The Cheap-Ass Gourmet: Frau Doktor Schmeiter’s Wunderbar German Breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and no one knows that better than the Germans, so say I. A nice hearty, healthy breakfast wakes up your palate, sticks to your ribs, and (ideally) is pleasing to behold.
Here in North America we often think of breakfast as something to be shovelled down while standing at the sink and looking frantically at our watches — either some boxed cereal bunged into a bowl with milk slopped over it, or toast/pastries and coffee, or a greasy plate of eggs and bacon, or (perish the thought) nothing at all.
I confess that that was my thinking as well, until I spent a couple of years in Germany for work a while back. One of the first things that was served to me by my hostess, once my jet lag had backed off enough to allow me to eat, was a breakfast that knocked my socks off. Summoned out from under my duvet, I stumbled towards the breakfast table and was instantly shaken awake by the beautiful array of food presented to me.
There was, of course, a cup of fresh hot coffee with full-fat milk (for some reason, German milk is infinitely more palatable than that available here, although I’m not sure why that is). There was a small glass of orange juice, and in front of me there was a plate of food that contained only two familiar breakfast items, namely a boiled egg and a slice of toast.
But arrayed around that was a selection of items that we North Americans normally only eat for lunch or dinner — if at all: sliced raw vegetables (peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes [yes, I know they’re a fruit; don’t make me come over there]), sliced deli meat with a nice dot of good mustard, some sliced Havarti cheese, a few pieces of cantaloupe and some strawberries, and a couple of nice tasty olives.
In the centre of the table were several nice jars of jam, in case my sweet tooth decided to shove an oar in, and (oh, be still my heart) some pretty little squares of chocolate for “afters,” to help wash down the last of the coffee.
It remains one of my fondest memories of my time in that country, and goes a long way toward explaining why Germans (along with most Europeans) are generally so nice and slim and healthy.
So here, without further ado (and just a bit of drooling), are my instructions for concocting a German breakfast of your own. It’s the perfect thing to serve to guests, either as breakfast or brunch, but don’t wait till you have company, and don’t wait for the weekend — the whole thing takes a maximum of 20 minutes to prepare, and after you overcome your “But it doesn’t contain Pop-Tarts!” reservations, you will want it for your “always and forever” breakfast.
What you need:
- fresh eggs; I use free-run organic eggs. Eggs are one of the few foods for which I happily pay top price: they are tastier, prettier (see my photo and look at the bright orange yolks!) and more nutritious than regular factory farm eggs, and the chickens are happier, meaning I’m happier
- some nice bread (I use Dimpflmeier “7 Grain” but the choice is yours)
- raw veggies: choose from red or orange peppers, sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, zucchini strips, carrot pennies — in short, whatever you like, really
- sliced meat; I was served salami (which the Germans do like no other!) but today I used low-fat turkey. The choice is yours
- nice mustard (I use Maille) for the meats
- fruit: choose from strawberries, melon, slices of peach or nectarine, grapes — whatever’s available and pretty; up to you
- olives (Greek are particularly nice)
- sliced cheese or small wedges of Brie/Camembert (careful of the fat content if you’re watching your weight)
- jam, marmalade, honey, Marmite, butter
- tiny squares of really, really good chocolate for “afters”
- coffee or tea
- fruit juice
What you need to do:
As usual, prepare the fruits and veggies first. Wash what needs to be washed, slice what needs to be sliced.
Then place an egg-cup on each plate and arrange the fruits, veggies, meats, olives, mustard, and cheese around that. (See my photo for an idea.) If you want to impress your guests, put a wee sprig of dill, parsley or rosemary (whatever you have) on the plate as well. Oooh, lovely.
You will serve your toast on a separate plate to prevent it from getting soggy from the veggies or crowding your plate too much.
Next, place your eggs (after inspecting each first for cracks or flaws) in a small pot and cover them with water. Add a teaspoon of salt; in case one breaks, salt helps keep the contents from oozing out of the shell, strangely enough.
Even if I’m just cooking for myself, I cook 4 or 5 eggs — I remove my breakfast egg when it’s done, then let the rest cook a few minutes longer to make hard-boiled eggs. No point wasting water and energy.
Set this pot on a burner and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, turn the heat to Medium, set a timer for 5 minutes and fire up your toaster. This is also a good time to go set the table. If you have those little wee egg spoons, make sure to include those, plus separate spoons for each pot of jam, honey, or Marmite. Cross-contamination is BAD, mmmmmmmkay?
When the 5-minute timer dings, use a slotted spoon to remove your breakfast egg and place it in the egg-cup, round side up. (Eggs have a round end and a pointier end: look closely. You’ll thank me later.) Re-set the timer for another 5 minutes and continue cooking your hard-boilers if you’re making them. Instructions for perfect hard-boiled eggs continue below**.
The toast should just be popping up now. Butter it, slice it, and put it on a separate bread-and-butter plate for each person.
Bring all plates of loot to your table, discreetly mop up your drool with a napkin, and tuck in. Guten appetit!
Total expenditure for basic breakfast:
- $4.99 for one dozen free-run eggs (at least where I shop)
- $3.00 for decent bread
- $5-ish for your veggies and fruits
- $5-ish for a packet of deli meat if you use it
- pennies for the mustard, jams, honey, butter, olives, coffee, sweets and other little yummy extras (many of which you’ll already have in your pantry, if you’re smart)
Divide that into bits for one person’s breakfast (1 egg, 1 slice of bread, 2 or 3 pieces of meat, etc) and it comes out to about $1.25 apiece for an unbeatable kick-start to the day.
**Instructions for perfect hard-boiled eggs, as promised:
Hard-boiled eggs are an absolutely wonderful snack — eggs are not the villains they were made out to be in the 70s and 80s (see this story, for just one example among many) but rather an excellent source of protein and energy for people on the run. I usually have a nice little bowl of them in my fridge for a quick nosh before I head to the gym, for example.
Start, as I said above, by inspecting your eggs for cracks or flaws. Nothing is more gross than soggy billowy egg muck boiling around in your pot.
Put 4 or 5 eggs in a deep-ish pot and cover them with water. (I cheat a bit and put warm tap water in there.) Add a teaspoon of salt — if there is a small flaw that you missed, the salt somehow keeps the egg muck from boiling out. I’m not a chemist, so don’t ask me how that works.
Bring the pot to a full rolling boil, then set your timer for 10-11 mins and turn the heat to medium. You want the eggs to be turning and rattling a bit while they cook, so leave the lid on but with a crack to let steam escape.
When the timer goes, turn off the stove (yeah, yeah) and drain the boiling water into the sink. My friend K has taught her kids to blow on the steam to keep it away from their hands as they pour; it works. Stand the pot of eggs in the sink and run cold water into it. Tilt and empty the pot a few times, for about a minute, and then fill it once more with cold water and leave it.The cold water prevents the eggs from developing that gross dark ring around the yolks.
After about 20 minutes, drain the eggs, dry them and place them in a bowl in your fridge. You now have what you need for snacks, devilled eggs (a Smiter specialty), egg salad, or slicing into a Cobb Salad.
They keep for about 6 or 7 days in the fridge, believe it or not.