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Breakfasting with the stars: how the famous got their day going

Oct 25, 2023

In 1952, Marilyn Monroe was photographed, wrapped in a bedsheet, making what she said was her usual breakfast: two eggs beaten into milk warmed on a hot plate that she kept in her motel rooms, which provides about a third of an adult's daily protein in one glass. As she put it: "When it's hot, I break two raw eggs into the milk, whip them up with a fork, and drink them while I’m dressing. I supplement this with a multivitamin pill, and I doubt if any doctor could recommend a more nourishing breakfast for a working girl in a hurry." Nourishing perhaps, but not especially delicious, which is why it's nicer with a little added sugar, nutmeg and vanilla.

Whisk together 2 eggs, a tbsp or two of sugar and 125ml of cold milk. Add a pinch of grated nutmeg and ¼ tsp of vanilla extract, and pour into a saucepan, set the pan over the lowest possible heat. Warm the mixture slowly, stirring continuously. Set a timer for 12 minutes, scraping the spoon across the bottom of the pan so that it can't stick, and cook until the timer goes off, or the mixture is hot and thinly coats the spoon (or reaches 75C). Remove from the heat and pour into a mug. Drink hot or chill in the fridge. Serves 1

Samuel Pepys was no stranger to starting the day with a feast. In his diaries, there are references to breakfasts involving roast beef, hashed leftovers, pies, eggs, collar of brawn, chine of pork, gammon, mackerel, herring, oysters, tongue, anchovies, bread, butter and sweetmeats, wine and strong drink, as well as cakes with "cold cream". He washed it all down with his "morning draught", sometimes hard liquor, but more often a glass of ale (alcohol was essential to make water safe to drink), which would have been flavoured not with hops, but with gruit, made with herbs like yarrow, mugwort and heather.

We can't know exactly what sort of cakes Pepys would have eaten, but they were probably fruited, flavoured with spices, and made with yeast (although, equally, they might have been what we now call biscuits). This is a modernised take: mix together 300g of plain flour, ¼ tsp of ground cinnamon, ½ tsp of ground ginger, a pinch of grated nutmeg, a ¼ tsp of ground mace, 75g of caster sugar, 50g of melted butter, 75ml of brown ale, 75ml of warm milk and 10g of fast-action yeast. Knead the mixture for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic, folding in 50g of currants at the end. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set aside for 90 minutes to rise. Knock back, divide into 8 small buns, arrange on a floured baking sheet, set aside for 45 minutes to prove, covered with a cloth, then bake at 200C/gas mark 6 for 15-18 minutes until risen and golden. Brush with honey to glaze. Serve warm or toasted, with sweetened clotted cream. Makes 8

Alongside poetry, memoir and essays, Maya Angelou also published two cookery books. One of the most popular of her recipes is for all day and all night cornbread, which for breakfast she served warm with cheese sandwiched between two toasted layers. This recipe is adapted from Great Food, All Day Long.

Grease a 20cm square tin (or round cake tin, but not loose bottomed) very generously with melted butter. Beat together 60g of plain flour, 200g of cornmeal (or medium ground polenta), a generous pinch of salt, 2 tbsp of caster sugar, 1 tsp of baking powder, 375ml of milk and 1 beaten egg, until smooth. Pour the batter into the buttered tin, then bake at 200C/gas mark 6 for 30-35 minutes, or until the cornbread is golden brown and firm to the touch, turning the tin once after 25 minutes to ensure even browning. To make it into breakfast, cool, then cut into large square portions, then gently cut 2 portions in half, horizontally. Slide a slice of cheddar cheese in between each of the slices, forming 2 sandwiches, then add a knob of butter to a frying pan set over a low-medium heat, add the sandwiches, cover with a lid, and gently cook, turning once, until the cornbread is lightly toasted and the cheese is beginning to melt, or cook in a sandwich maker. Serves 2, with leftovers

Rumour had it that Queen Victoria ate just one boiled egg every morning, but royal archives and the food historian Annie Gray have disproved this – in truth, Victoria was quite the bon vivant. Much like Pepys, her breakfasts were rich and varied, including grilled whiting, poached eggs in stock, roast fowl, ham, sausages, porridge and finnan haddies (a kind of smoked haddock). On at least one morning in 1858, her breakfast was a mutton chop and mashed potatoes.

You can order grass-fed mutton chops online. Treat them much like thick lamb chops: place a frying pan over a high heat and when smoking hot, add a dash of oil. Season 2 chunky chops all over with salt and pepper. Using tongs, hold the chops upright, so that the fat is sitting face down in the pan, and cook for 2 minutes, until the fat renders out. Turn the chops on to their flat sides and cook for 2-3 minutes a side, depending on thickness, until pink inside. Serve with buttery mashed potatoes. Serves 2

Churchill's intake of both food and booze was legendary and he liked to start things early, finishing his breakfast – in bed if at all possible; he also travelled worldwide with his favourite pillow and silk eye mask – with a cigar and whisky soda. According to a menu from a transatlantic flight, annotated in his own hand, he had precise tastes. Orange juice should be from a bottle, not fresh. He liked coffee, accompanied by a jug of cold milk. Drinks must be served on a separate tray, with a halved grapefruit and a sugar bowl next to it. On the other tray, there should be plenty of hot buttered toast, with jam. And if he was eating hot food, like his favourite poached eggs, he expected cold meats – chicken, game or ham – alongside.

To poach an egg without trails of white swirling around the pan, choose a very fresh egg, then – still raw – sieve it, allowing the wettest parts of the white through the sieve, and discard them. Using a large spoon, carefully but swiftly scoop the remaining egg out of the sieve and place into a pan of simmering water (add a squeeze of lemon to the water, if you like). Cook until done to your liking, usually about 2 minutes. Pat dry. Serve with salt and pepper, on hot buttered toast, with sliced cold meats on the side. Whisky soda optional. Serves 1

If you’re going to go large at breakfast, try the king's favourite breakfast sandwich: crisp bacon, peanut butter, honey and banana, sandwiched together and then fried in bacon fat and butter. (If you don't like bananas, very finely sliced green apple is an excellent swap.)

Toast 2 slices of thick-cut bread, then butter them. Turn butter side down and spread 1 unbuttered side generously with unsalted peanut butter and drizzle the other with honey (or maple syrup). Fry 3 rashers of bacon until crisp, then lie them on top of the peanut butter. Cut half a banana into ½ cm slices on the diagonal, and lay on top of the bacon. Top with the honeyed slice of bread, buttered side facing outwards. Slide the sandwich into the pan in which you fried the bacon and cook gently until golden brown on both sides. Serves 1

If you’d just trained to and then beaten George Foreman, as Muhammad Ali did in 1974, you’d probably be hungry enough to eat the two steaks and 12 eggs he reportedly put away the next morning. If you haven't fought in any international boxing matches recently, this steak and egg hash is a less gut-busting version of his post-match breakfast.

Boil 300g peeled, diced potatoes in salted water for 10 minutes, then drain. Put a splash of oil into a heavy-based pan set over a medium heat, add the potatoes, and sauté until golden. Push the potatoes to one side, add a knob of butter, 100g of sliced chestnut mushrooms, 1 sliced shallot and 1 tsp of fresh thyme leaves. Cook until golden, then add 1 crushed clove of garlic, season well and stir into the potatoes. Cook for 1 minute longer. Tip everything out into a bowl, cover and keep warm. Wipe out the pan, turn up the heat, add a splash of oil and then sear a seasoned 250g sirloin steak for 2 minutes a side. Remove and set aside. In another pan, fry 4 eggs. Going against the grain of the meat, cut the rare steak into thin strips. Divide the potatoes between 2 bowls and serve topped with the steak and eggs. Serves 2

eggs cold milk grated nutmeg vanilla extract plain flour ground cinnamon ground ginger grated nutmeg ground mace caster sugar butter brown ale milk fast-action yeast currants honey clotted cream butter plain flour cornmeal salt caster sugar baking powder milk egg cheddar butter chops salt pepper egg lemon bread unsalted peanut butter honey maple syrup bacon banana potatoes butter chestnut mushrooms shallot thyme leaves garlic oil sirloin steak eggs