Julie Anne Hession

This is how the Las Vegas granola queen rolls

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If you’re someone who thinks granola is just for heath nuts and livestock, you’re not alone. You’re also in luck. All you vocal locavores, it just so happens that the most delicious granola I’ve ever eaten (and you’re hearing it directly from a huge fan) is made right here in Las Vegas from Utah oats, and it’s bound to change your opinion of the stuff.

From her tiny one-woman kitchen in an industrial complex near Town Square, Julie Anne Hession mixes, bakes and hand-bags the five varieties of her all-natural granola, including Maple-Blueberry, PB&J, Raspberry-Truffle, Tropical Bliss and her flagship creation, Sweet Citrus (8 ounces $5.95; 16 ounces $7.95).

A former bakery owner, Hession could never seem to find a store-bought granola that she liked. “I felt like it was all too bland,” she says, “and I like clusters, so you can eat it like a snack.” In 2007, the recipient of both an undergraduate degree from UNLV’s hotel college and an MBA from Duke University launched Julie Anne’s All Natural Granola from her eponymous bakery in Henderson. Hession closed shop that year to focus on the retail and wholesale granola market. The line was picked up by Whole Foods in 2008 and since then has been selling all over the world via her website, JulieAnnes.com. “It’s really flattering,” she says, “because it means that [buyers] can’t get something similar where they are.”

The plucky self-taught baker from Pennington, N.J., has appeared on Food Network’s competitive cooking show Ultimate Recipe Showdown in 2009, taking the $25,000 prize for her double-chocolate malt shop cupcake with cherry-vanilla buttercream. But it was granola that got her a mention in the November 2011 issue of Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine.

The flavors are inspired by the people in her life. For example, her husband is from Vermont, where his parents make maple syrup and where she has enjoyed picking fresh blueberries. The raspberry-chocolate truffle flavor was created for Hession’s mother. And the PB&J is just for herself. From time to time she even gets requests for future flavors: pumpkin, gingerbread and, my own contribution, strawberries and cream.

In Las Vegas, Hession’s granola graces breakfast banquets at the Cosmopolitan and Mandarin Oriental and the room-service menu at The Mirage. But what about cooking with it? Hession routinely spikes muffins, pancakes and waffles with her granola, adds interest to boring breakfast cereal, and substitutes it for an apple-crisp topping. And what about homemade granola cookies? Hession thought it was worth a try. She also removes the fruit and crushes down the Maple-Blueberry granola to use in place of panko breading for fried chicken.

But it was her white chocolate-chunk cookies, using her own Maple-Blueberry granola that clued me into the potential of cooking with granola. “I think white chocolate just goes really well with maple,” she says.

Regarding the recipe, Hession suggests, “It’s best to keep eggs at room temperature because you get more volume out of them when you mix them.” She also makes her own vanilla extract by slipping a few vanilla beans into rum or vodka.

As for the ideal beverage pairing? Definitely a tall, ice-cold glass of milk. They just go together, she says, like milk and cookies.

Julie Anne’s Maple-Blueberry White Chocolate-Chunk Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen

2 cups Julie Anne’s Maple-Blueberry Granola

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ pound (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

¾ cup dark brown sugar, packed

½ cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chopped good quality white chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the granola, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with both sugars until light and fluffy—about three minutes. Beat in both eggs, one at a time, and beat in the vanilla. Gradually mix in the granola mixture on low speed until fully incorporated. Mix in the chopped white chocolate. Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons, spaced 2 inches apart, onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies in batches on the oven’s middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.