That secret is sweet potatoes
Come fall, when the heat starts to kick on in the morning and the leaves streak with red and orange, I want pumpkin pie for breakfast. But then I think, no, I should probably just have oatmeal. And that, folks, is why I started making orange baked oatmeal. Halfway between a smooth pumpkin pie and a proper breakfast of porridge is a fat square of sweet potato baked oatmeal. I find that sweet potato tastes more like the fall pie of nostalgia than pumpkin. Sure, you can make this recipe with pumpkin puree (either canned or the real deal) but pumpkin tends to be a bit less sweet than sweet potatoes, so if you do that, bump up the brown sugar to ⅓ cup, or add a heavy pour of maple syrup. Taste as you go, and you will prevail.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Scrub 1 large sweet potato (2 small potatoes will also work), dry it, and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a paring knife or a sturdy fork to prick holes all over the potato. Slide the sheet tray into the oven and bake the potato until a paring knife will easily slide all the way through. This can take anywhere from 35 minutes to an hour depending on the thickness of the potato and strength of your oven. Be patient.
When the potato is done, let it cool on the baking sheet until it’s no longer so hot it burns your fingertips. Know that you can also do this step the night before you plan to serve your baked oatmeal. Just pop the potato in the oven while you clean up the kitchen or watch your nightly 5 episodes of Friends reruns. When the potato is done, let it cool on the baking sheet for at least 15 minutes, then wrap it in foil and place it on a plate or in a container. Leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to move on to the next step.
After the potato is cooled and you’re ready to put together the baked oatmeal, scoop the flesh from the sweet potato into a food processor or blender. Pulse until the mixture gets very smooth, adding a tablespoon or 2 of milk along the way to help it blend. Alternatively, you can mash the sweet potato with a fork, but it won’t get quite as smooth and fluffy. Scoop out ½ cup of the puree. You won’t need the rest, unless you’d like to double the recipe. Store the potato puree in the fridge in an airtight container and use it as an egg replacer in pancakes or quick breads (¼ cup puree = 1 egg), or just top it with a bit of maple syrup and presto: instant snack.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF and butter an 8-inch square or a comparable rectangular baking dish.
In a medium bowl, mix together 2 cups rolled oats, 1 teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. If you’d like, toss in ½ cup toasted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds), or any other nut you like.
In a small bowl, whisk together the reserved ½ cup sweet potato puree, 2 cups milk (nondairy works too),¼ cup light brown sugar, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until smooth.
Sprinkle the oat mixture into the baking dish, then pour the sweet potato mixture over oats. Tap the baking dish a few times on the counter to make sure the liquid reaches all the dry mix. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is set and golden.