How to Make Muesli Without a Recipe

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. 

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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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Beckey
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    Joseph Juntereal
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.


Beckey March 6, 2017
I make a muesli/chia hybrid breakfast several mornings a week [alternating with hot, stovetop oats]. I never measure anything but I start with adding a couple of tablespoons of yogurt to a bowl or sealable container, maybe a quarter cup of non-dairy milk like almond, and a dash of natural juice (anything from pomegranate to pineapple). I drop in a couple of spoons of chia seeds and let that soak while I toast a bit of shredded coconut and some kind of nut (walnuts, almonds or pecans), adding some cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices towards the end of toasting. While that cools for a minute, I add fruit (frozen berries, shredded apple/pears, sliced bananas, diced pineapple etc.) then my oats and ground flax seed, and sometimes a bit of dried fruit. Then I top it with the coconut/nut mixture and stir it all together. It should look a bit soupy because the chia and oats will continue to soak up the liquid. I find it's usually ready within 15 minutes. And I've discovered that I the countless combinations of fruit, juice, nuts and spices that this never gets old. Do keep an eye on portions.. don't go crazy with the nuts and coconut, as those add lots of calories. But this will provide lots of great fiber, and with the fruit, I never need to add extra sweetener.
Deborah August 23, 2016
This is just delicious - I've been making it, following closely the guidelines here, for 2 months. It's supplanted my green breakfast smoothie - I just don't have capacity for both! So now I've got to figure out how to get the leafy greens back in my daily eats!
Mardjiluna July 8, 2016
My niece taught me to put about half a frozen banana in the oats/muesli. Once it softens it becomes really creamy.
Rochelle July 8, 2016
Been making this for years. My version is similar to mylen2k. Mix 1 1/2 c rolled oats with 3/4 c water and 1 Apple grated (no need to strain). Sweeten to taste with honey. Spread over bottom of casserole. Cover with 1-2 cups frozen blueberries over (or any mashed fruit), refrigerate a few hours or overnight. Stir in 1 cup Greek yogurt before serving. Delicious and a beautiful purple hue to greet you in the morning. Will keep all week
Joseph J. July 8, 2016
I love muesli and it's a breakfast staple for me ever since I discovered a recipe from the Huckleberry restaurant cookbook. In addition to oats, I add bulgar, wheat germ, and millet. I also prefer tart, firm apples, such as mutsu or pink lady and love to use raw milk and raw yogurt. I really think it makes a big difference. When it's ready the next day I like to top with fresh fruit, shredded coconut, hemp seeds, and a tablespoon of peanut butter. I've also want to try topping with tahini.
Deborah M. July 8, 2016
When do you add the fruit and nuts? It says to add the nuts before soaking overnight, but the last photo shows them--and the fruit--sprinkled on top.
Deborah August 23, 2016
I add (finely chopped almonds and walnuts) along with the oats. This recipe is very adaptable, so you can do whichever you choose.
Meg February 21, 2018
I used to add them in the morning to each serving because I was afraid the nuts would get soggy. I recently tried Bob’s Red Mill Museli Mix which already has nuts and fruit in it. It turns out just as good.
Renée (. July 8, 2016
I make a week's-worth at a time, too. I love to change it up with seasonal fruits: http://flamingomusings.com/2014/03/the-juicing-fad-is-dead-eat-real-food-ready-to-go-muesli.html ; Peanut Butter and jam: http://flamingomusings.com/2015/10/breakfast-in-oatober-peanut-butter-muesli.html ; or even Nutella and strawberries: http://flamingomusings.com/2016/06/chocolate-hazelnut-muesli-and-peanut-butter-co-chocmeister-giveaway.html. I always use a base of yogurt (Greek or regular), milk, rolled oats, and hemp seed hearts. Everything else is up to what's available, and the imagination!
Meg R. July 8, 2016
Yes! I love it. I mix up a plant based version with half thick, sweet cashew cream and half almond milk, then mix in thick cut oats, which has the BEST texture when soaked, add a few sunflower seeds, goji berries or cocoa nibs and other goodies. Then top with nuts and fresh fruit in the morning. I dont put shredded apple in, but will try it tomorrow. Thanks for the recipe :-)
erikaprahl July 8, 2016
I always have Muesli cooked in milk and served hot with added nuts & fruit on top with a dash of Maple syrup or honey . This is very similar to granola unbaked.
Noni'sGirl December 7, 2015
I grew up in Switzerland and this is a very good version of it.
I remember a cafe' in Zurich serving muesli with fresh berries and whipped cream, both incorporated, not on top. Talking about a treat!
CaseyAnne May 25, 2015
I'm trying this as 'pina colada' this week: light coconut milk in place of milk, drained crushed pineapple instead of apple, almonds, a drop each vanilla and coconut extract. I am going to top it with fresh pineapple chunks and toasted coconut.
Rainy D. March 27, 2015
I love muesli. I make it every sunday for my husband. If I make 3 cups for both of us, he eats the whole thing, nothing for me, lol! so I always make more so he cannot eat all of it! But thats our sunday breakfast.
mylene2k March 18, 2015
I often eat bircher muesli for breakfast, but my go-to not-a-recipe is much simpler than this.

Simply grate one apple (no need to peel) into a bowl (no need for cheese cloth to remove the juice - it'll soften and flavor the oats). Add a mixture of other fruit of your choice (lately, I've enjoyed diced banana and pear and frozen blueberries). Add 1-2 tablespoons of rolled oats or muesli mix, some sweetener and one serving of plain yogurt. Mix and refrigerate over night.

The next morning, you have breakfast, and if you want to make a week's worth at a time, you simply use a bigger bowl and up the contents accordingly.
Rainy D. March 27, 2015
this sounds good. am going to try it this week. will let you know how it turn out.
thefoodimade March 17, 2015
So does this muesli stay moist throughout? I'm accustomed to dried muesli that then has milk poured over it, like cereal.
Posie (. March 17, 2015
Yes it stays moist -- but it's thick enough that you could still pour more milk over it, or mix it with yogurt.
Deborah March 23, 2015
Thats because it America we like to bastardize and make everything easy. The dried version that is like cold cereal is in no way anything like the real meusli ...