For me, mornings are the worst part of winter. I normally count myself as a guaranteed lark, reveling in the early hours of the day, but those early hours in the colder months of the year barely deserve the label ‘morning’. Mornings mean sunshine, beams streaming through the window and the promise of productivity and good things to come. Mornings don’t mean opening your eyes in darkness; the hazy, nauseating orange glow of streetlamps replacing real rays; the rasp of cold, clammy air against your skin as you tentatively reach an arm outside the duvet to check the time and remind yourself that no, it isn’t a mistake, it genuinely is time to get up despite the dark and the cold and the feeling that you might be turning into a hibernating mammal. Mornings shouldn’t mean having to shiveringly shroud yourself in a dressing gown to make the briefest of journeys between bedroom and bathroom, or turning all the lights on in the kitchen just so you can find the all-important switch on the kettle.
We’re all familiar with the idea of ‘winter warmers’ - no, I don’t mean fleecy things and woollen garments and thermal vests (yes it is completely acceptable to wear a thermal vest at the age of twenty-five) - food that bolsters and comforts and provides temporary distraction and relief from the miserable climate outside. Think glossy, dark, unctuous stews; rich wine sauces; anything that oozes molten cheese like a slow and calorific volcano; anything you can bring out of the oven that will bubble and turn golden and crispy, preferably with ample amounts of meat, cheese, butter or cream. Winter warmers are things you’d tuck into in front of a roaring fire, with a nice big glass of red wine, or something you’d salivate over if it were dished up to you in a cosy pub after a long windy walk. Sausages and mash; fish pie; sticky toffee pudding; vats of soup emitting wispy curls of fragrant steam.
And yet I believe we’re missing something when we think of winter warmers in this way. If you think about it, evenings are when we least need winter warmers in our lives. Evenings mean the day is winding down; we can legitimately change into our pyjamas, slippers and winter warmers of the sartorial variety, put on our fires and electric blankets and dream about the glorious prospect of a warm bed in but a few hours' time. What, though, of those freezing mornings when the cold rain is battering the windowpanes and you have to rise from bed in the dark to the prospect of braving the elements and a new, gloomy day? Particularly, I’d like to point out, if you don’t have a car and so have to cycle to work whatever the weather.
Mornings are when we need food to warm us the most.
With this in mind, I’ve designed the best and most warming winter breakfast you could ever hope to imagine. It’s also one of the most delicious things to emerge from any oven, anywhere, in the history of baking. Think tender slices of juicy pear and tart, sweet raspberries, scented with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg, then covered with a cocoa and brown sugar enriched oatmeal topping that bakes to a crisp crust on top with a gooey, chocolatey centre where it soaks up the pear and raspberry juices. Think nutty oats, cocoa, toasted hazelnuts and warming spices. It’s crunchy, toasty, chocolatey, gooey and rich, lifted by the perfume of the fudgy, fragrant pears and the sweet tang of the raspberries, softened in the heat of the oven.
Essentially, this is porridge plus. The crust has many of the same components – oats, milk, spices – but bakes up lusciously gooey in the centre and chocolatey and crispy on top. The combination of cocoa and hazelnuts gives an incredible nutella-esque flavour to the whole thing, which combines beautifully with the soft, caramelized pears and the raspberries. These are all ingredients that belong together and that you commonly find in desserts. But it’s winter, and you need warming, so transform them into the ultimate breakfast instead. If you’re feeling really decadent, try adding some dark or milk chocolate chips to the pears so they melt and mingle with the juices in the oven, or even a few spoonfuls of nutella. Incidentally, this reheats well in the microwave, so make it at the weekend and enjoy warming pear and cocoa goodness throughout the week.
Despite all the glorious ingredients this contains, it’s actually a pretty nutritious breakfast. Why must we always associate winter warmers with the consumption of vast numbers of calories? This has healthy fruit, oats and nuts, and only a touch of sugar (the dark, toffee-scented, unrefined kind) and fat – I use coconut oil, the superfood of the moment. It’s is hearty, filling, warming and sweet, like a good crumble or bowl of porridge, and is absolutely the best way to address those winter morning blues.
I genuinely get out of bed much more quickly when I know that this is on the menu. You shouldn’t have to wait until dinnertime to warm yourself through the bolstering power of food: start with breakfast instead.
Pear, cocoa, hazelnut and raspberry baked oatmeal (serves 3-4):
- 4 medium pears
- 1 punnet raspberries
- 2 tsp cornflour
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 200g jumbo oats
- 20g cocoa
- 50g dark muscovado sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 3 tbsp coconut oil or butter, melted
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 480ml milk
- 4 tbsp hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 190C.
Quarter and core the pears, then chop into 1-inch chunks. Scatter over the bottom of a medium baking dish along with three quarters of the raspberries. Toss with the cornflour, cinnamon and nutmeg.
In a medium bowl, mix together the oats, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. In a large jug, whisk together the coconut oil or butter, vanilla, egg and milk. Tip the oat mixture over the pears and raspberries and level out. Gently pour the milk mixture evenly over the top of the oats. Bash the dish on the counter a couple of times to distribute the milk evenly. Scatter over the hazelnuts and the remaining raspberries, then bake for 40 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.