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My family was always very DIY when it came to breakfast. My mother would set up her IV drip of coffee and light a cigarette while my father made the breakfast plate he eats to this day (1 packet plain oatmeal topped with 1 sliced banana, 2 pieces white toast with jam, 1 cup English Breakfast tea, 1 glass cranberry juice.) I had flings with everything from strawberry frosted Pop Tarts to Honey Bunches of Oats, but the dish I always came back to was Quaker Oats Instant Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal.
Now, this is partly because my father continued to buy boxes of this oatmeal week after week—I believe it's on perma-sale at the Shop Rite in Hackensack, NJ in case anyone is interested. Someone had to eat all that oatmeal, and that someone was me.
To this day, I get a warm, nostalgic feeling when I rip open the thin brown package and see that puff of flavoring wisp up and curl into my nostrils. To me, Quaker Apple Cinnamon oatmeal smells like sweet fall spices, like apple cider doughnuts, like childhood, and love. I have a hunch that there are plenty of people out there who share this particular food memory. Unfortunately, serving instant oatmeal packets when friends come to my house for brunch may be pushing just how far I can play the starving artist card.
The solution: this baked oatmeal, which maintains the flavors I want while being totally suitable for serving to guests.
To start, I've sweetened old fashioned oats with a combination of maple syrup and brown sugar, which gives the dish a rounded, warm sweetness. Milk, egg, applesauce, and a hint of butter bind the oats together and, when baked, the dish gets a consistency of what I can only describe as an oat custard, spiced with cinnamon and brightened with many chunks of Granny Smith apples. Though they're not in the instant version, I added toasted walnuts to make the dish a little more hearty.