I had my first bircher muesli in Switzerland, where it’s a breakfast staple. I was at a breakfast buffet, and a large bowl of what appeared to be a thick and chunky porridge was presented in the center of the table. At first glance, I was unimpressed, but at the prompting of my Swiss friend, I gave it a try. It was fresh, bright and creamy, chock-full of fruit and nuts and not at all stodgy. Not only did it feel healthy to eat, but it was downright delicious.
Bircher muesli is essentially overnight oats. It’s a practical and healthy do-ahead meal, reflecting marvelous Swiss sensibilities. A blend of oats and milk or yogurt are muddled together and refrigerated overnight. The next morning, you thin the mixture with more yogurt or milk and fold in fruit and nuts. The result is a nutritious and tasty breakfast that will energize and propel you through the day — or up an Alpine mountain, depending on where you sit.
Bircher muesli is named for Maximilian Bircher-Benner, a Swiss physician who created this concoction in the early 1900s as a healthy breakfast alternative. The original recipe included oats, grated apple, dried fruit and condensed milk (fresh milk was not easily available at the time). Since then, myriad variations have evolved. The key is to combine a mixture of oats with a liquid ingredient, such as apple juice, dairy (or nondairy) milk, cream or yogurt, and stash in it the refrigerator where it will rehydrate, bloom and develop flavor overnight.
Before serving, additional ingredients such as grated or chopped fruit, nuts, fresh berries, honey or lemon may be added. If you are feeling extra indulgent, a dollop of whipped cream can be folded into the mix. (This is what I call the I-am-on-holiday ingredient.)
As with granolas and oatmeal, you can easily riff on the ingredients, providing you adhere to the oats-to-liquid ratio. This basic recipe includes suggested additions and substitutions.
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup apple juice
½ cup plain whole milk yogurt, preferably European-style
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 to 2 apples, cored and grated (with skin)
¼ cup raisins, divided
¼ cup chopped almonds, divided
Maple syrup or honey for drizzling (optional)
Shaved unsweetened coconut for garnish
Mix the oats, apple juice, yogurt and cinnamon in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. The mixture will become quite thick.
When ready to serve, stir in the grated apple, half the raisins and half the almonds. Thin the muesli with additional yogurt or milk to your desired consistency. (If you are on holiday, this is when you fold in the whipped cream.)
Divide between serving bowls. Drizzle with a little maple syrup, if using, and garnish with the remaining nuts, raisins and the coconut.
Cranberry Orange Option:
Substitute vanilla or honey yogurt for the plain yogurt; orange juice for the apple juice; walnuts for the almonds; dried cranberries for the raisins. Add ¼ teaspoon finely grated orange zest.
Pear Cardamom Option:
Substitute grated pear for the apple; ground cardamom for the cinnamon; golden raisins for the raisins. Add ¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest. Garnish with minced crystallized ginger.
Sliced fruit or fresh berries
Lynda Balslev is a San Francisco Bay Area cookbook author, food and travel writer and recipe developer.
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