La Dorita Babies and Homemade Baby Food

Then and Now: Nacho and Elise are the two babies featured on the sides of our dulce de leche jars. Photo credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography
Then and Now: Nacho and Elise are the two babies featured on the sides of our dulce de leche jars. Photo credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography

My son Nacho was just 18-months old when Gastón and I first took our dulce de leche to market. One morning I snapped this picture of him eating his dulce de leche and banana puree.

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I wanted people to know that I fed my own babies our dulce de leche, and that once you have safely introduced cow’s milk to your baby’s diet, that it is safe for pureeing baby’s first fruits—afterall, dulce de leche is one of the main food groups that any Argentine baby must get down. Nacho is now seven years old. I still feed him bananas with dulce de leche, but instead of pureeing them, he spreads the dulce on the banana.

Elise is my friend, Dana’s youngest daughter. Dana sent me this picture of baby Elise eating dulce de leche straight from the spoon during her afternoon snack. With biscuit in hand, Elise had me at her blue bow and gained a spot on the side of our dark chocolate dulce de leche jar.

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Dulce de leche is so versatile, especially when preparing your own homemade baby food as it adds just enough sweetness as well a velvety finish that is easy for babies to swallow.

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Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography

I blend it with almost any ripe, mashed fruit and some instant baby cereal and it has gotten me through many meal battles with my children. It’s handy to have a small food processor or high-speed blender (I use my Ninja single-serve cup), but depending on the age and ripeness of the fruit, you can simply mash with a fork. I especially feel good about it because I know they’re eating wholesome ingredients, since I make each serving fresh.

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Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography

This doesn’t only work for breakfast. The dulce de leche combination works well blended with baked sweet potatoes as well as butternut squash. For heartier baby food, prepare old-fashioned oatmeal and mix in the fruit and dulce de leche blend hot off the stove; then mix in a blender or food processor. I’ve included some of my old-faithful combinations below.

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Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography

serves 1; Prep time: 5 min.

Banana:

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 large teaspoon dulce de leche
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain baby cereal of choice
  • COMBINE ALL INGREDIENTS and blend until smooth. If child is a toddler, you can also easily mash with a fork for a heartier consistency.
  • serves 2; Prep time: 5 min.

Strawberry-Apple:

  • 1 apple, peeled and cubed
  • 3 strawberries
  • 1 large tablespoon dulce de leche
  • 2 tablespoons whole grain baby cereal of choice
  • COMBINE ALL INGREDIENTS and blend until smooth. Divide mixture into two 4-oz. mason jars. Keeps in the refrigerator for two days.
  • serves 2; Prep time: 5 min.

Apricot-pear baby food:

  • 12 dried apricots
  • 1 ripe Bartlett pear, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon dulce de leche
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain baby cereal of choice
  • PLACE APRICOTS IN a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil then lower heat to a simmer. Cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the juice from the pan.
  • Combine all ingredients along with reserved juice and blend until smooth.

Dulce de leche devil’s food cake

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A couple of bites of this dulce de leche devil’s food cake, and you will never crave another.  You can make this cake three or four layers-depending on how much dulce de leche you want to pack into the inside!

serves 16; PREP time:  Active: 1 hour TOTAL: 3 hours

2 ½ cups (4 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pans

1 cup and 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for pans

¾ cup boiling water

3 ½ cups sugar

1 ½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract

6 large eggs, lightly beaten

4 ½ cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups milk

24 oz. semisweet chocolate morsels

4 cups whipping cream

1 teaspoon light corn syrup

3 cups confectionary dulce de leche

Preheat oven to 350°.  Butter two 9-inch spring form pans; line bottoms with parchment. Dust bottoms and sides of pans with cocoa powder; tap out any excess.

Sift cocoa into a medium bowl, and whisk in boiling water to create a thick paste. Set aside to cool.  In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream butter on low speed until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down sides twice. Beat in vanilla. Drizzle in eggs, a little at a time, beating between each addition until the batter is no longer slick, scraping down the sides at least twice.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt.  Whisk milk into reserved cocoa mixture. With mixer on low speed, alternately add flour and cocoa mixtures to the batter, a little of each at a time, starting and ending with flour mixture.

Divide batter evenly among two pans and bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into center of each layer comes out clean.  Transfer layers to wire racks; let cool 15 minutes. Turn out cakes and return to racks, tops up, until completely cool.  Once cool, cut each layer in half.

To make frosting: place chocolate morsels and cream in a heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until combined and thickened, between 20 and 25 minutes.  Increase heat to medium low; cook, stirring, 3 minutes more. Remove pan from heat; stir in corn syrup. Transfer frosting to a large metal bowl. Chill until cool enough to spread, about 2 hours, checking and stirring every 15 to 20 minutes. Use immediately.

To assemble, remove parchment from bottoms of cakes. Reserve the prettiest layer for the top and even out each layer, if necessary, so each is flat. Place one cake layer on a serving platter; spread 1 ½ cups confectionary dulce de leche over top. Add second layer and spread with another 1 ½ cups confectionary dulce de leche. Cover the outside of cake with frosting.

 

dulce de leche apple crostata

apple-crostata

This could just be my favorite summer dessert.  I get two for one…  the crostata along with a delicious apple syrup that I can reheat and serve over ice cream.  This is a forgiving rustic dessert that doesn’t need to look neat or pretty, as the taste speaks for itself. The oats-and-brown-sugar crumble that finishes off the crostata adds a subtle crunch to each bite. (I put the crostata out of my kids’ reach because they have a tendency to pick off all of the crumble!)

serves 12; PREP time: Active: 30 min.; TOTAL: 1 hour, 30 min.

Dough

2 to 2 ½ cups of unbleached self-rising flour

1 whole egg, plus 1 egg yolk

1 cup sugar

½ cup unsalted butter

1 to 2 tablespoons 2% or whole milk

Extra flour, for dusting

Apple Filling

8-10 apples (I prefer Gala or Fuji), sliced

¾ cup light brown sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Juice of 1 lemon

1 cup confectionary dulce de leche

Topping

1 cup oats

1/4 cup light brown sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°.  Put all of the dough ingredients into a food processor and pulse until it forms pea-like balls.  Flour both hands and pour dough onto a kneading surface. Gradually incorporate all of the ingredients by rolling, pushing and folding it over just until moist. Add more flour or drops of milk, as needed, to reach the right consistency. Lightly flour top of the dough and form it into a roundish shape; place on a baking tray. Refrigerate for ½ an hour to set. Dough can be used immediately or wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for 1 day.

To make the apple filling, in a large saucepan over medium heat, combine apples, brown sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice until apples become soft and caramelized. In a food processor, add oats, brown sugar and melted butter, and pulse until it creates a crumble topping.

Roll out dough to ¼ inch thick circle, making sure it is even.  Move to a lightly greased baking pan and spread confectionary dulce de leche on the bottom of the crostata, leaving enough of an edge to fold over.  With a slotted spoon, add apple filling, making sure to first drain the juices and fold over the edges, creating a rustic package (this does not have to be symmetrical). Reserve the remaining apple juices for reheating at a later time and serving over vanilla ice cream.  Add crumble topping. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool completely.

We made it into O, The Oprah Magazine!

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We made it into O, The Oprah Magazine!  Even if it’s just a blurb, we are honored to be in such good company!  For as long as I can remember, I have loved and admired Oprah Winfrey, and everything she stands for and her spiritual offerings that she shares with all of us so freely!  A couple of months back, I submitted an online answer to O Magazine’s question, “What do you turn to when you need a pick-me-up?”  I wrote about my tried-and-true Sunday baking therapy ritual that allows me to get back to being me.  I’m a “maker” by nature…  In other words I like to use my hands for baking and writing.  I like to have a finished product that I can be proud of.  When things seem out of control, creating something  helps me get centered and gain new perspective in the process.  I thank my Grandma for this.  While it seems like a small thing…the love for baking she instilled in me as a child…it has greatly helped me as an adult to overcome many tough times.

Speaking of making things, for the last year I have been immersed in a cookbook manuscript I have been writing and hope to get published, “My Grandmother’s Dulce de Leche.”  While the book introduces dulce de leche and it’s many personalities, along with more than 100 recipes of how to incorporate it into your everyday life, it has also given me an opportunity to tell my story about why at the age of 35 I decided to get into the food business, and pursue my passion.  It has been cathartic to say the least and I hope my story will help someone take that leap of faith.  Below is an excerpt from the introduction.  I’m honored to share it with anyone willing to listen!

“I visited Dorita in Argentina on her 93rd birthday with a bottle of our new liqueur under one arm and my daughter, Poupée, wrapped in the other. She was ten months old and would be meeting her Great Grandmother for the first time.  We toasted to life that day, and our new baby girl.  I’m not sure if Dorita ever knew the depth of our dulce de leche aspirations and the legacy and company we were hoping to honor her with, but it was within the silence of her dining room that day that I finally found peace.

My daughter, who bears my mom’s name, was fast asleep next to me.  Dorita had fallen asleep in her chair after pouring a little too much dulce de liqueur in her coffee.  I found myself between these two glorious women, and had never felt more awake and alive. In that moment, I came to realize that the extent of the dissatisfaction I was feeling all these years with my life was the result of failing to look properly at that which was right in front of me.

In the quiet of Dorita’s room it dawned on me that La Dorita was not a gift for my grandma.  It was a gift for me.  My mom and Dori, my great grandmother and namesake, Josefina, my father’s mother, Buby—they all conspired to make sure that I would receive the gift of dulce de leche to survive their loss, and learn to live a new life without their physical presence. They were all there in that room with me that day. And each one of them whispered to me, “Your journey is about standing on your own.”

Dorita peacefully passed away six months later. She was ready to go and although we let her go, we continue to celebrate her each day in the everyday rituals of our family kitchen. It’s in the kitchen that I feel closest to my mom and Dori.  It’s where we talk.  I immerse myself in late night cooking after getting the kids to bed and am true to my Sunday baking therapy ritual.  After my family, cooking has become my second passion in life.  They are almost synonymous, one with the other.  This adoration was instilled by my incredible grandma and mom, two supreme matriarchs who recognized the power of gathering around a table to bring and keep people together.  The key to Dori’s cooking was simplicity, good ingredients and trusting yourself to combine them well.

It’s in the kitchen I feel closest to my husband, Gastón, recounting our day’s events and children’s anecdotes over a bottle of wine as we strategize the next step for our dulce de leche business.  It’s there that, to quote the words of Oprah Winfrey, I remind myself to “be grateful for simply having a mountain to climb.”  Regardless of the path that my dulce de leche takes me on, I am committed to seeing where it takes me.”

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Love you to the moon and back, Dori!

dulce de leche-stuffed chocolate covered pretzels

Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe
Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe

The dulce de leche tucked inside a layer of thick semi-sweet chocolate in these pretzels is a subtle surprise as it is completely unexpected.  I give the same sweet treatment to chocolate-covered strawberries. Make sure to use a thicker confectionary dulce de leche for this recipe so the chocolate covering stays nice and thick. Don’t worry about perfection with these pretzels; the thick chocolate covering makes everything look dressed up and ready for a party.

Makes 16 pretzels; Prep time: Active: 20 min.; Total: 1 hour, 30 Min.

(includes time to set)

 16 Snyder’s of Hanover Old Tyme Pretzels, or another brand of medium thickness

½ cup confectionary dulce de leche

12 oz. bittersweet 60% cacao chocolate

4 oz. white chocolate

ARRANGE 16 WHOLE pretzels with flat side facing up.  On the flat side, spread a thin layer of confectionary dulce de leche over the entire pretzel.

In a double boiler, melt dark chocolate. Remove bowl from the heat. One by one, dip each dulce de leche-covered pretzel into the bowl and thoroughly cover with chocolate.  Lift and allow excess chocolate to fall back into the bowl.  Lay on parchment paper, flat side down. With a spatula, pour a tiny bit more chocolate over the pretzel to remove any finger markings.  Repeat with all 16 pretzels and allow chocolate to set.

In a double boiler, melt white chocolate. Put in a pastry bag and pipe zigzags over the dark chocolate pretzels. Allow to set for at least an hour prior to serving.

Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography
Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography

dulce de leche and mascarpone cheese cannoli

Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography
Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography

I make this dish every Easter, as it is easy to make ahead. The mascarpone and dulce de leche create the perfect level of sweetness—not too little, not too much. I put out a fresh batch of cannoli on a beautiful white platter and create a toppings bar that includes semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, toasted coconut, chopped pistachio nuts and sprinkles. My kids enjoy helping me dip the cannoli in the melted chocolate and choosing the toppings in the grocery store.  I like to make mini cannoli for cocktail parties and children’s parties. They are the perfect two-bite dessert, while the big ones I save for casual events with family.

makes 18 large cannoli; Prep time: Active: 30 MIN.; TOTAL: 4 hours

(includes time for chocolate to set)

 3 6-piece boxes of already prepared Sicilian-style, hand-rolled cannoli shells

16 oz. mascarpone sweet cheese

6 oz. confectionary dulce de leche

11 ½ ounces 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips

Decorations: semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, toasted coconut, chopped pistachio nuts, sprinkles

 Over a simmering water bath, slowly melt chocolate chips in a metal bowl.  Remove from heat and stir.  Dip one side of cannoli shell into melted chocolate.  Place on a cooling rack and allow chocolate to set for at least 3 hours. (I like to do this the day before.) Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, mix together dulce de leche and mascarpone cheese until blended.  Put in the refrigerator for ½ hour to set. With a pastry bag, fill cannoli and decorate to your liking.  Cover and serve with toppings of your choice.

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golden layer cake with dulce delish blueberry sauce

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Sometimes simple is best.  I pull this recipe out around Easter time.  It’s a no-fuss, no-fail moist yellow cake that can be paired with this velvety blueberry sauce, or and fresh fruits that you love.

serves 12; PREP time: Active: 30 MIN.; TOTAL: 1 ½ hours

 Cake

3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup softened unsalted butter

1 ¼ cup milk, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 eggs

1 ½ cups dulce de leche for layering

Dulce delish blueberry sauce

2 pints fresh blueberries, washed

½ cup wild blueberry jam

2 tablespoons water

3 heaping tablespoons original dulce de leche

2 tablespoons Chambord (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.  In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.

            Combine milk and vanilla and add, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.    Scrape bottom and sides of mixing bowl.

With mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.  Repeat procedure with the second egg. Continue adding eggs, scraping after each addition, until all 4 are added.  After last egg is added, scrape bowl once more, then beat at medium-high speed for 30 more seconds.

            Pour into greased and floured 9- x 1½-inch round baking pans. Bake 27 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove from pans and cool thoroughly on racks.

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To make the dulce delish blueberry cream, puree the blueberries and blueberry jam in a blender or food processor until smooth. Using the back of a spoon, press the puree through a strainer, discarding seeds and skins.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook the dulce de leche with 2 tablespoons water, stirring constantly until just beginning to boil.  Add the blueberry puree, continuing to mix until it comes to a boil.  Simmer 1 minute then remove from heat and add the blueberry puree and liqueur, if desired, mixing well. Let cool.

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ut cakes together. Layer generously with dulce de leche.  Serve over a generous spoonful of dulce delish blueberry sauce.

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dulce de leche-stuffed chocolate covered strawberries

Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography
Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography

Chocolate-covered strawberries are the ultimate indulgence. The dulce de leche is a subtle surprise, as it is gloriously tucked inside a layer of thick semi-sweet chocolate, and completely unexpected!  Make sure to use the thicker confectionary dulce de leche for this recipe so the chocolate covering stays nice and thick.  Don’t worry about perfection with these strawberries; the thick chocolate covering makes everything looked dressed up and ready for a party.  I make them to surprise friends, to decorate cakes, for school holiday parties, or to make stunning brochettes for summer parties.  They are also a fun way to get my kids in the kitchen.

Confectionary dulce de leche

Bittersweet 60% cacao chocolate

White chocolate

Cleaned, dry strawberries

USING AN OFFSET SPATULA, generously spread confectionary dulce de leche over cleaned, dried strawberries.  (I like to clean my strawberries the night before I use them to let them dry completely overnight.)  This is never perfect; just try to keep the dulce de leche somewhat even.

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Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate or set in a cool place for half an hour to set; then melt dark and white chocolate in a double boiler, and dip away.  Long-stemmed strawberries are easiest to use and also create a dramatic visual impact. They are more pricy though, and regular strawberries taste just as good!

Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography
Photo Credit: Kathy Wolfe Photography

Allow to set in a cool place for an hour before serving. 

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You’re family and friends will love the golden surprise waiting within each strawberry!

St. Patty’s semi-homemade kale & apple cake with dulce de leche chocolate ganache

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This cake is the green cousin of the beloved carrot cake.  While at first it doesn’t sound too appetizing, the combination of vanilla, apples and kale creates the perfect balance of sweetness, and an ultra-moist cake.  This is also a natural and quick alternative to making a green cake for St. Patrick’s Day.  I’ve had people ask me if I use food coloring to obtain the grassy green color, but it really is just the quantity of kale that is packed into the batter. The cake is superb by itself with coffee but that much better when dressed with layers of dulce de leche and chocolate ganache.

serves 16; PREP time: Active: 30 MIN.; TOTAL: 2 hours

 

6 cups (about ½ pound) chopped kale

3 Fuji apples, peeled

2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk

2 Boxes of Betty Crocker Super Moist French Vanilla Cake Mix

2 cups water

1 cup vegetable oil

6 eggs

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter

12 oz. cacao 60% bitter-sweet chocolate

5-6 heaping tablespoons dulce de leche

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 Preheat oven to 350°.  In food processor or high-speed blender combine the apples, kale and unsweetened almond milk and puree until finely blended. 

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In a separate mixer bowl, combine cake mix, water, vegetable oil, eggs and cinnamon.  Beat with an electric mixer until blended, about 2 ½ minutes.

Pour into 32 greased and floured 9- x 1½-inch round baking pans. Bake as directed on box, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove from pans and cool thoroughly on racks.

chocolate-ganache-sauce-ingredients

To make the dulce de leche chocolate ganache: In a medium saucepan, combine and heat ingredients over low heat, stirring constantly just until everything has completely blended to a velvety consistency. Remove from heat and chill until cool enough to spread, about 1/2 hour, checking and stirring every 5 to 10 minutes. Use immediately.

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With a cake knife, slice each of the cakes through the middle. Put layers together by using the top layer of each cake as the bottom piece. With a cake knife, slice each of the cakes through the middle.  Put cake layers together by using the top layer of each cake as the bottom and middle pieces. Once topping is set, layer generously with dulce de leche chocolate ganache and frost tops and sides of cake layers.

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dulce de leche baked oatmeal

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I was in Harrisburg recently and had the most delicious plate of baked oatmeal at this tiny little restaurant called Yellow Bird Café.  It was 5 below that morning, and the oatmeal was just what I needed to give me the courage to face the day.  This Sunday is another cold one here in Pittsburgh, so I’m recreating the dish for my family.  To make your morning easier, you can prepare the oatmeal the night before, prepare the casserole dish, cover with plastic wrap and put into the fridge until the following morning.  Then you can simply bake and will have a hearty breakfast to serve with almost no prep time.

SERVES 9 generously; Prep time: Active: 10 min.; TOTAL: 1 hour

 1 large apple, finely chopped

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Dash of salt

3 3/4 cups of water (adjust as necessary when sauteing the apples with cinnamon)

6 cups old-fashioned oats

3 ½ cups milk (you can substitute almond milk for a nuttier flavor)

1 cup dulce de leche

Raspberries and blueberries for garnish (or your choice of fresh fruit and slivered almonds)

 Preheat oven TO 350°.  In a saucepan over medium heat, combine apples, butter, cinnamon and ¼ cup of the water and sauté until apples become soft. Stir often to avoid scalding the cinnamon. Add water, as needed, to maintain a syrupy consistency.

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Stir in the rest of the water and milk, dash of salt and bring to a boil.

Lower heat and add dulce de leche and oats, stirring frequently for about 5-7 minutes, or until it thickens and the flavors blend.

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Lightly coat a casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Pour the oatmeal mixture into the dish, evenly spreading out.

Cover with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the top is nicely golden and the oatmeal mixture is set.

Allow to cool for five minutes before cutting into.  Plate and serve with fresh fruit and a light drizzle of maple syrup or honey.