On Tuesdays I leave the house by eight in the morning, to drive out to the suburbs so we can spend our co-schooling days with Hannah's family. This school year I've been driving even a bit earlier, picking up the daughters of another family as well before swinging north. The trip is not quite an hour long.
The kids have to eat, of course, and usually in the car. Normally if someone won't eat breakfast I shrug and say "Guess you'll be hungry later, then," but I had to put my foot down some time ago about refusing to eat breakfast on Tuesday mornings. Hannah is happy to feed hungry kids a snack, but I wasn't so happy about my children snarfing up all her bread and milk once a week.
Furthermore, my daughter is one of those people who can't bear to look at food before about 10:00, so her breakfast has to come along and be saved till later.
The emergency food is granola bars, of course, which I keep in my car. And if we are really desperate (defined by: I somehow wasn't able to secure a cup of coffee any other way), I am not above hitting a drive-through. But I really do prefer making a portable real food.
Now if it was just me, it would be easy. I love hardboiled eggs, that quintessential portable protein, or sticks of string cheese; and in the summer I would be perfectly happy to drop a pint jar of hulled strawberries and almonds into my cupholder (one of the cupholders; the other one has my coffee) and go. Kids: not so much. Eating what's available because you have to get yourself fed is apparently a learned skill.
Muffins are one solution; they are a bit crumbly, sure, but there are already so many crumbs in my car that I don't worry about it. At least they don't drip, unless they are chocolate-chip. I used to make them fresh on Tuesday morning, but these days I tend to bake them the night before. I used to be intimidated by muffins, but now I can make them practically in my sleep.
Another is quesadillas or their cousin, breakfast burritos. I typically make plain cheese for one child, egg-cheese-salsa for another (and for me), and a pepperoni-and-cheese quesadilla for another. They don't take very long and they are all right even after they have gone cold.
I don't favor peanut butter sandwiches because the crusts tend to get left behind in the seats and then get smooshed. Also, then everyone wants milk. Which is banned from my car.
Here is a new idea I haven't tried yet, and a new idea I tried this morning.
First: stuffed buns. Yes, I know, there is nothing particularly creative about what is basically a sandwich. Still, I like her nifty method of sealing the bun to keep things from falling out of it. Check it out at The Big Red Kitchen (where there be photos):
Go to your nearest bakery that bakes up the freshest and most tender Kaiser Rolls. Slice the rolls open leaving one edge intact- like a clam shell, and pull out some of the tender innards saving them for another recipe. Now here is the trick to getting those buns put back together and holding the filling inside. Ready for this?
Fill the bottom well with your filling of choice and pipe beaten egg whites around the lip of the bottom bun, close bun, press lightly to be sure that glue has sealed the bun closed, and top with a slice of cheese of choice. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 8 minutes. The meringue will seal your fillings in the bun....
Brilliant. Just brilliant. I am a little bit afraid to try it first with a fresh, tender Kaiser roll, however, because I fear that if the kids get a hold of that, they will never eat one made of a leftover whole wheat dinner roll, which is exactly how I would do this for breakfast.
Now, on to my other new thing, with a little background. The bread machine is sniffed at by many "real" bakers, including, sadly, some otherwise inspiring cookbook writers (Mark Bittman, I'm talking to you). Yes, yes, if you are the sort of person who tosses about "poolish" and "sponge" without a thought, or even if you are a devotee of the considerably more convenient no-knead Dutch oven breads or Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, then perhaps bread machine bread will never be up to your standards. But hey, if your family eats sandwiches or toast, especially if they eat a LOT of sandwiches and toast, it's hard to beat a constant supply of homemade sandwich loaves. I think at this point I would do without my microwave, food processor, and blender all together before I would give up my bread machine.
So, given that I have a bread machine, it's really pretty easy to have fresh breakfast buns of all sorts, because the dough can be ready to shape when you get up. I stumble down the stairs, turn on the oven, shape the buns or what have you to the sound of the coffee maker starting to hiss and burble, set them on top of the warming oven to rise, and stumble back up the stairs (it's harder than going down; try it sometime) to get dressed or shower or nurse the baby or whatever. Twenty or thirty minutes later I come down, pop the pan in the oven, and drink a cup of coffee. Most yeast buns only take ten minutes or so to bake, so breakfast is ready. And since that (and maybe a cup of milk) is all the kids need to eat, well, it's actually pretty simple. I think you can maybe get a similar effect with certain doughs that will willingly rise in the refrigerator overnight, but it takes longer for them to do their second rise.
This morning I tried a version of pain au chocolat. Yes, yes, it is traditionally made with croissant-type pastry, but my children don't know that, do they? Milo was inspired to ask about it yesterday when we were reading a book called Let's Eat: What Children Eat Around the World. One of the children was a French boy, and a photo showed him and his restauranteur-parents sitting around the breakfast table drinking hot chocolate out of bowls. "Why aren't they using a mug?" asked Milo, and I read the caption to him, which indicated that the family had dipped their pain au chocolat in the hot chocolate and then when the pain was done they drank the hot chocolate from the bowl, much as we order our kids to finish their milk after they have spooned up all the cereal.
Well. Hot chocolate with chocolate-stuffed bread sounded like a fine breakfast to Milo, so that's what's on the menu this morning. And I mention this in the "portable" category because without the hot chocolate, the chocolate-stuffed bread is indeed quite portable, as you will see.
(A side note before we go on: Why haven't I ever thought before about serving, say, cookies and milk with the milk in a bowl instead of a cup? Whenever they're going to dunk something in the milk? It would be a lot less messy and it doesn't impede the drinking afterwards.)
I searched for "bread machine pain au chocolat" and found this lovely British recipe, with the flour measured in grammes, and adapted it. (The quantity of yeast looked ridiculously small, so I used the amount of yeast I would normally put in a cinnamon-roll type dough).
Here's what I put in my bread machine for six pains. Next time I'll increase it by fifty percent, I think, and try using a bit more whole wheat, since it turned out nicely with 40% whole wheat.
- 2 eggs beaten (right in the machine pan) with 3 Tbsp milk
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp butter
- Pinch salt
- 150 g bread flour (sorry; I have a scale, so I went with her grammes)
- 100 g Dakota Maid whole wheat flour (DM is a finely ground, hard winter wheat that is excellent for bread. I don't think this would work with a coarse whole wheat)
- 1 tsp bread machine yeast
I cut the dough, which was smooth and elastic, into six pieces, rolled each gently out into an oval, and deposited eight Ghirardelli 60%-cocoa chocolate chips (that's a quarter of an ounce; I think a bit more would have worked okay) into the center of each. Then I folded them over (like a business letter), pinched them to seal, and tucked the ends under like a little loaf of bread.
I put four of them in mini-loaf pans as suggested in the recipe, and put two on a baking sheet to see if that worked okay. Then I covered them and let them rise 20 minutes before baking 10 minutes at 425 degrees F.
Aren't they cute? They looked just a teeny bit overly browned; I might try 400 degrees next time. And I don't really think that they needed the mini-loaf pans, as they all look about the same.
(Slight mistake: I probably should have put them seam side down. I was worried about the chocolate leaking. I think seam side down would look nicer, although mine turned out kind of interestingly rustic-looking.)
Of course anytime you have something stuffed with chocolate, you should have an interior shot. Here is one that I managed to catch with my cell phone before Mark ate the other half.
I thought the rich bread was lovely, but the chocolate was a bit much for seven in the morning. Chocolate is good for you, insisted Mark, as he ate one and a half buns plus the chocolatey middle of mine. Maybe next time I will fill my little bun with something else, like plum jam or cream cheese.
Once they cool completely, the chocolate will solidify, and it will be a very nice, not-messy, quite portable breakfast bun.
UPDATE: Oh yes. Well-received. And not perfectly un-messy, but not bad either.