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Bircher muesli used to originally be a staple of health spas as I understand, and I recall it being an essential part of the classic hotel breakfast when I was younger, alongside the stewed prunes! Based on more recent holidays, it seems to be still fairly common, though as likely to be called overnight oats (sigh) as the good old Bircher.

You get huge amounts of variation, but the essential components seem to be rolled oats, some or all of milk/yoghurt/cream, apples, and some sort of juice. Dried and/or fresh fruit, and nuts or seeds are also common. This mixture is combined, and refrigerated overnight, by which time most of the liquid has been absorbed by the oats, and any dried fruit re-hydrated. It’s cool and fresh, but also substantial, with, ideally, lots of different flavours and textures in one bite.

The result might not look terribly prepossessing, but it’s one of my favourite breakfasts in the warmer months (for me, winter is for porridge), requiring basically no prep time on the day, and being both feel good from a nutrition point of view, but also filling and delicious! It also lasts very well – depending what fruit you include, a batch will last at least the work week, and often 7 days – and make a good transportable work breakfast/snack.

Having talked about how wonderful it is, I now need to list my requirements for great Bircher, because I have certainly had (very) bad Bircher, often in those hotel breakfasts! So, (and with all the usual disclaimers, as what you like might be completely different) for me texture is important – it should be thick enough to spoon, but not like you’d want to lay bricks with it! Feel free to add extra milk or juice to get the right texture for you. Next, I think it needs crunch – hence the essential apple, but some extra seeds and (toasted) nuts are also good. A balance of creamy and tart is also vital, so I prefer citrus for the juice, and steer away from adding pouring cream as some recipes do. Finally, use your favourite fruit, dried and fresh, and cut small – nothing bigger than 1-2cm or you won’t get a nice mixture in each bite. I’ve listed my favourites below, and my spring combination is pictured.

Bircher muesli

Adapted from Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe’s Special Delivery

  • 250g rolled oats
  • 250g Greek yoghurt
  • 500ml full cream milk
  • juice of one orange (about 100ml)
  • 3 Tbs maple syrup
  • 100g dried fruit
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • 1 large apple
  • 1 orange
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 50g toasted nuts – these can vary seasonally too ie almonds with berries, macadamias with mango, and hazelnuts with pear.

For Spring add

  • 125g strawberries and 125g blueberries

For Summer add

  • 1 large mango or 3 peaches/nectarines

For Autumn/Winter add

  • 1 pear or extra apple and another orange, or more dried fruit

Combine oats, yoghurt, milk, juice and syrup in a glass or ceramic bowl. I use a ceramic serving dish with a lid. Add fruit and sunflower seeds, chopping any large fruit in small pieces. Use a mandolin to shred unpeeled apple directly into bowl, or coarsely grate. Peel and chop orange (see fruit compote recipe for my preferred method) and add to bowl with any juice. Stir in the lemon juice plus seasonal fruit. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve topped with toasted nuts, roughly chopped, and extra fruit if you like.

Serves 6, or a week of breakfasts for one. It may separate a little after a couple of days, just stir again before serving, and add a little more milk if it gets too thick.

(Note that stone fruit and strawberries don’t last quite as well, so are probably not the best choice if you want it to last a full week.)