Overnight Breakfast: A Feast For Reluctant Risers

I've never been much good at mornings. For most of my life, I prided myself on being a night owl, the type of gal who could always handle one more thing after midnight — another phone call, a few more pages of a novel, a last turn on the dance floor. For years, I even showered at night. And if, in the morning, I couldn't produce a civil word before my first sip of coffee, well, that was a small price to pay.

The other price was breakfast. Night owls are clumsy in the morning, and always running late — so making a plate of eggs or baking a muffin or frying a sausage, I felt, would have been hazardous as well as time-consuming. For years, I knew no breakfast. Not even on the weekends, when by the time I eased my idle toes out of bed into a puddle of late morning sun, it was basically time for lunch.

It never occurred to me that I could have spent my last few conscious moments the night before making breakfast, instead of watching one more YouTube video or Googling the definition of "lagomorph." Hence, I failed until recently to explore the many charms of the overnight breakfast.

Overnight breakfasts take advantage of the fact that many recipes fall naturally into two parts: 1) the chopping and prepping and mixing, and 2) the application of heat. The first half requires fine motor skills, attention to detail and balanced judgment. The other requires the turning of a knob.

About The Author

T. Susan Chang regularly reviews cookbooks for The Boston Globe and NPR.org and the cookbook indexing website Eat Your Books. Her first book, A Spoonful of Promises: Recipes and Stories from a Well-Tempered Table (Lyons Press), was just released. For more information, visit her blog, Cookbooks for Dinner.

So it seems natural to broker a deal between the delusional night owl who thinks she can do it all, and the morning misanthrope who can scarcely heft a toothbrush.

For the most part, overnight breakfasts involve a starchy component that doesn't mind hanging out in the fridge for several hours, and in fact may be better off for it. Oats soaked in apple juice, for example, swell and soften into the no-cook oatmeal known as muesli. Sweet breakfast buns slowly rise, developing gluten and flavor. Slices of bread become one with beaten eggs, merging into a hybrid that will puff and bronze in the oven.

You'll be surprised how many recipes can be divided into a brisk and busy Night Before stage and an easy Morning After stage. Before you know it, you'll be eating roast chicken and lasagna at 7 in the morning.

If you're the sort of person who thinks nothing of updating your blog at 10 p.m., you can handle mixing up a simple dough or cracking a couple of eggs while the moon sets sail across the sky. Afterward, you may even have enough energy for an episode of Mad Men before you hit the hay. The point is, once you've made it through Act I of the recipe, the food doesn't care what you do. It simply sits there on the counter or in the fridge — apparently inert but still making progress, like a sleeping passenger on the red-eye from L.A.

The following morning, as the hazy residue of dreams is washed away by the scalding aroma of coffee, you flip on the oven or stovetop. You sip, smugly, while breakfast essentially makes itself. Voila! You've averted the pain of an early morning scramble, while deviously concocting something grand enough for a lazy Sunday brunch.

To tell the truth, I am no longer much of a night owl. We live a semi-rural life, and my husband has a long commute. We're often up and about by sunup, long before the rooster across the street gets going. But that hasn't stopped me from lazily savoring breakfast made last night. Maybe it's too early to call it "morning." Maybe it's too early to call it "breakfast." Whatever you call it, it tastes just fine.

Fresh Muesli With Yogurt, Berries, Apples And Nuts

I've adapted Beatrice Peltier's gorgeous recipe from La Tartine Gourmande (Roost Books 2011) just a little. She calls for raspberries cooked down with sugar. This is divine, and you should try it if you can. But nice raspberries are not always available, so I've adapted the recipe to make use of dried cranberries. I've also moved all the prep work to the night before, so you can simple-mindedly assemble your bowl in the morning.

Fresh Muesli With Yogurt, Berries, Apples And Nuts i i
T. Susan Chang for NPR
Fresh Muesli With Yogurt, Berries, Apples And Nuts
T. Susan Chang for NPR

Makes 4 servings

2 cups apple juice

2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats

2 cups dried cranberries, chopped into slivers

6 tablespoons slivered almonds

2 tablespoons shelled unsalted green pistachios

1 large apple, such as a Pink Lady or a local heirloom variety

Lime or lemon juice, to taste

Whole plain yogurt, to taste

Maple syrup or honey, to serve

The Night Before

In a medium bowl, combine the apple juice, oats and dried cranberries, if using. Place the bowl in the fridge to sit overnight. Toast the almonds in a frying pan for 4 or 5 minutes, until lightly brown and fragrant. Remove from the heat and let cool. Chop the pistachios and add them to the almonds. Make sure the nuts are quite cool, cover and set aside overnight. Grate the apple and squeeze some lime or lemon juice on top to prevent discoloration. Cover and set in the fridge overnight.

The Next Morning

Divide the oats among 4 bowls. Add the apple, yogurt, pistachios and almonds to each bowl. Top with a drizzle of maple syrup or honey and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice to taste.

Cranberry Nut Breakfast Rolls

This recipe is adapted from an entire book of overnight recipes written by a B&B owner, Carol Gordon. It's called Sleep On It (Hyperion 2006).

Cranberry Nut Breakfast Rolls i i
T. Susan Chang for NPR
Cranberry Nut Breakfast Rolls
T. Susan Chang for NPR

Makes 24 rolls

For The Rolls

1/4 cup orange juice

1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled, plus 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, softened

1 cup buttermilk

2 large eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

3 to 4 cups bread flour

1/3 cup coarsely chopped roasted pecans or walnuts

Vegetable oil or nonstick vegetable oil spray

Zest of 1 orange, removed in strips and finely diced

1/2 cup heavy cream

For The Icing

1 cup confectioners' sugar

1/4 teaspoon pure orange extract

1/4 cup strained fresh orange juice, or enough to thin the icing to desired consistency

The Night Before

For the rolls, bring the orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan and place it in a bowl with the dried cranberries. Let stand for 10 minutes, then strain, reserving the liquid.

Gently heat the 4 tablespoons melted butter with the buttermilk until warm (not more than 115 degrees).

Place in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, salt and yeast and mix together. Add the flour and knead until the dough is cohesive. Add the strained cranberries and nuts and distribute evenly throughout the dough, then continue to knead until dough is smooth and elastic.

Oil or spray a large mixing bowl. Shape the dough into a ball and place in the bowl, turning to coat with the oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until double, about 1 hour.

Oil or spray two 9-inch cake pans and set aside.

Divide the dough in half. Roll one half into a 12-by-8-inch rectangle. Smooth 3 tablespoons of the softened butter on the dough.

Sprinkle the dough with half the orange zest and 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar. Roll up from the long side. Dampen the edge with water and seal the seam. Cut 12 even slices. Place the rolls, cut side down, into a cake pan.

Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover the pans and refrigerate overnight.

For the icing, in a small bowl combine the confectioners' sugar, orange extract and orange juice. Whisk until smooth, cover and store in the fridge. Pour the cream into a measuring cup, cover, and set it as well in the fridge.

The Next Day (rolls can be refrigerated up to 4 days)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place in a warm place to rise until the rolls have increased slightly in size, about 1 hour. Don't worry if they haven't doubled — just make sure they're soft to the touch, slightly risen and at a warm room temperature before you put them in the oven. Just before you bake, remove the cream and icing from the fridge, too.

Drizzle the measured 1/2 cup of heavy cream over the two pans of rolls. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove to a cooling rack.

To ice the rolls, place the cooling rack over a tray or foil to catch any drips. Re-whisk the icing briefly and use a brush or spoon to spread a thin coat of icing over the tops of the rolls. Transfer the rolls to a plate and serve warm.

Overnight Baked French Toast

You want an eggy, finely textured bread for this, such as challah or brioche. I've kept it on the less sweet side, so you can liberally douse it with maple or your syrup of choice in the morning.

Overnight Baked French Toast i i
T. Susan Chang for NPR
Overnight Baked French Toast
T. Susan Chang for NPR

Makes 4 servings

For The French Toast

8 slices of challah, 3/4-inch thick (or enough to snugly fill a standard 9-by-13-inch dish)

6 large eggs

2 cups milk

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

For The Topping

1 cup whole hazelnuts (shelled but no need to skin them)

1/4 cup sugar

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into a few pieces

1/4 cup cream

The Night Before

Set the slices of bread snugly in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Beat or blend together the eggs, milk, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt.

Pour the liquid mixture over the bread and let it soak for about 15 minutes. Then flip the bread over so the other side can soak. Press a sheet of wax paper right against the damp bread and slide the whole thing into the fridge.

For the topping, in a food processor pulse the hazelnuts and sugar until the hazelnuts are little bigger than rice grains. Add the butter and cream and pulse until you have a gritty, cohesive mixture. Scrape this mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the fridge.

The Next Morning

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the soaked French toast out of the fridge and discard the wax paper. Strew the topping all over it and bake in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes. When the liquid has been completely absorbed and the bread is puffed and golden, it's done. Serve immediately with as much maple syrup as you like.

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