Steel Cut Apple Baked Oatmeal

By Ann Fulton

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Steel cut oats add something exciting to the world of baked oatmeal in this prep-ahead breakfast that's worth waking up for!

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.

Steel cuts oats add chewy, nutty deliciousness to the classic baked oatmeal in this healthy, customizable, make-head breakfast!

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. 

Steel cut oats add something exciting to the world of baked oatmeal in this prep-ahead breakfast that's worth waking up for!

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:

Steel cuts oats add chewy, nutty deliciousness to the classic baked oatmeal in this healthy, customizable, make-head breakfast!

The oatmeal will be fairly liquidy when first mixed, but the steel cut oats will slowly absorb the excess moisture and the flavor within.

Steel cuts oats add chewy, nutty deliciousness to the classic baked oatmeal in this healthy, customizable, make-head breakfast!

This is the oatmeal after an overnight soak and before baking. I strategically place some pieces of red apple and a few slivers of nuts on the surface for visual appeal. Rest assured, the taste will be wonderful whether you primp or not!

Steel cut oats add something exciting to the world of baked oatmeal in this prep-ahead breakfast that's worth waking up for!

Fresh from the oven. At this point, you may dig in or cool completely, cover, and refrigerate. Warm individual portions as needed.  

Steel cut oats add something exciting to the world of baked oatmeal in this prep-ahead breakfast that's worth waking up for!

This nutty, fruity, whole grain breakfast offers a satisfying, make-ahead option to your breakfast routine. We enjoy it with a big spoonful of vanilla yogurt. Others enjoy it drizzled with milk–or as is!

   

Steel Cut Apple Baked Oatmeal
Yield: 6 servings
Steel cut oats add satisfying texture to this flavorful baked oatmeal that is prepared in advance and can be reheated for easy breakfasts throughout the week. For a pretty presentation, I strategically place a few colorful bits of apple and some pecan pieces on top before covering and refrigerating.
Ingredients
  • 1½ – 1¾ cups small diced Honeycrisp, Gala, Fuji or other sweet baking apple*
  • ½ cup (65g) chopped pecans, walnuts, slivered almonds, or a mix**
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries or raisins, optional
  • 1 cup (176g) steel cut oats (rolled oats will not work as a substitute in this recipe)
  • 2 cups (480ml) milk of choice
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup (120g) shredded apple or applesauce*
  • ¼ cup (80g) pure maple syrup***
  • 2 tablespoons (28g) melted butter (or coconut, avocado, or oil of choice)
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla
  • 1¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (optional but a lovely extra; if using pre-ground, use ¼ teaspoon)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Instructions
  1. Lightly grease a 9-inch square or 8×10-inch baking dish. (You may use a similar size baking dish of any shape, although a 9×13-inch is too big).
  2. Scatter the apples evenly over the bottom of the dish, followed by the nuts, optional dried cranberries or raisins, and finally the steel cut oats. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the milk, eggs, shredded apple or applesauce, maple syrup, butter, vanilla, baking powder, cinnamon, optional nutmeg, and salt until fully incorporated. (It’s ok if the butter forms small clumps.)
  4. Pour the milk mixture evenly over the apple/oat mixture. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (Make ahead tip: Alternatively, you may prep early in the day, refrigerate for at least 8 hours, and then bake. Cool completely, cover, refrigerate, and warm in the morning.)
  5. When ready to bake, place the baking dish on the counter to take the chill off while the oven preheats to 350℉. Uncover the baking dish and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the mixture is set in the middle. Check a few minutes early and add a few minutes, as needed, based on oven and dimensions of baking dish. The oats will be tender but still slightly chewy. You may slice or scoop the oatmeal into bowls and enjoy as is or with additional milk or a dollop of yogurt.
Notes

*Depending on apple size, you’ll need 2 to 3 for the diced and shredded apple. I keep the skin on; you could peel if preferred. The grated or shredded apple adds more natural sweetness and binding properties. Use a box or hand-held grater, or substitute applesauce if you don’t have a grater.

**Toasting the nuts will add a hint of extra flavor, but I’ve also skipped this step many times and the oatmeal is still delicious. I’ve also mixed in pepitas (pumpkin seeds), which I do prefer roasted or toasted.

***I enjoy the flavor of maple syrup, although brown sugar, honey, agave, or another sweetener of choice may be used in its place.

Can I make this recipe with no added sweetener? Those who enjoy less sweetness can successfully make this recipe with less or no maple syrup. I aim for broad appeal where sweetness is concerned, and ¼ cup has been the most widely preferred amount. I enjoy this oatmeal with as little as 2T maple syrup, although my personal preference is 3T. I recommend adding an additional tablespoon of grated apple or applesauce for each tablespoon of syrup removed.

Want to vary the recipe? This recipe is flexible and forgiving, so you could use a combination of apples and blueberries or bananas, dried cherries or chopped dates instead of cranberries, mashed overripe banana or pumpkin instead of the grated apple or applesauce, or any combination of these fruits. You could add a ½ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice. Short of these basic swaps, simply make changes incrementally so you don’t throw off the dry-to-liquid ratio.

The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/

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Comments

  1. Elaine Leech

    Hello. I have a box of Quaker Oats Steel Cut but it says it is “quick 3-minute oats”. Will this work in this recipe or should I get a bag at the bulk food store that isn’t “quick”. Thanks very much.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Elaine, I haven’t used quick steel cut oats in the recipe. I hesitate to recommend that you give them a try because they call for a different proportion of liquid to oats compared to regular steel cut oats. There’s likely a way to fiddle with the recipe to make them work, but I’d hate to guess and have your first round be a flop!

      Reply
  2. Linda Spitzer

    Wonderful recipe. I make baked oatmeal often and this is one of the best recipes ever. Easy and delicious.

    Reply