I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I’ve just seen that it’s National Breakfast Week. It’s hardly up there with National Refugee Week, National Shakespeare Week or even London Fashion Week in terms of gravitas, but any old excuse to celebrate what is arguably the best meal of the day is fine by me.
I adore breakfast. I would gladly eat it at every meal if I didn’t have a husband and two children knocking about. Even when I don’t manage to eat at breakfast time proper (quite often actually given my general pre-school-run organisational crapness), I make sure it features at least once later on in the day.
Breakfast’s appeal is manifold. It’s quick to prepare, it’s unchallenging to the tastebuds and even though it is often healthy, it never tastes like a punishment in the way that, say, a bowl of steamed vegetables and brown rice does.
I go through different, slightly obsessive, phases of what I want for breakfast. When I became fed up with paying thousands of pounds for posh granola and learnt to make it myself I did so in enormous batches and would have that every morning (and/or lunchtime) with Greek yogurt and some sort of stewed fruit concoction, for what must have been years. Then I discovered medium oatmeal as a texturally superior alternative to porridge (which I always hated as a child but have since come to realise this was probably just the way my mum made it – a gelatinous disc of gruel in the bottom of a bowl topped with cold milk. Sorry mum, but bleurghh!). Oatmeal was my go-to breakfast and lunch for the six months we had builders in, quite possibly because I could make it quickly then run away from the chaos and endless requests for tea and hide in a quiet corner, where I would eat my little bowl of comfort, while gently rocking back and forth. Now buckwheat porridge is having a moment – its nutty flavour and satisfying bite make it a most welcome addition to my breakfast repertoire, but the fact that it makes my wee smell funny, not so much.
At the weekend – at least on those weekends where my husband doesn’t spend his entire week’s earnings on cinnamon buns from the posh bakery – there is a shift away from grain-based breakfasts to those that involve batter and a LOT of maple syrup (I actually bulk buy the Buckwud brand, but should really buy shares) – pancakes, waffles, French toast and the like. This may sound like way too much faffage for a weekend morning, but it really isn’t (not that the family need to know that) and it gives you a perfect opportunity to hone your martyr face, plus if you leave it late enough, everyone will be too stuffed to eat lunch. Result.
Weekday bircher and weekend pancakes
Bircher muesli is one of those dishes that if you describe it to people, particularly to die-hard porridge traditionalists, they pull a face as if they’ve just seen a cat eat its own vomit. It’s basically raw porridge, or put another way, soaked muesli. What you soak your oats in is up to you, but I think soaking them in juice – apple or orange – provides the nicest result (are you doing the face yet?).
You can add what you like to your soaked oats – chopped nuts, dried or fresh fruit, your seeds of choice – it’s up to you, but I always add a good grating of orange and/or lemon zest, a splodge of vanilla bean paste and a pinch of salt, all of which lift the flavour. It ain’t a looker (looks a bit like cat sick actually), but it tastes great. You can make a batch of this on a Sunday night and it will see you through to Friday morning (presuming you are not eating it for tea as well).
Makes around 5 portions
- 180g jumbo rolled oats
- Zest of 1/2 and juice of 1 orange
- Zest of 1/2 lemon
- 250ml orange or apple juice (or use your choice of milk instead, although the end result will be less sweet)
- handful of seeds of your choice – I used pumpkin
- handful of nuts of your choice – chopped if they are large
- pinch salt
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 1 apple, skin left on, coarsely grated
- Put the oats, zest, nuts, seeds, vanilla, grated apple and salt in a bowl. Squeeze over the juice of the orange you have zested (you’ll only bin it otherwise) and then top up with the juice – orange will keep it zesty, while apple results in a subtler flavour. Mix, then cover and keep in the fridge until needed (leave it to soak for an hour minimum). You can always add the apple just before you want to eat if you are worried about it turning brown – but it shouldn’t on account of all that vitamin C you’ve just added.
- When ready to eat, either stir in a good spoonful of natural yogurt, or dollop on top, then scatter over some fruit of your choice. A drizzle of maple syrup never goes amiss.
These are like a cross between a drop scone and an American style pancake. If you can’t find buttermilk, use whole milk mixed with 1 tsp lemon juice. This is based on one of Hugh F-W’s recipes when he used to write for the weekend Guardian – it has so few ingredients and is so useful it’s one worth committing to memory.
Makes about 12
- 140g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 200ml buttermilk
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 40g melted butter, cooled slightly
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (my addition, because vanilla makes all breakfast taste better – with the exception of sausages)
- Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk about a bit until combined.
- Make a well in the centre and pour in the egg and a bit of the buttermilk and start to incorporate the flour with a whisk from the centre of the bowl outwards. Gradually add the rest of the buttermilk and whisk until smooth. Then add the vanilla and the molten butter and whisk again. Leave to rest for a few minutes while your pan is heating.
- Heat said non-stick pan on a medium high heat. Add 1 tsp vegetable oil and a knob of butter (the oil should in theory stop the butter burning) and when melted, wipe out any excess with some kitchen towel.
- Spoon in 2-3 tbs worth of batter per pancake and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. If the underside is browning too quickly and bubbles haven’t appeared your pan is probably too hot. Flip pancakes over and cook for another couple of minutes.
- Repeat until all the batter is used up. Any leftover pancakes (yeah right) can be toasted the following day (or frozen).
- Serve with fruit and yogurt, caramelised apples and nuts, or bacon. Just don’t forget the maple syrup.
There, job done. My husband’s out tonight, so all that’s left for me to do now is decide which breakfast to have for lunch and which for tea.