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.
Lynda Balslev is the co-author of “Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture” (Gibbs Smith, 2014). Contact her at TasteFood, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to email@example.com. Or visit the TasteFood blog at tastefoodblog.com.