Thursday, February 18, 2010


Brilliance, thy name is baked oatmeal.

I love oatmeal—I’m a sucker for it in baked goods and have been known to snack upon handfuls of raw oats. But I don’t find myself eating regular old steaming bowls of cooked oatmeal very often, because (a) I don’t usually have that much time in the morning, and (b) strangely, I’m not very good at making it. If I use the microwave, it boils over; if I use the stovetop, scalded milk sticks to the pot; and either way, it tastes sort of bland and boring. And the less said about the sickly-sweet instant stuff, the better. So I had pretty much resigned myself to eating cold cereal for breakfast—which is no problem, really; it’s one of my favorite foods and I make a killer homemade granola, but sometimes in the winter something hot and comforting sounds so good. Then I got a sudden hankering to make this recipe, which I had torn out of a Penzeys catalog at my parents’ house years ago and jammed into a folder (a Dawson’s Creek folder, of all things, which I once received as a gag gift, possibly at a white elephant party) where all the orphaned recipes I collected on a whim languished sadly. When menu planning, I always use the Internet, referring to my blog or all the online recipes I’ve bookmarked using Delicious, so I always forget about the torn-out magazine pages and photocopied pages from library cookbooks until it’s too late. But a spate of cold weather had me craving hot oatmeal, and I’m so glad I exhumed this recipe because it is the perfect solution to all my problems—er, the oatmeal-related ones, anyway.

This was easy to throw together on a Sunday morning. I was a little suspicious of how full the baking dish was—wouldn’t it boil over?—but what emerged from the oven (which I stupidly forgot to photograph) looked flat and solid and browned, like a cake. When I scooped out a spoonful, the interior was tender and fluffy, sort of like an oatmeal pudding, with toasty edges reminiscent of a soft cookie. It tasted like good, perfectly seasoned oatmeal. The best part was that after taking my initial serving, I threw the rest into an airtight container and stashed it in the refrigerator. Then every morning for the next week, I pulled it out, scooped out a bowlful, microwaved it for a minute, poured milk over it (recommended, as this has a slightly drier texture than your usual oatmeal), and voila! Oatmeal with all the fixins. Amazing! I can tell this is going to be a life-changer. I can’t wait to make another batch; it’s like the winter version of granola—and like granola, I suspect it’s infinitely customizable. Probably any dried fruit would work here; I used raisins and will use fewer next time, because I only like the occasional raisin in my oatmeal. I liked the walnuts but see no reason you couldn’t try pecans or almonds instead. I might experiment with using a bit less sugar (it wasn’t overly sweet by any means, but my tolerance for sugar in the mornings is unusually low), and will perhaps add some flaxseed meal too. You could also get experimental with the spices; I did add a little cardamom, because I adore it, but I suspect the other chai spices (nutmeg, allspice, coriander, even turmeric) would fit in well too. And of course, you can top it with whatever you like—yogurt, fresh fruit, jam, etc.

About the only annoyance with this recipe is that you end up with four spare egg yolks, which I hate to waste, but if I start making custards or mayonnaise or lemon curd or pudding all the time, it’s going to defeat the purpose of this wholesome, sensible breakfast.

POSTSCRIPT: I have since made this twice more, and I think I've arrived at a version that's just the way I like it. I made the following changes:
  • Reduced the brown sugar to ½ cup
  • Reduced the raisins to ½ cup
  • Used 2 whole eggs instead of 4 egg whites
  • Omitted the oil
  • Added 3-4 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal
I didn't detect a real difference in texture (or taste) due to the egg change. One of the times, the interior seemed slightly softer, but I may also have just underbaked it, because the next time it seemed to be the same as the egg-white version. Obviously, the egg-white version will be a little lighter in terms of cholesterol, but the whole-egg version is less wasteful and more convenient for me, so I'll be sticking with it. I figured that with the whole eggs plus the flaxseed, I didn't need the oil at all, and I didn't notice its absence. It's such a small amount that you might even be able to omit it while using the egg whites, if you oil the baking dish generously (I found that sometimes the browned exterior of the oatmeal tends to stick).

One time I also used chopped almonds instead of walnuts, because I had some that needed to be used up, and I threw in a drop of almond extract too, just for kicks. It tasted good, but I actually liked the texture of the walnuts better. If I try almonds again, I'll give sliced ones a shot.

2¼ cups quick cooking oats or 2¾ cups old-fashioned oats, uncooked
⅔ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¾ cup raisins or dried cranberries (craisins)
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
3⅓ cups skim milk (I used 1%)
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Milk, yogurt, and fruit for serving (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square glass baking dish with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, combine oats, sugar, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well. In a medium bowl, combine milk, egg whites, oil, and vanilla and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until well blended. Pour into the baking dish.

3. Bake for 50–60 minutes or until center is set and firm to the touch. Cool slightly. Serve topped with milk or yogurt and fruit, if desired.

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Serves: 6–8
Leftover potential: High. Store leftover oatmeal tightly covered in the refrigerator and you can enjoy it all week long! Just scoop out your daily serving and reheat it in the microwave.


Bridget said...

I wonder how the recipe would be with 3 whole eggs instead of 4 egg whites? I've never made baked oatmeal, but if the texture is similar to oatmeal pudding, I bet some yolks would only make it better.

J said...

Good point. I'm always afraid to mess with a good thing, but I think my thriftiness may trump my fear. I'll give it a try this weekend and let you know!