Breakfast: an all-day meal whose variety grows

hashRemember what Mom used to say about breakfast? Most important meal of the day.

Less predictable, as time goes on, is when and what is breakfast. It’s no longer just about eggs, bacon, pancakes … or mornings.

Academic researchers recently suggested dessert for breakfast may spur weight loss and dark chocolate at breakfast may enhance mental sharpness. Conclusion: Begin the day with chocolate cake.

That’s not as outrageous as it may sound. Chocolate cake and a double-chocolate muffin aren’t much different, and starting the day with bakery is history repeating itself – or am I the only one who used to bring doughnuts to work as a birthday treat?

Sam Worley offers this bleak commentary at Epicurious.com:

“Usually I tend to think of this stuff as so much marketing, but this year I’m taking a different approach. The planet is dying, politics is depressing chaos, winter is coming. I don’t care if it’s a big capitalist put-on. If nothing else matters, why not eat chocolate cake for breakfast?”

Yes, why not. And thanks to even McDonald’s, which introduced all-day breakfast options one year ago, it is easier to eat what we want, when we want it, without hassle. Quick choices go beyond eating sad little bowls of cereal for supper at home.

Almost three-fourths of adults want restaurants to offer breakfast all day, National Restaurant Association research concludes. And the American Egg Board, as you can imagine, loves our love for breakfast.

“Eggs remain one of nature’s most perfect foods – and used as a functional ingredient, they improve other foods as well,” the organization declares online.

But what we call breakfast today sure extends beyond the comfort of scrambled eggs. Instead of buttered toast, we might order it topped with creamy avocado. Hispanic influences helped make huevos rancheros a hot egg entrée on breakfast menus, and our taste for an international flair keeps growing.

How many of us are adventurous diners? An easy majority, says the National Restaurant Association, and more than two years ago. “New American” cuisine, the American Egg Board notes, keeps fusing together cultures, “whether that’s salsa on an omelet, chorizo on pizza or sriracha in a burrito.”

Michael Zee of London and powerHouse Books have turned breakfast into a work of art and cookbook that doubles as an elegant coffeetable pictorial. The new “Symmetry Breakfast: 100 Recipes for the Loving Cook” ($25) spends little time on U.S.-based entrees, preferring to circle the globe and share a wide array of international breakfast classics.

That means recipes for roht bread from Afghanistan to cachitos (ham-filled croissants) from Venezuela. Even better than the whirlwind of worldwide attention to breakfast are the meal photos: For each recipe is a table, set for two and perfectly symmetrical in meal presentation.

The author also is the book’s photographer, and he knows how to pay attention to detail. He also considers breakfast a sacred moment of the day, one that he began in 2013 and continues as a sign of affection for his partner today. See what I mean at symmetrybreakfast.com.

The cookbook includes this recipe, popular in Portugal.

Egg Custard Tarts/Pastel de Nata
(Makes 12 tarts)

1 pack ready-rolled puff pastry (13.8 ounces is standard in most supermarkets)
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup superfine sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour
1 2/3 cup whole milk
Zest of 1/2 lemon

Take the pastry out of the fridge and packaging at least 30 minutes before unrolling.

In a cold pan, place the egg and egg yolks, sugar and cornflour, and mix until combined. Pour in the milk and gently whisk until you have a smooth liquid. Place the pan on a medium–low heat whilst continuing to whisk. The secret to smooth custard is to take your time; if the heat is too high you risk making scrambled eggs.

Once it starts to thicken you can turn the heat up very slightly and continue to stir for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lemon zest. The custard should have a thick yet pourable consistency.

Pour the custard into a glass bowl and cover with cling film to prevent a skin from forming.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Unroll the pastry and remove the plastic. Cut it in half lengthways and place the sheets on top of each other. With the long side facing you, roll the pastry tightly into a long sausage and cut it into 12 discs.

Place each disc in a lightly greased muffin tin. Dip your thumbs into some water and press into the middle of each round. You want to flatten the bottom and push the pastry up the edges. It is OK if the edges come up a little above the tin.

Divide the cooled custard between the 12 pastry cases and bake for 20–25 minutes. You want the tops of the tarts to be burnished with black spots and the insides still to be soft, with a little wobble.

Leave the nata to cool and enjoy them like the Portuguese do, with a small coffee – um pingo (espresso with a touch of milk) – and eat with a teaspoon. That way it seems to last longer.