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How to make baked oatmeal, any way you like it

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

It’s easy to give short shrift to breakfast, but baked oatmeal is one way to start your morning nutritiously with more of the whole grains we’re supposed to be eating.

Baked oatmeal gives you “that warm, cozy, sort of hygge vibe,” says registered dietitian nutritionist, cookbook author and our Nourish columnist Ellie Krieger, who has developed several oatmeal recipes for us. Better yet, it can be made ahead and frozen or refrigerated until you’re ready to reheat and eat it.

Get to know your oats, and all the types and ways to eat them

First, let’s start with Ellie’s baseline formula. Then we’ll touch on each element, along with suggestions on how you can customize. These amounts will give you 6 to 8 servings.

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons to 1/3 cup sweetener
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons oil
  • 2 to 3 cups of fruit and “stuff”
  • 1 to 1½ teaspoons vanilla
  • Pinch to ¼ teaspoon fine salt
  • Spices, to taste

Mix the dry ingredients together, then the wet, and finally combine them all. (It’s best to assemble right before baking.) Bake in any dish (greased) that comfortably holds the ingredients. Ellie often uses an 8-inch square baking dish, but a deep-dish pie plate or oval gratin dish also work. Cook at 350 to 375 degrees — the higher temp will get you a browner, crisper top — for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on your dish and the ingredients. Any leftovers can be frozen or refrigerated, then reheated in the microwave or oven.

For plump oats that hold their shape, try precooking them, says Steven Dominguez, chef and R&D associate principal scientist at PepsiCo and the Quaker Oats Co. He brings them to a boil with an equal amount of water, then covers and reduces the heat to the barest simmer for 5 minutes. For something more gooey than fluffy, try a 2-to-1 ratio of water to oats and cook on low for 10 minutes after the mixture boils. He will stir in some instant oats to this mixture, along with the add-ins, before baking.

These customizable overnight oats are your go-to, no-cook breakfast

For something more like a cross between overnight oats and baked oatmeal, chef Roxana Jullapat, author of “Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution,” recommends putting the oats and liquid (half water and half milk) in a casserole dish, along with such add-ins as cinnamon, golden raisins or currants, a pinch of salt, and brown sugar. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, bake at 350 degrees, covered for 10 minutes and then uncovered for another 5 to 10 minutes, until warm and thickened to your preferred texture. Stir when you uncover and add more liquid if necessary.

Ingredients and substitutions

Oats. Old-fashioned rolled oats are the best way to go for baked oatmeal. They come from oat groats, the entire oat kernel, that are steamed and rolled. They walk a nice line by cooking up tender but not mushy. If you choose to use steel-cut oats, Ellie says, you may want to precook or soak them so they don’t come out chewy. Quick-cooking steel-cut oats are another way to go, though you’ll want to steer clear of regular quick-cooking or instant oats. You can also consider adding in other pre-soaked whole grains, as Ellie does in her Holiday Oat and Quinoa Breakfast Bake.

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Milk. Use your choice of dairy or plant-based milk here, with oat milk being a natural pairing thanks to its creamy texture. Feel free to use baked oatmeal as an opportunity to use up bits of other liquids you might have in your fridge, whether that’s the last bit of a carton of heavy cream or half-and-half or the remainder of a can of coconut milk. Water won’t provide the richness, flavor and browning power of milk, but it’s fine in a pinch or mixed with one of the other options. For savory baked oatmeal, broth is a possibility, too.

How to choose the right nondairy milk for your recipes

Sweetener. Anything goes here, whether it’s honey, maple syrup, granulated sugar, brown sugar or a sugar alternative. If you’re looking to lower your sugar intake or suit a variety of eaters, Ellie suggests starting with the lower amount and letting people add more at the table.

Baking powder. It’s not mandatory, but baking powder lightens the mixture and gives more of the caky, bread-pudding-ish vibe that many of us enjoy in baked oatmeal.

Egg. Using an egg or two will help the oatmeal rise and bind the ingredients together. Egg alternatives work here as well, including flax or chia. For 1 egg, mix 1 tablespoon of flax or chia with 3 tablespoons of water and let hydrate for a few minutes. Oat flour is another way to add more structure for vegan baked oatmeal, Dominguez says.

Oil. “I like what it does to the texture,” says Ellie, who usually opts for something neutral such as avocado, safflower or canola oil. Melted coconut oil or butter would be fine, too.

Fruit and “stuff.” Here’s where you can really have a lot of fun. Chopped pears or apples are mainstays, though consider including other fresh fruits, among them pineapple, mango and berries. Grated carrots contribute color and nutrition, as in Ellie’s Morning Glory Baked Oatmeal. Frozen berries are another great add-in, and you can use them straight out of the freezer. If you use a lot of dried fruit, soak in a bit of warm water first. Nuts add texture and nutrition as well. Dominguez likes to add sunflower seeds, which burst, and pumpkin seeds, which snap, to his baked oatmeal. Try going savory, too, with something like sauteed mushrooms, onions and Gruyere, Ellie recommends.

Your takeout grain bowl has nothing on these creamy, savory oats

Vanilla and spices. Vanilla brings delicate sweetness without additional sugar, but you can certainly use almond or another extract you like. Anything goes with spices. Cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger and even pumpkin spice all are right at home in sweet baked oatmeal. If you’re experimenting, you can sample your mixture before baking — and before you add the egg — to see if the flavor is where you want it. For savory oatmeal, you can be just as creative: garlic powder, tomato paste and miso offer concentrated flavor in a small package.

Salt. As always, this pantry staple helps bring out the other flavors in a dish, even sweet ones. If you’re going for a savory oatmeal, you may wish to use a bit more.