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Overnight Breakfast: A Feast For Reluctant Risers

I've never been much good at mornings. For most of my life, I prided myself on being a night owl, the type of gal who could always handle one more thing after midnight — another phone call, a few more pages of a novel, a last turn on the dance floor. For years, I even showered at night. And if, in the morning, I couldn't produce a civil word before my first sip of coffee, well, that was a small price to pay.

You'll be surprised how many recipes can be divided into a brisk and busy Night Before stage and an easy Morning After stage. Before you know it, you'll be eating roast chicken and lasagna at 7 in the morning.

The other price was breakfast. Night owls are clumsy in the morning, and always running late — so making a plate of eggs or baking a muffin or frying a sausage, I felt, would have been hazardous as well as time-consuming. For years, I knew no breakfast. Not even on the weekends, when by the time I eased my idle toes out of bed into a puddle of late morning sun, it was basically time for lunch.

It never occurred to me that I could have spent my last few conscious moments the night before making breakfast, instead of watching one more YouTube video or Googling the definition of "lagomorph." Hence, I failed until recently to explore the many charms of the overnight breakfast.

Overnight breakfasts take advantage of the fact that many recipes fall naturally into two parts: 1) the chopping and prepping and mixing, and 2) the application of heat. The first half requires fine motor skills, attention to detail and balanced judgment. The other requires the turning of a knob.

So it seems natural to broker a deal between the delusional night owl who thinks she can do it all, and the morning misanthrope who can scarcely heft a toothbrush.

For the most part, overnight breakfasts involve a starchy component that doesn't mind hanging out in the fridge for several hours, and in fact may be better off for it. Oats soaked in apple juice, for example, swell and soften into the no-cook oatmeal known as muesli. Sweet breakfast buns slowly rise, developing gluten and flavor. Slices of bread become one with beaten eggs, merging into a hybrid that will puff and bronze in the oven.

You'll be surprised how many recipes can be divided into a brisk and busy Night Before stage and an easy Morning After stage. Before you know it, you'll be eating roast chicken and lasagna at 7 in the morning.

If you're the sort of person who thinks nothing of updating your blog at 10 p.m., you can handle mixing up a simple dough or cracking a couple of eggs while the moon sets sail across the sky. Afterward, you may even have enough energy for an episode of Mad Men before you hit the hay. The point is, once you've made it through Act I of the recipe, the food doesn't care what you do. It simply sits there on the counter or in the fridge — apparently inert but still making progress, like a sleeping passenger on the red-eye from L.A.

The following morning, as the hazy residue of dreams is washed away by the scalding aroma of coffee, you flip on the oven or stovetop. You sip, smugly, while breakfast essentially makes itself. Voila! You've averted the pain of an early morning scramble, while deviously concocting something grand enough for a lazy Sunday brunch.

To tell the truth, I am no longer much of a night owl. We live a semi-rural life, and my husband has a long commute. We're often up and about by sunup, long before the rooster across the street gets going. But that hasn't stopped me from lazily savoring breakfast made last night. Maybe it's too early to call it "morning." Maybe it's too early to call it "breakfast." Whatever you call it, it tastes just fine.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

T. Susan Chang regularly writes about food and reviews cookbooks for The Boston Globe,NPR.org and the Washington Post. She's the author of A Spoonful of Promises: Recipes and Stories From a Well-Tempered Table (2011). She lives in western Massachusetts, where she also teaches food writing at Bay Path College and Smith College. She blogs at Cookbooks for Dinner.
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