrup (at room temperature for easier mixing)

Heat oven to 350°F. Oil a 12×16 sheet pan.

In a large mixing bowl, measure dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Add buttermilk and barley malt syrup to the bowl and mix just until all dry ingredients are evenly combined.

Scrape batter out onto the sheet pan and smooth out to the edges as evenly as possible. Bake for 20 minutes, until edges are just browning and puling away from the pan.

Loosen cake with a spatula and flip out on a cooling rack immediately. Set aside to cool about 40 minutes.

DIY Grape-Nuts Cereal: Process

Once cooled, heat oven to 275°F. Working in four or five batches, roughly break up the cake into chunks by hand and then pulse in a food processor until the bits are the desired size.

Spread the bits across two 12×16 sheet pans and bake until completely dry (about 45 minutes), stirring the cereal and rotating the pans every 15 minutes.

Once dry, turn off the oven, crack the door, and leave to cool. Store in an air-tight container.

DIY Grape-Nuts Cereal: Store in an airtight container.


This recipe and post were created for my “DIY vs. Buy” column on Serious Eats.

Real Deal: DIY Sesame Sticks


No trip to the bulk bin area of the supermarket is ever quite complete to me without bagging a few scoops out of the sesame stick container. After so much barley and millet and quinoa has been piled up in my cart, something a little fun and snappy just seems to be in order. I had never even considered making them for myself at home as a result–the whole point of the exercise was that it was a treat–but they seemed like a simple enough thing to whip up in the kitchen once I started to think about it.

And, at the end of the day, they can be more or less a one-bowl-and-stir creation. The shaping is where I got hung up. At first, I thought I could get a dough that would just flow out of the wide nozzle of a pastry gun, but that was a fool’s game. A rolled out and neatly sliced dough was quite tasty when baked up, but the straight-edged rectangles visually said “cracker” to me more than “fun snack!” They just weren’t the little snakes of sesame that my brain recognized and loved. So I picked up a piece of the raw cut dough, rolled it quickly just three times between my palms, and there is was. By the time I had a whole sheet, however, I wondered how much I really cared about the shape. What was so wrong with rectangles, my back protested. So shape them however your tastes demand. Uniformity for even baking is the important thing.

Sesame Sticks: Ingredients

DIY Sesame Sticks
makes about 3 cups

1 cup (5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces) cup fine cracked wheat
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon beet root powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder or to taste
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons water

Combine flour, sesame seeds, cracked wheat, turmeric, beet powder, garlic powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk thoroughly to combine. In a small bowl, combine water and oil. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Combine thoroughly, kneading any remaining bits into the dough by hand.

Divide dough in half and wrap each in plastic, flattening into inch-thick squares. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow dough to firm up before rolling.

Once dough has chilled, heat oven to 350°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness and, using a knife or pizza wheel, cut into small rectangles (approximately 1/4-inch by 3/4-inch). Alternately, roll and cut dough to your desired shape. Uniformity is more important than size to assure even baking.

Sesame Sticks: Shaping

Leave the pieces as they are or roll each one quickly between your palms to form thin rods. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for ten minutes, then flip or roll the pieces around on the sheet so that the bottoms don’t brown. Continue baking 5-8 minutes more, until sticks are crisp but not browning. Remove from oven and cool completely. Store in an airtight container.


This recipe was created for my “DIY vs. Buy” column on Serious Eats.

Kiss Me, I’m Irish (and I Baked the Soda Bread)


Last Christmas I was gifted a heavenly amount of King Arthur flour, and as we cruise into Christmas 2011, I can’t help but reflect on all the bread and pizza and pies it has been turned into over the past twelve months. However, a package of Irish-Style Wholemeal Flour somehow wedged itself behind some boxes in the pantry and was forgotten about completely until this past weekend. Conveniently, the back of the bag offered a tempting recipe for soda bread, but it required buttermilk. I didn’t have any, but what does fresh Irish Soda bread need more than anything? Good butter, of course. So I decided I would knock down two pins with one throw, as it were, and make my own butter while using the reserved buttermilk for the bread. That would be so cool. You can totally do that, right? Well….

On reflection and after some further study, I realize that I made a miscalculation. As I did not gather my milk over many days in the barn before churning it, nor did I culture it (as a store-bought product would have been processed), my buttermilk was probably missing the acidic quality that you’re looking for when triggering your soda bread chemical reaction. That said, even if my bread could have been lighter and fluffier, its rough wheat character still tastes great and is quite satisfying–especially toasted and topped with a schmear of fresh dill butter.

And next time, I guess I’ll forgo the DIY heroics and just buy a bottle of buttermilk at the store like a normal person.

Irish Brown Bread

Irish Brown Bread
adapted from the package of King Arthur Irish Wheat flour

4 cups Irish-Style Wholemeal Flour (I needed a bit more, probably due to my buttermilk snafu)
2 T sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons oil

Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder to evenly incorporate. Pour the buttermilk and oil into dry ingredients and quickly stir together into a shaggy dough, kneading just a bit with your hands to pull it together into ball.

Move the prepared dough onto the baking sheet and score a deep cross into the top with a large bread knife. Sprinkle the top with a mix of sesame and poppy seed, if you like, and place in the hot oven for 40 minutes or until the top is browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Irish Brown Bread