Slow-cooked breakfast foods delight me. Egg frittatas with lots of ingredients and yeasted breads that rise twice are lovely. I love homemade granola that bakes for the better part of an hour and yogurt that sits huddled under a towel before it is refrigerated.
But for a quick breakfast, or breakfast-for-dinner, nothing beats a couple of eggs. And I’ve discovered a truly fabulous way to make them without mess – toaster oven baked or shirred eggs. The fancy French name is oeufs en cocotte, literally “eggs in a pot or casserole.”
As a kid, my egg world was limited to scrambled, fried, or hard boiled. In college, through Julia Child I learned about quiche, basically an egg pie with one or more added ingredients such as cheese, bacon, vegetables or shrimp. I figured out that one could even “cheat” by buying a store-made crust. When I became pregnant, my cravings were not for pickles and ice cream, but for soft boiled eggs and oranges. Starting this blog, years later, I learned to poach an egg.
With all those egg dishes and variations, it’s hard to believe that I had never made simply baked or shirred eggs until last week. This revelation came to me courtesy of an incredibly creative Australian woman I’ve not met in person, but have admired from afar for months.
I’m a member of a blogging group called the Secret Recipe Club. Each month, as a member I receive the name of another member’s blog. I choose a recipe from that member’s blog to make, photograph, and blog about. Sometimes I make only minor changes in the recipe. Other times, I use it as inspiration and go as far afield as my imagination takes me. In either event, a big part of the fun is wandering through the other member’s blog, finding out about the blogger, and dreaming about which other recipes would be fun to try. The group members are diverse and so are their blogs.
This month, I was paired with Leigh, an Australian who blogs at Chit Chat Chomp. When I joined Secret Recipe Club and began checking out the members, I noticed Leigh’s blog almost immediately. I won’t try to describe how beautiful it is, or the incredible way that her photographs and the blog layout convey her style – it’s so much better if you see it for yourself. Go visit!
I had a tough time picking which Chit Chat Chomp recipe to make. The ricotta and lemon hotcakes with berry compote had me drooling, the little lime puddings looked divine, and the celeriac and parmesan soup intrigued me. There were lots more I would happily have made, but in the end, it was the oeufs en cocotte that won my heart.
And yet, as soon as I began to make them, I felt the urge to experiment and try to simplify even this simple recipe. Leigh bakes her eggs with goat cheese underneath and above at about 350 degrees in a conventional oven for 15-20 minutes. Judging by her photos, I’ll never improve on the final product, but I did simplify the process.
Instead of heating up the oven, I use a toaster oven. (I tried it both ways and found that the toaster oven did just as good a job and took less time to pre-heat.) Then I greased the ramekin with just a tad of olive oil, which helped the egg to slide off and meant that clean-up was a breeze.
After trying the shirred eggs (the American term for baked), in a water bath or without, I discovered that the ones baked in a ramekin without the water bath had slightly more crusty whites (delicious), yet their yolks remained smooth and slightly runny when cooked for the same amount of time as the water-ensconced shirred eggs. Bingo! I dispensed with the water bath. I used a brown egg; you do know that brown eggs are no different from white ones, right?
Finally, I’m a cream cheese and bagels type of gal. Although I love both goat cheese and creme fraiche (the slightly sweet and thicker French version of sour cream), Leigh’s choices for add-ins, I went for veggie cream cheese instead.
With no pans to clean up (you eat the egg right out of the ramekin it cooked in) and just a few minutes cooking time, toaster oven shirred eggs could just become my new favorite comfort food.
Just a quick note on food safety and soft yolks. (Alas, I’m a bit of a food safety nerd and have written about washing, storing and serving eggs.) My directions for cooking time and temperature for toaster oven shirred eggs, yield a yolk that is soft in the center. The FDA guidelines recommend cooking until the yolk is firm. I did test my eggs with an instant read thermometer to make sure they reached 160 degrees (bacteria-killing temperature) toward the middle. However, I also love the slightly runny inside and I’m willing to take a small risk because I’m not in any of the vulnerable categories.
If you are pregnant, nursing or serving a child, older adult or someone with a compromised immune system, then you should certainly cook your eggs until they are firm in the center to be truly safe.