Oatmeal keeps me going during these icy wintry mornings. Few breakfasts provide such instant satisfaction and insulation as oats simmered to become thick and silky.
Doll them up with cream, then crown them with a crackly golden crust and that bowl of nourishing goodness becomes a glamorous oatmeal crème brûlée, fit for a fancy brunch or lazy Sunday. The concoction is undeniably comforting and nostalgic and yet it’s classy enough to serve in a pretty dish. Best of all, you can make most of it ahead. It’s a welcome alternative to doughnuts and coffee cake during the hectic holidays.
The success of this dessert-like breakfast is in the oats themselves. Steel-cut oats are always the very best choice, according to my husband’s Irish Aunt Nelle. Also labeled Irish oats, these are the least processed oat cereal, composed of toasted oat groats that are chopped to the size of rice. They take a bit longer to cook, but their chewy texture and nutty flavors make this porridge worth the wait. You can simply soak them the evening before cooking to save time. Stoneground, also called Scottish oats, are oat groats that have been cut even smaller than the Irish oats, so they cook a little more quickly.
Rolled oats, known as old-fashioned oats, are the most common variety of oats. These are made by steaming the toasted oat groats, then running them between rollers to flatten them into flakes. “Quick oats” have been rolled thinner than rolled oats. “Instant oats” are the most heavily processed oat groats, which have been chopped fine, flattened, precooked and dehydrated (and, not so incidentally, packaged with added sugar, salt and flavors). These tend to turn to glue pretty quickly.
When made correctly, leftover oatmeal can be left to set and then cut into cakes the next day. Fry them in butter and serve drizzled with syrup or honey, and topped with toasted nuts and fruit. (They’re easier and less messy than pancakes.)
Many of the farmers in the southern part of our state are working with the University of Minnesota to introduce more small grains, such as oats, into their fields Wheat, barley, oats and rye — all cool season grasses — are helping to diversify the land and contribute to our kitchens. Originally one of the most widely grown crops in the Midwest, oats are making a delicious comeback. They’re inspiration for a dessert to start the day.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.