Fresh, sweet flavor is the highlight of this seasonal favorite, which offers make-ahead convenience and countless ways to customize. It’s a deliciously wholesome way to start your day, and in a pinch, frozen berries may be used.
I clearly remember the first time I served this seasonal addition of my original baked oatmeal recipe. My younger son, who was a rather picky fourth grader at the time, asked if I would make it for breakfast every day. After a few more bites, he asked if I could bring enough to school for a class snack. It was an unequivocal vote of approval from one of my toughest critics!
Because Overnight Crunchy Top Baked Oatmeal was such a hit with my readers when I first started this blog, I used that recipe as the initial springboard when I began creating seasonal variations.
Baked oatmeal, after all, offers a healthy, make-ahead breakfast with broad appeal. Even those who shun “mushy” stovetop oatmeal have been known to happily dig into this more muffin-like alternative. What could be better than a menu of flavors to choose among?
And if there’s anything I’ve learned over the many years of making baked oatmeals for my family, it’s that these recipes are endlessly versatile and incredibly forgiving.
Despite the fact that recipe perfection had seemingly been achieved, there is occasionally reason to deviate from the plan.
Perhaps you are out of an ingredient. Or maybe you’re cooking for someone with a food allergy. Maybe you’re trying to reduce your sugar intake. All of these issues and more can be accommodated easily and successfully within the following recipe framework.
How to adapt the recipe as written
For starters, to achieve the luxurious flavor of sweet cream suggested in the recipe title, I originally reached for coconut milk instead of traditional milk or actual cream. The mild tropical flavor pairs beautifully with the berries, and the use of coconut oil further complements the flavors and creates a delightful aroma while baking.
• In the years since I created the recipe, however, I’ve used almost every kind of milk with good results.
• Similarly, while I personally adore the subtle flavor afforded by coconut oil, melted butter or vegetable oil may be used instead. (Generally speaking, I use safflower oil as my go-to vegetable oil, but even a fruity or mild olive oil could be used here.)
This recipe is flexible that way. And there’s more.
• Don’t have fresh strawberries? While fresh, seasonal berries afford the best flavor and natural sweetness, frozen offer a worthy alternative. In this case, I don’t thaw the berries but rather allow them to sit at room temperature for a few minutes, which softens them just enough to easily slice with a sharp knife.
• If you really enjoy coconut and/or nuts, you may stir some in or use as a topping. ⇩⇩
• Though the recipe calls for real maple syrup to be used in the oatmeal (and the flavor is lovely!), any type of sweetener, syrup or granular, could be used instead. Brown sugar is my top pick for the broiled topping, but coarse sugar or regular granulated would also work.
• Looking to reduce your sugar intake? You can scale back without dramatically changing the texture of the baked oatmeal. In my recipes, I do always try to use the least amount of sugar needed to achieve great taste. But to further decrease it in this case, I’d start by reducing the sweetener in the body of the recipe by a tablespoon or two. I would then reduce the broiled brown sugar topping to three tablespoons. Ultimately, the crunchy, sweet topping means that you get an initial taste of sweetness, which in turn makes it harder to detect less added sugar throughout.
• I initially used the grated apple to enhance flavor and reduce the amount of oil and sweetener needed, although I’ve used applesauce (even mashed overripe banana) many times since as a quick substitute. Conveniently, single serving applesauce cups are easy to have on hand and just the right size. When using an apple, I reach for a sweeter variety like Fuji or Honey Crisp and don’t bother to peel before grating (although you may).
• Additionally, I’ve mentioned a variety of pan sizes that may be used depending on what you have in your kitchen.
• Prefer to bake grab-and-go muffins instead of a casserole? There’s a simple adjustment for that, too. ⇩⇩
• Finally, the oats will plump up and absorb the flavor of the liquidy mixture as they sit. ⇩⇩ So while I developed this recipe with the idea that it could be assembled the night before and baked in the morning, sometimes we just don’t want to wait. Happily, there are options in this department, too.
So while my family has always adored this dish precisely as the recipe reads, they’ve been quite happy (and often unaware) when I’ve deviated. By sharing the many possibilities, I’m hoping you will feel confident to try with the ingredients you have on hand and to bake now or later, depending on what suits your schedule.
- 1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk (I use light; could substitute milk of choice)
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup (80g) pure maple syrup (could use honey)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ cup (60g) coconut oil, melted (could substitute melted butter or vegetable oil of choice)
- ½ cup applesauce or one small apple, grated (may leave skin on)
- 3 cups (288g) old fashioned oats
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup sliced or chopped strawberries, plus a few sliced berries reserved for the top
- ¼ cup (48g) lightly packed brown sugar
- Optional: ½ cup or so of unsweetened shredded coconut or slivered/sliced almonds (or chopped nuts of choice)
Grease a 9-inch square pan or 10-inch ovenproof skillet and set aside. (Alternatively, a 2-quart round casserole dish may be used. These are typically deeper, so the oatmeal will likely take an additional 5 minutes, give or take, to bake. An 8×12 Pyrex also works well, but a 9×13 is too big.) See notes for muffin adjustments.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the oats and the brown sugar. Stir in oats and combine well. (If using optional coconut or nuts, add them now. Optionally, you may simply sprinkle ¼ cup or so over the top before baking.) Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and spread to evenly distribute. Place the sliced, reserved strawberries on the top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for as little as an hour or two, or as long as overnight. (It’s not a deal breaker if you bake immediately, but this gives the oats time to absorb the liquid and plump up, which slightly enhances the finished baked oatmeal.)
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375℉. Allow the oatmeal to sit on the counter while the oven is preheating. Unwrap the oatmeal and bake for 25 minutes, give or take 5 minutes depending on oven and baking dish variances, or until just cooked through the middle. (Tip: start checking for doneness at 20 minutes until you know how long this takes in your oven.)
Remove from the oven, switch the oven setting to broil, and sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the top. Broil the oatmeal for about one minute, watching very closely so as not to burn, or until the sugar is melted and the top is golden.
- Serve and storing: The baked oatmeal may be served hot, room temperature or cold from the fridge. You may eat the oatmeal as is or drizzled with milk, additional fruit, and/or nuts. I usually bake the day before for an at-the-ready breakfast the next morning and like to gently reheat individual pieces in the microwave. The oatmeal will keep for up to a week when tightly covered and refrigerated. It freezes well, too.
When making muffins, refrigerate the uncooked oatmeal mixture in the mixing bowl, and then transfer it to the muffin tin once the liquid has been absorbed by the oats. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until cooked through. Often, I will top the muffins with a teaspoon of brown sugar, some sliced almonds, and a slice of strawberry prior to baking instead of following the broil step. The recipe yields 8 regular muffins or 6 jumbo.
Helpful hint: If I’m making muffins and want to bake them sooner than later, I reduce the milk to 1¼ cups, as it’s difficult to evenly distribute a soupy oat mixture to the muffin tins. This isn’t necessary with the baking dish version, and I do ultimately prefer the recipe with the higher amount of liquid.
A few more things:
•For a slightly less sweet topping, you may reduce the brown sugar topping by a tablespoon or two.
•Fresh, seasonal strawberries provide the best flavor and natural sweetness, but I have made this oatmeal many times with frozen berries, and it still tastes quite good. In this case, don’t thaw the berries. You will be able to slice them easily with a sharp knife once they have sat at room temperature for just a few minutes.