Alimentary, My Dear
Minipizzas for Breakfast? Why Not?
By Tamia Nelson
December 18, 2012
Morning is always a busy time, and that's as true in camp as it is at home. There are tents to strike, bags to pack, maps to consult, boats to load… And since the Old Woman often gathers strength as the sun climbs higher in the sky, there's good reason to get out on the water as early as possible. Yet it's also important to get a hearty breakfast under your belt. Rest‑day breakfasts can be lazy, luxurious affairs, but if your next campsite lies many miles downriver, time is of the essence, and breakfast is necessarily reduced to its essentials: coffee (or tea, if you must) and some type of easy‑to‑prepare cereal. Which makes those unhurried rest‑day breakfasts even more of a treat, with possibilities ranging from elaborate sandwiches to fruit‑and‑hot‑cereal confections to sausage and griddle cakes. But one alternative I'd never considered until recently is pizza. My mistake.
The notion that pizza might have a place in my breakfast menu first came to me when I was experimenting with savory stovetop minipizzas, in what I like to call my Test Kitchen. These pizzas use English muffins in lieu of a conventional crust. Of course, English muffins are breakfast fare, even if I was using them to make a main dish for dinner. So why not bring English muffin pizzas to the breakfast table, too? That was the question.
And the answer?
The Breakfast Minipizza
Once I'd cleared the hurdle of preconception — pizzas aren't for breakfast, are they? — I didn't have to break much new ground: Toast the split sides of English muffins in a skillet, build a pizza on each half, and then bake on top of a stove or over a fire. This is just what I did in my earlier minipizza article, and I even trailed the idea of pizza for breakfast in the column's penultimate paragraph:
[P]izza isn't just for evenings in camp, either. How about a minipizza breakfast on lazy weekend outings? Start with a toasted cinnamon‑raisin English muffin, then add cream cheese and fruit, along with a sprinkle of real cinnamon. Or a slice SPAM, of course. If that's not a breakfast for champions, I don't know what is.
And I wasn't going to stop at a mere suggestion. I was determined to put the idea to the test. As it happened, there were no cinnamon‑raisin muffins on my shelves, but that didn't seem to present an insuperable obstacle — and it didn't. Plain muffins work just fine. The only stumbling block? Preparation. You need to assemble all your tools and ingredients before you start. Stovetop baking isn't a leisurely business. It's ten minutes, tops, from toast to table (or tin plate).
Now here's the drill. If you've read my earlier article, much of it will be familiar. If you haven't, it will tell you what you need to know.
By the numbers, now:
- Split English muffins.
- Drizzle oil in a skillet and heat till it shimmers. (I prefer a cast‑iron skillet for stovetop baking, but nonstick aluminum will work, too — if it's thick enough.)
- Press the muffins' split sides into the hot oil to toast them.
- Remove the toasted muffins and take the skillet off the flame while you …
- Build the pizzas.
- Return the skillet to the stove (or a hot part of the fire), adding more oil if necessary, and …
- Using a spatula, place your breakfast pizzas into the pan.
- Cover and wait, …
- Listening attentively for the sizzle that tells you the cheese has melted and is running down the muffins' sides.
- Lift the lid and check. Then …
- Serve up the pizzas and chow down.
If this summary leaves you scratching your head — or if you'd like an illustrated guide to the whole process — just take a look at my original minipizza article. And to ensure that your first efforts go well, follow these simple rules:
- Give each pizza some space. If you're cooking for a big party, get a big skillet (or bake your pizzas in batches).
- Don't overload your pizzas. Too much topping is sometimes just that — too much.
- Moderation in all things. Don't overheat your skillet. You're not casting bronze, are you?
- Keep a lid on it! Use your ears — and not your eyes — to tell you when the cheese has melted.
Now let's talk ingredients. Begin with the English muffin itself. While cinnamon‑raisin muffins are an obvious choice for breakfast, I used plain muffins in my Test Kitchen experiments, and they worked fine. They're also more versatile. (Cinnamon‑raisin minipizzas might make a good breakfast, but I'm not sure I could face them at day's end.) And don't be afraid to economize. In my experience, store‑brand muffins are better travelers than the costlier name brands.
Toppings are the next topic, and this one's easy to summarize. Use whatever appeals to you. Here are some of my favorites:
Marmalade and Gouda with Walnuts Spread marmalade on the toasted muffins. Sprinkle with ground ginger (or add chopped, candied ginger, if you have it). Top with Gouda. You say you don't like Gouda? Try blue cheese, instead. Finish off with crushed walnuts.
Nutty Jam and Cream Cheese Pick your favorite jam. My favorites are currant and cherry, but it's a free choice. You could use marmalade, too. (A hint: Look for European or Middle Eastern jams. You're more likely to find sugar on the list of ingredients, rather than the high‑fructose corn syrup that seems to be the default choice for US makers.) Now top your embryo minipizzas with sliced cream cheese and chopped walnuts (or any other nut you favor) and bake. A sprinkle of ground cardamom makes a nice finishing touch, but be sure to try it at home before you take it on the trail. It's not to everyone's taste.
Fruit and Brie Cover toasted muffins with your choice of fruit (fresh, dried, stewed, or fruit preserve — whatever you fancy), but don't overload them. Slice Brie and place it on the fruit. A sprinkle of ground cardamom works here, too, though you may prefer cinnamon or nutmeg. Or nothing at all.
Honey, Raisins, and Goat Cheese Drizzle honey on toasted muffins. Sprinkle with raisins and ground cinnamon. Top with crumbles of mild goat cheese.
Apple and Cheddar You have three choices here: applesauce; a small fresh apple, chopped fine; or stewed dried apples. If pie is the apple of your eye, sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. The crowning touch? Cheddar cheese, sliced thin. Or give Gouda — either smoked or plain — a go.
Faux Cheese Danish Spread cream cheese on the toasted muffins. Press chopped pecans into the cheese. Then drip maple syrup or honey over the top, or sprinkle with brown sugar. When the minipizzas are hot from the pan, drizzle a little sugar sauce over them. (Make the sauce by stirring a bit of freshly boiled water or hot coffee into a few tablespoons of confectioners' sugar. CAUTION! It doesn't take much liquid to make the sauce. Use a light touch.)
Nutella and Cheese Spread Nutella or one of its imitators — Nutkao is cheaper, and I don't see much difference — over toasted muffins. Top with cream cheese or Swiss cheese. Cinnamon makes a tasty addition, too. And if you're in the mood to push the boat out a bit before pushing off downriver, sprinkle chopped hazelnuts over everything.
My initial Test Kitchen batch included four different toppings on four muffin halves, the maximum number that my 10‑inch cast‑iron skillet can accommodate. The pictures below tell the story:
I wish I knew the HTML codes for aromas, but I'm afraid you'll just have to use your imagination. Clockwise from the top left you'll find Marmalade and Gouda with Walnuts, Nutty Jam (cherry preserves, in this case) and Cream Cheese, Apple and Cheddar, and Fruit (cherry preserves, again) and Brie, to which I also added chopped walnuts. They all went down a treat!
But perhaps you don't care to break your fast with sweets. In that case, try a savory breakfast minipizza, instead. Here are some possibilities:
Eggy Pizzas Toast the split sides of English muffins and put them on a plate in a warm spot. Make scrambled eggs. (Use fresh eggs if you have them, rehydrated powdered eggs if you don't.) Spoon the cooked eggs on top of the toasted muffins, garnishing them with bacon bits, if desired. Place a slice of cheese — your choice — on top of the eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake.
Salsa Egg Pizzas Toast muffins and keep them warm while frying eggs. Put one egg on each muffin, spoon salsa over it, then top with cheddar or jack cheese. A dash of chili powder adds the finishing touch. A quick bake and you're done.
Breakfast of Champions Pizza Sauté Canadian bacon or SPAM. Set to one side, while toasting muffins in the fat. Top the toasted muffins with meat and some forthright cheese — pepper jack or a smoked cheese are good choices — and proceed to make the pizzas. Hint: Spread marmalade on the hot toasted muffin before building the pizza.
That exhausts my list of suggestions, but I'm sure you'll have your own ideas. The key point? Pizza makes a fine breakfast, both at home and in camp. And if you find a sure‑fire winner you want to share, please tell me about it. I'll pass it along, pronto.