Too busy to rustle up breakfast? Here are some options that will help you seize the day

I knew I had hit rock bottom when I started baking sliced apples — to pretend it was pie. Of course the bouncy-haired, paleo goddess who gushed about it on her food blog was very convincing. Apparently apples “gently dusted with cinnamon” and “lightly brushed with butter” are ‘reminiscent of apple pie’. Yeah right.

Two months of swearing off sugar meant I had to get creative in the kitchen. But re-training your taste buds is tough, and re-learning how to make desserts tougher. After all, I learnt baking by muddling my way through pies, cobblers and cheesecake: luxuriating in sugar, wallowing in warm pastry. Contemporary desserts eschewing flour, sugar and all additives, embrace the concept of ‘real food’. It basically means moving away from processed food: A useful exercise for our over-stimulated taste-buds, deadened by increasingly amplified flavours and textures of that deadly trio — fat, salt and sugar.

Finding substitutes for fudge brownies however can be exhausting. I tried frozen bananas, which when blended with a dash of vanilla apparently taste just like ice cream. They don’t. There was the creamy turmeric tea, a supposedly ‘healing brew’ made with coconut milk, ginger, cayenne pepper and honey. Let’s not even get started on the creative items I carefully put on my Pinterest ‘Sugar Detox’ board: Banana cappuccinos, avocado cacao mousse and a ‘pumpkin spice hot buttered coffee’.

Of course, as with most things in life, this gets easier the minute you stop fighting. The truth is — apples baked with cinnamon will never taste like apple pie. However my grandmother’s tip of baking ripe Kerala bananas with a little butter/ghee, and then adding a splash of orange juice 10 minutes before taking it out of the oven, is always delicious. (Sprinkle it with sugar when you add the orange juice for extra oomph.)

The exercise also got me thinking about breakfast. For those of us who barely have time to make ourselves a cup of decent coffee in the morning, home-made granola is perfect. Make a batch over the weekend and use it for a month. In an attempt to find the quickest version I scrounged about the Internet till I stumbled on popular Paris-based blogger David Lebovitz’s no bake granola bars. It did involve a wearying amount of waiting beside the oven, as I had to toast oats, almonds and peanuts separately. But then, I was simultaneously listening to Lady Gaga and watching a re-run of Boston Legal, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

Lebovitz’s recipe involves heating peanut butter, honey and salt in a pan till they’re warm, and then mixing them into nuts-oats mixture, fancied up with chopped dates, sour cherries and chocolate chips. The result is a satisfyingly fudgy granola, although my version was very crumbly interspersed with random chunks. The Oh She Glows blog suggests soaking and blending the dates to make the bars hold together better — and I intend to try that next time. Alternatively you can take the Nigella Lawson route with apple sauce, which makes it sweet and crunchy. The best thing about home-made granola, of course, is you can customise it exactly the way you like: cinnamon, toasted coconut, raisins, maple syrup…

Then, there’s Bircher Müesli, another stellar quick breakfast option. Invented by Swiss Physician Bircher-Benner for his patients, according to Wikipedia the original recipe called for one tablespoon of rolled oats soaked in water along with a little lemon juice, cream and one large finely grated apple. Today’s versions are slightly more exuberant, but just as quick. It’s traditionally made overnight, so it’s convenient. (Although a one hour soak will work just as well with quick oats if you’re in a rush.)

I’ve made it the conventional way by mixing oats, apple juice, milk and lemon juice, then letting it sit overnight in the fridge. In the morning I added yoghurt, cinnamon and honey, before topping it with apples and nuts. Less than 10 minutes to prepare — but it still feels like a creamy, rich, indulgent breakfast. Over the years, I’ve learnt that it’s also a very forgiving recipe. Just add equal quantities of oats and liquid (milk, yoghurt, coconut milk, juice etc), then stir in all kinds of toppings from peanut butter to chia seeds. I’m still trying to conjure up the spirit of apple pie, so last night I mixed oats with grated apples, yoghurt, raisins and cinnamon. In a jar — no less. (Who says breakfast can’t be bistro-trendy?) This morning I drizzled it with honey and added a handful of walnuts. Best healthy wannabe apple pie in a jar ever.