Baked Oatmeal with Caramelised Pears and Vanilla Cream
This is my deep-into-winter escape from hot-cereal drudgery, a casserole-formatted, lightly luxurious baked oatmeal that I make at the start of a week and heat up one portion at a time. I really love fruit with my oatmeal, but it usually ends up falling to the convenience of dried fruit stirred in. This is better. You begin by roasting lemony pears in a bit (just a bit!) of butter, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds until the juices begin to release and self-caramelize in the pan. From here, you build a somewhat standard baked oatmeal on top, something we should thank the Amish for including in old cookbooks—but I’m actually going to thank Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks for introducing this to the wider web audience. Eggs and a little bit of baking soda give the oats some cohesion and lift; the pear caramel makes it otherworldly. So does one other thing: the tiniest trickle of a sweetened vanilla cream on top. You could use milk, I suppose—but I don’t, because once I tried this at a restaurant there was no going back. It is, in one pour, a coolant, a sweetener, and something to loosen the whole bit up. If this sounds like work, keep in mind that you’re going to get six amazing breakfasts from it, a better return on investment than I get from most from scratch soups, dinners, or cakes, and—ahem, I’m just saying—none of them self-caramelize.
|For the vanilla sugar:|
|125g (½ cup plus 2 tbsp)||granulated sugar|
|For the pears:|
|30g (2 tbsp)||unsalted butter|
|3||pears (preferably D'Anjou or William)|
|For the oatmeal:|
|235ml (1 cup)||milk|
|235ml (1 cup)||water|
|30g (2 tbsp)||unsalted butter|
|1½ tsp||coarse or sea salt|
|2 tsp||baking powder|
|240g (3 cups)||rolled oats|
|235ml (1 cup)||double or single cream|
Make the vanilla sugar
Place the sugar in a small bowl. Split the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into the sugar, and use your fingertips to distribute the seeds throughout; the abrasion helps release more flavor. Save the pod: there’s tons more flavor to be had, and we’re going to use it.
Heat the oven to 200°C/gas 6. While it’s heating, place butter in a 9-by-13-inch or equivalent-sized baking dish in the oven to let it melt.
Prepare the pears
Finely grate the zest of half of your lemon and set it aside; you’ll use it later. Juice the whole lemon, you’ll use it now. Peel the pears, split them lengthwise, and remove cores and any thick-looking stems. Toss the pears with the lemon juice. Remove the baking dish with melted butter from the oven, and sprinkle 100 grams vanilla sugar into it. Arrange the pears, cut side down, over the sugar, and drizzle with any lemon juice left in bowl. Cover tightly with foil, and bake for 20 minutes. Then remove foil and bake another 10 minutes.
While pears are baking
Whisk the milk, water, butter, eggs, salt, and reserved zest together in a large bowl. Sprinkle the baking powder over these and stir to combine; add oats, and stir again.
Bake the oats
Use a thin spatula to turn the pears over carefully, spooning as much sauce from the pan over the pears as they will hold. Reduce heat to 180°C/gas 4. Dollop the oat mixture around the pears in the pan. Return the dish to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pears are soft and the oatmeal edges are golden brown.
Meanwhile, make vanilla cream
Bring the cream, remaining vanilla sugar, and reserved empty vanilla bean pod to a simmer in a saucepan. Simmer 5 minutes, reducing to 175 ml. Chill the mixture if you prefer cold cream on your hot oatmeal (i.e., if you’re me).
Scoop one pear half and its surrounding oatmeal into a bowl, and drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons vanilla cream. Refrigerate leftovers until needed, up to one week, warming one portion at a time.