I’ve been charmed by overnight oats before, but until recently I had never tried what you might call the “original recipe” – bircher muesli. This dish was popularized in the late 1800s by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner, who served it daily to the high-profile guests of his Alpine wellness retreat. The doctor’s intention behind this humble and wholesome “little mush” was to find a palatable way to get more raw fruit into his patients’ diets. Homeboy was driven by some puzzling proto-raw-foodism beliefs, but I’ll cut him some slack… You can’t blame the guy for living in what was essentially the dawn of nutrition science (people often forget that nutrition is such a young field; for perspective, realize that humans had no concept of vitamins until 1912). I have to give him credit for being ahead of his time in many ways, especially in making connections between health and harmony with nature. And, of course, for inventing my latest summertime breakfast obsession.
Bircher-Benner’s muesli was a soaked porridge involving lots of fresh grated apple and a spoonful of rolled oats. The dairy ingredient was sweetened condensed milk, which might seem ridiculous now, but in those days the locally available fresh milk was at risk of contamination with tuberculosis.
Here in 2017, I make my muesli a little differently. My dairy addition of choice is grass-fed whole milk unsweetened yogurt. I also like a heartier portion of grains, and instead of old-fashioned oats, I prefer mine steel-cut. They’re addictively chewy, and stay that way for days without getting mushy – perfect for meal-prep. And on that note… although Dr. Bircher-Benner demanded the apple to be grated absolutely fresh before serving, I have to admit that one of my favorite things about this recipe is that the acidity from the yogurt manages to miraculously keep grated apple fresh and un-browned all week. So functional!
Yes, grating fresh apple can be sort of a hassle. In fact, that’s probably why it took me so long to try this recipe in the first place (page turner!). My solution: mini-prep! I was given this tiny food processor for my birthday last year, and it is the handiest thing ever for this kind of job.
This muesli is an excellent venue for many of your favorite health-food mix-ins, like hemp seeds, flax meal, wheat germ, cinnamon, or even powdered supplements. I have been taking hydrolyzed collagen lately, and a heaping tablespoon per serving fits right in.
I mix up 4 servings at a time in a wide-mouth quart jar – I love that it occupies such a small footprint of fridge space. In the morning, breakfast couldn’t be easier. Pull out the jar, dollop some muesli into a bowl, and top with nuts. I started my muesli habit with sliced almonds, but now that I’ve tried it with hazelnuts, I don’t know if I can ever eat it any other way. You may also wish to add a drizzle of raw honey (science!)
I’m typically more of the savory-breakfast type, but I was surprised how much this recipe’s wholesome natural sweetness really won me over. The cool, creamy combination of fresh fruit, whole grains, cultured milk and toasted nuts is so soothing and satisfying. If no other part of our day resembles a health spa in the Swiss Alps, at least we can pretend at breakfast!
Steel-Cut Bircher Muesli
- 2 small/medium apples about 300-400g whole fruit
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup steel-cut oats
- optional: 1/4 cup of your favorite seeds, grains, flax meal, etc.
- Core the apples and coarsely grate, using either a food processor or box grater. Mix with the yogurt and water, then the oats and any other desired dry ingredients. Refrigerate and allow to soak for at least 12 hours before serving, or up to 5 days.
- Serve chilled, topped with your choice of nuts/seeds, and a drizzle of raw honey if desired.