Surprises aren’t always welcome. And I’m not just talking about bad ones (Surprise! Your appendix burst!). Sometimes even good surprises can be unpleasant. When I was in 7th grade, some of my classmates and I organized a surprise birthday party for a boy who was at the time my best friend. We went to his house while he was away and anxiously waited for him to arrive. When his parents (who were working with us for the surprise) brought him in the door, we yelled “Surprise!“, at which point he immediately burst into tears and ran off. It took his parents 3o minutes to calm him down and bring him back to the party, which ended up being a lot of fun.
I never understood why he reacted that way until four years later, my parents announced to my sister and me that we were going out to dinner. When we got to the restaurant and opened the door, about 50 of our friends from school were there yelling “Surprise!” They had organized the party for both of our birthdays (which are four days apart) with the help of our parents. This was such a wonderful thing that our friends and parents did, but my immediate reaction was to want to turn around and run away. It was too much for me, the unexpected obligation to be at this party, to adjust from a quiet dinner out with my family to a night of dancing with my friends. I got over it after a few minutes, but I finally understood why my 7th grade friend had run away like that when we surprised him.
In food, good surprises are always welcome. In fact, I long for them. Bad surprises are never good (Surprise! That was a glass shard you just chewed on!). But an unexpected ingredient or an unknown cooking technique, they make me deliriously happy.
Granola isn’t known for its ability to surprise. But when I made this recipe and we tasted it for the first time, we pursed our lips and nodded in satisfaction. It was unexpected. The fennel and honey combined to make a truly unique flavor, at least for granola. We were surprised. Pleasantly. And we didn’t run away. We dug in for seconds.
Honey and Fennel Granola – From Bon Appétit
⅓ cup pine nuts
⅓ cup raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup slivered almonds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
½ cup honey
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups old-fashioned oats
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup dried apricots, chopped
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries, chopped
Preheat oven to 350°. Toast pine nuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, sesame seeds, and fennel seeds on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until lightly golden, 5–7 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 275°.
Meanwhile, whisk honey, peanut butter, oil, orange zest and juice, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth. Toss nuts and seeds, oats, and salt in a large bowl. Pour honey mixture over and gently mix until oat mixture is completely coated.
Spread out on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring halfway through (edges will take on color before center does), until golden brown, 20–25 minutes. Let cool; granola will crisp as it cools. Break up into pieces, then stir in apricots and cranberries.
Do Ahead: Granola can be made 1 week ahead. Store tightly covered at room temperature.