Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: We're turning to the Swiss for a brilliant breakfast idea. Any country who does chocolate and cheese that well can't be wrong.
I’ve increasingly been seeing muesli on the menu at hip urban cafes, the kind that serve $8 toast and açaí bowls and coffees I can’t pronounce. Prior to the muesli renassiance, as I like to think of it (oh, what a time to be alive!), muesli was decidedly not cool. I thought of it as a dry-as-sawdust boxed cereal or a health food bestowed upon us by virtuous Swiss doctors who prescribed clean mountain air along with watery oats. It does come from the Swiss: It was made famous by Dr. Bircher-Benner who ran a health clinic near Zurich. If you make it right, muesli can be a true breakfast luxury and also an incredible time-saver in the morning.
Let me get personal: I got deeply involved with muesli last summer while staying at a hotel in Whistler, British Columbia. Each morning there was an epic breakfast buffet, complete with made-to-order smoothies and gently roasted, rosemary-spiked tomatoes nestled in bowls of creamy polenta. None of that could tempt me away from their muesli, however.
The hotel's version is the crème de la crème of muesli, for there is heavy cream involved. But you can lighten it up as much as you want without sacrificing flavor, or you can turn the knob in the other direction and go completely decadent. The entire spectrum is delicious and easily customizable. Figure out what you like and tweak it as you see fit. I usually make a big batch on Sunday night and eat it all week -- the beauty of muesli is that it only gets better as the flavors mingle over time.
Classic Swiss muesli (called Bircher) traditionally blends fruit juice, grated apple, and rolled oats. It doesn’t necessarily include dairy, but I prefer a version that does. This method combines the best elements of traditional Bircher and modern overnight oats. Here’s how to do it:
1. Make your base. Add yogurt and milk to a large bowl, starting with a ratio of 1/4 cup yogurt to 2 cups milk. If you like a thicker cereal, you can increase the yogurt and reduce the milk: Experiment and see what you like. There are no limitations here. Skim milk, 2% milk, coconut yogurt, and so on will be delicious. The muesli in Whistler combined Greek yogurt and equal parts whole milk and cream, which makes it clear why I couldn’t stop eating it.
2. Add sugar and spice and everything nice. Once your dairy is ready, stir in any spices and sweeteners. Adding them to your wet ingredients helps distribute the flavors. Spicy Vietnamese cinnamon is an excellent foil to the creaminess of the dairy, but cardamom would be nice, as would ginger or a pinch of turmeric. A sweetener is not essential -- you’ll be adding fruit later and that might be enough for you. It is not for me, so I add a tablespoon of honey. Maple syrup, date syrup, and brown rice syrup are all good options.
3. Mix in your oats. Rolled oats work best in muesli. Don’t be afraid of them getting soggy -- they hold up surprisingly well and you’ll add in more texture later. If you like more chew, you can use half steel-cut oats and half rolled oats. Add enough oats to equal the volume of dairy you’ve used. For a Sunday batch, 2 cups of dairy and 2 cups of oats gets me through a week of breakfast.
More: Enamored of oats? Make a savory dinner with them.
4. Go nuts. Adding a textural element will benefit your muesli, which is otherwise very soft and creamy. I add a handful of sliced almonds, but any nut or seed would work. Try flax seeds, walnuts, pistachios, or even peanuts, but steer clear of chia seeds as they’ll absorb liquid and thicken the cereal too much.
5. Grate your apple. Fruit is a key component to help sweeten and thicken your cereal. Choose an apple you like: Granny Smith apples are excellent for their tartness. Peeling the apple isn’t necessary, but it makes it easier to grate on a box grater. Before you add the grated apple, squeeze out the water using a cheesecloth or sturdy paper towels to avoid adding excess liquid to your muesli.
6. Let it chill. Give your muesli a good stir, then cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a plate and refrigerate it overnight. It needs at least 8 hours to thicken.
7. Top it off. Muesli is wonderful eaten plain, cold, and straight from the refrigerator. But if you want to add something extra, stir in a spoonful or two of nut butter or a very good-quality jam. You can top it with something crispy: Puffed quinoa or toasted amaranth add good crunch, and I’ve sometimes put a handful of Cheerios on top and I’m absolutely fine with that decision.
How do you make your muesli? We're always looking for ways to switch it up, so tell us in the comments!
Photos by James Ransom