Fact of the day: bircher muesli was first eaten by patients at a hospital in the Swiss Alps, dreamed up by physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner around the turn of the 1900s. He was a little ahead of his time – I wonder what he would think of today’s raw food movement and versions of his muesli featuring heavily on cafe menus around the world. He also banned coffee and chocolate, however – not such a fan of that idea.
I’ve always been a morning person. My body clock seems to have been permanently scarred by years and years of 5am starts for swim training – groggily crawling out of bed, eyes still half closed, a sleepy trip to the pool and the abrupt shock of cold water. The smell of chlorine and the beep of an alarm still brings it back – a little jolt of familiarity and nostalgia mixed with a hint of relief at the reminder that it is no longer a six-mornings-a-week training thing, and more of a whenever-I-want-to-enjoyment thing. It does mean my brain is now wired for early wake-ups. Even after a late night, or a full on week of university, sleep is frustratingly elusive after about 730am. WHY?!?
Breakfast is never optional. It’s a little monotonous, though – barring the odd weekend brunch out or french toast in, it has been cereal + yoghurt + fruit as far back as I can remember. How do we not get bored of it? I’m almost positive that if I ate the same thing for lunch or dinner for even a week I wouldn’t want to touch it again for a while, yet breakfast is somehow exempt. Growing up it was always a mission to time my breakfast and shower to ensure the newspaper would be available. With six of us it wasn’t always possible, though the boys always went for the sports section and Mum was nice enough to settle for any part (or maybe she just couldn’t be bothered having a child reading over her shoulder, just waiting for her to be finished). Just Right for years, then a swap to Sultana Bran after realised that my serving of the former contained something like 15 teaspoons of sugar (oops), topped with kiwifruit, pineapple and whatever else is in season. No milk, because plain milk freaks me out (I know, I know – the story goes that as soon as Mum tried to swap me from a bottle to drinking milk from a glass, my stubborn toddler self never touched it again). Not porridge, because it was always too mushy and milky. I always assumed I wouldn’t like overnight oats for the same reason – cold, milky, oaty, plain, not sweet enough…you name it.
It proved the ultimate cliche that you should always give something a chance before judging it too critically – because bircher has grown on me. It’s overtaken any other. And through some experimentation and research, this is my go-to, mix-up-the-night-before recipe. Thick natural or greek yogurt is essential for a creamy texture, grated granny smith apple adds texture and a tangy sweetness, and the cinnamon brings everything together. The night in the fridge softens the oats and thickens the mixture, ready to be topped with extra yogurt and lots of fruit in the morning.
This brulee bircher muesli with ginger poached pear is my favourite version thus far, with the pear & tamarillos poached in a cinnamon & ginger honey syrup. If you haven’t heard of tamarillos, they are a winter fruit widely available in New Zealand (thought I have no idea about other parts of the world). Though mouth-puckeringly sour when raw, a quick 6 minute poach leaves them still tangy, but not so painfully acidic. Top the bircher with the reduced spiced fruit syrup and extra nuts and seeds for crunch, then if you’re treating yourself on the weekend, grab a blow-torch and brulee the yogurt. It’s that satisfying sugary crackle and crunch of creme brulee – but at breakfast time.
BREAKFAST GOALS, you guys.
I change up the bircher toppings all the time though – other ideas are:
- Caramelised banana
- Roast or poached stone fruit
- Sauteed apple in a teaspoon of butter, cinnamon & a drizzle of maple syrup
- Poached rhubarb
- Mango & pineapple (use coconut yogurt for extra tropical flavour)
- ½ cup rolled oats (porridge oats)
- ½ cup whole oats
- ¼ cup thread coconut
- ½ cup coconut milk (NOT the kind from a can) or almond milk (or a blend)
- ½ cup greek yogurt or thick natural yogurt
- 1 green apple, peeled and grated
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon or to taste
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional - depends on how sweet your yogurt is)
- 3-4 whole pears
- 4-6 tamarillos, whole
- 4 cups water
- thumb size piece of ginger, sliced
- 1 cinnamon quill, broken in half
- ⅓ cup honey
- ⅓ cup white sugar
- extra natural/greek yogurt to serve
- a couple of tablespoons of pistachios, roughly chopped
- sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- a couple of tablespoons of white sugar if you wish to brulee the yogurt
- The night before you wish to serve the bircher, start the muesli mixture.
- Combine both types of oats, coconut, coconut/almond milk, yogurt, cinnamon and green apple in a bowl. Mix fully and taste to adjust sweetness - add a teaspoon of maple syrup or more cinnamon if you like. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight.
- To poach the fruit, combine the water, ginger, cinnamon, honey and white sugar in a small pot (large enough to hold the whole pears). Bring to a boil.
- When boiling, submerge the pears in the poaching liquid and reduce to a simmer, making sure the pears are covered by liquid. Simmer for 20-30 minutes (depending on size and ripeness of your pears), or until tender when pierced with a fork.
- Remove from the liquid and set aside.
- Score a shallow cross in the base of each tamarillo. Place in the same poaching liquid and return to a simmer for 5-7 minutes or until soft. Remove and set aside to cool, then remove the skin of each tamarillo.
- Return the poaching liquid to the boil and boil for 10-15 minutes to reduce to a syrup. To tinge the syrup a pink/red colour, add half of one of the poached tamarillos to the boiling syrup to stain it pink (optional). Remove the syrup from the heat and set aside. The fruit will keep in the fridge for 3-5 days.
- To serve the bircher, spoon the muesli into a bowl. Place a pear in the middle, cut up the poached tamarillos and place around the outside. Spoon over a tablespoon or two of the reserved poaching syrup. Scatter over the chopped pistachios, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
- If you wish to use bruleed yogurt, spoon a circle of greek yogurt around the outside of the pear. Sprinkle a tablespoon of white sugar over the surface of the yogurt. Using a kitchen blowtorch, caramelise the surface of the sugar for a crackly top.