Granola, it seems, comes in and out of style, with or without yogurt and Birkenstocks. The same can be said for oatmeal, various health claims notwithstanding. But muesli is in its own category, maybe too odd and European to become truly trendy. The Swiss cereal, a mixture of uncooked oats, fruits and nuts, also sounds more like something invented by T.C. Boyle than what you might eat for breakfast instead of Nutella crepes. Which may or may not be a selling point, depending on how much you liked The Road To Wellville.
Good muesli is wonderful stuff: imagine uncooked granola, without all the oil and sugar, a purist's notion of cereal. And great muesli is worth its not inconsiderable weight in nuts and grains. Hans Röckenwagner's muesli, soaked in milk and cream, laced with orange juice and honey, woven with grated apples and chunks of hazelnuts, is something so oddly wonderful that you might find yourself, as some of us do, repeatedly ordering it instead of those pretzel croissants.
Röckenwagner says that his muesli recipe traces its origins to his childhood: he grew up in a small town in southern Germany called Schliengen, close to the Swiss city of Basel, where his father was a butcher. The shop where his father worked had a very authentic version of muesli, which was invented not by an American novelist but by a Swiss physician named Maximilian Bircher-Benner about a century ago, and Röckenwagner says he always looked forward to having muesli when he visited his father. “I was 5 or 6. It was my lunch.”
Muesli is hearty stuff, also eaten for dinner in Switzerland, often topped with a hefty amount of whipped cream. (Bircher-Benner's patients, for whom he created the recipe, apparently thrived on Schlagsahne. Don't we all.) Röckenwagner soaks his muesli — the name means, more or less, “little pottage” — in a combination of cream and milk, and says that some people do soak it in water to lighten up the whole thing. “It's not low calorie. It was never meant to be,” said Röckenwagner recently over a cup of coffee at his Santa Monica bakery/cafe, where the muesli is on the menu, as it is at 3 Square in Venice. “It was originally made with condensed milk. People confuse muesli with granola. It's not.”
3 Square Bircher Muesli
From: Hans Röckenwagner, chef-owner of Röckenwagner Santa Monica Bakery/Café, and 3 Square.
6 cups oats (old fashioned, not instant)
4 Granny Smith apples, grated with skin on and sprinkled with
the juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cups raisins
1 1/2 cups chopped hazelnuts
1/2 cup honey
5 cups milk
5 cups cream
1/4 cup orange juice
fresh berries for garnish, optional
whipped cream for garnish, optional
1. Combine all the ingredients (except the fresh berries and whipped cream) in a large bowl and toss until well combined.
2. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
3. Serve in a large bowl, or divide the muesli into individual cups or bowls. Serve with fresh berries and/or whipped cream, if desired.