With their chewy texture and nutty flavor, steel cut oats add something exciting to the world of baked oatmeal. In the following seasonal favorite, fresh apples and warm cinnamon add natural sweetness and flavor to a hearty, prep-ahead breakfast that’s worth waking up for!
As much as I adore my assortment of baked oatmeal recipes, which rely on rolled oats for their almost muffin-like appeal, I thoroughly enjoy a hearty bowl of steel cut oats.
Thanks to their coarse cut, steel cut oats can be cooked into a creamy porridge that boasts a toothsome texture and nutty flavor.
Years ago, Judy, the owner and chef at a local café called Fred and Mary’s (which is sadly no longer in existence) developed a cult following for her steel cut baked oatmeals. Twenty-plus years ago, they commanded a price tag of $30 each!
Over the years, I tried very hard to replicate Judy’s recipe. I got pretty close, but before I shared my original rendition (this was pre-Fountain Avenue Kitchen days!), the recipe morphed in many ways.
Such is the deliciously adaptable nature of baked oatmeal!
As mentioned, because they use rolled oats, my “regular” baked oatmeals have an almost muffin-like texture. And though you can slice the following steel cut oatmeal recipe, the texture is a touch denser and lends well to scooping, too.
It’s a fun, filling way to mix up the morning routine. The hearty oats need time to absorb the moisture in the batter, making it a perfect prep-ahead meal, too. Simply allow the uncooked oatmeal to rest overnight in the refrigerator and bake in the morning.
Or, for ready-to-go weekday breakfasts, prep a batch in the morning and bake later in the day. That way, the oatmeal is ready to scoop and warm at a moment’s notice.
What is the difference between steel cut, rolled, and quick oats?
By way of a little background, all oats start out as oat groats. These are oat kernels that have had the hulls, or tough outer shells, removed.
Rolled oats, or old-fashioned oats, are oat groats that have gone through a steaming and flattening process. This allows the oats to be cooked quickly (two to five minutes for a bowl of stovetop oatmeal) and be versatilely employed in baked goods like cookies, quick breads, and muffins.
To make them cook even faster, quick oats are partially cooked by the same steaming process as rolled oats, and then are rolled even thinner. The result is a super fast cook time–one or two minutes–along with a mild flavor and soft, some say mushy, texture.
Steel cut oats are not steamed or rolled flatter; the groats are simply chopped into pieces with large steel blades. The resulting oats have a coarser, chewier texture and nuttier flavor compared to their rolled or quick oat counterparts. The coarser cut also means they take longer to cook.
Ultimately, the choice comes down to personal preference. Some prefer the chewiness of the coarser cut, while some value the speed and smoother consistency of rolled oats. For the sake of variety, I enjoy both.
Nutritionally, steel cut and rolled oats are similar. They are equally abundant in gut-friendly, filling soluble fiber and contain the same amount of carbs, protein, and fat. Both have zero grams of sugar. Steel cut oats have a slightly lower glycemic index than rolled oats, but when combined in a dish like this baked oatmeal, those specific numbers aren’t as meaningful.
Note that you can expedite the cooking of steel cut oats by soaking them overnight. This old post for Quick Prep Steel Cut Oats describes two easy methods that could make you a fan. It also includes a few tasty ways to add natural creaminess, sweetness, and general flavor to the oats.
How can I customize and what substitutions work in baked oatmeal recipes?
Before I share this recipe, which I’ve secretly been fiddling with for over two decades now (really!), I will include all that I’ve learned over countless batches.
- Can I substitute rolled oats for steel cut? Rolled or quick oats will not be successful in this recipe, as the ratio of liquid to oats necessary to hydrate the oats is different. If you prefer to use rolled oats, there are lots of other baked oatmeal recipes on this blog that you may enjoy.
- Can I eliminate the added sweetener? This recipe relies primarily on the sweetness of fresh fruit and then adds a modest quarter cup of maple syrup. Those who are watching their sugar intake may reduce the maple syrup and still have a successful outcome. I’ve added some specifics in the recipe notes.
- Don’t have maple syrup? Try honey or brown sugar (and see recipe notes if you’d like to reduce it).
- What are the best apples to use? To add as much sweetness from the whole fruit as possible, I like to use sweet apples like Gala, Honeycrisp, or Fuji (or a mix). These varieties also hold up well when baked. Golden Delicious are similarly sweet but will be softer when cooked. That said, with an abundance of seasonal apples available at grocery stores and farmers markets, the possibilities are endless. Use what you have and enjoy.
- Why grated apple or applesauce? In addition to the diced apple–note that I like to keep the dice small for more uniform flavor and texture throughout the baked oatmeal–I add a half cup of grated apple. If you don’t have a grater or shredder, you could use applesauce instead. The purpose is to add more apple flavor while also helping to bind the nutty oats and the diced apple.
- May I substitute the nuts? Nuts add welcome crunch and flavor along with healthy, filling fats. I often use a mix of pecans and almonds. Walnuts are a lovely addition as well. Those with a nut allergy may omit or sprinkle in seeds of choice, like pepitas and sunflower seeds.
- And guess what? The base recipe may be adjusted to use with a variety of seasonal fruits. I’ve added blueberries and bananas, and you could use your imagination with the likes of raspberries, peaches, plums, and apricots.
- What kind of milk should I use? Over the years, I’ve made baked oatmeal with dairy milk of all fat contents as well as almond, coconut, soy, rice, and cashew milk. The end result will vary slightly based on fat content and underlying flavor of the milk, but they all work well.
- Is this recipe gluten-free? The recipe will be naturally gluten-free if you use certified gluten-free oats. This designation means that the oats are not cross-contaminated.
- Can I make this egg-free? You could absolutely use your favorite egg replacer, from flax eggs to a store-bought alternative like the neat egg. I have not tried my baked oatmeal recipe with aquafaba (chickpea liquid), which works well as an egg replacer in many recipes. If someone tries before I do, please report back!
- For a slightly more custardy end result, I’ve made this oatmeal with an additional ¼ cup of milk.
Following is a quick overview: