Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Make-Ahead Christmas Brunch

Although I was an early riser as a small child, as an adult I prefer to take some time to get going in the morning. Even on Christmas morning! So as much as I love having a fancy breakfast or brunch after opening the presents on Christmas morning, I don't want to spend a lot of time getting it ready that morning. Over the years, I've discovered a number of make-ahead recipes that can be prepared the night before and just popped into the oven when the family gets up, and by the time we're done opening presents, breakfast is ready. Here are a few of my favorites.

Creme Brulee French Toast (from
If you want to get all fancy for your Christmas brunch, this recipe is the one for you! Made with half and half and a splash of Grand Marnier, this rich and decadent version of French toast is definitely not the eggs-and-Wonder-Bread kind you had as a kid.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
6 one-inch-thick slices of French bread
5 eggs
1-1/2 cups half and half (or light cream, if you're feeling REALLY decadent)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (or similar orange liqueur)
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar and corn syrup, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Pour into a 9x13" baking dish. Remove crusts from bread and arrange in the baking dish in a single layer.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, vanilla, Grand Marnier, and salt. Pour over bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove dish from oven and allow to come to room temperature. Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned.

Oven French Toast (from
Although this recipe calls for French bread, any hearty bread will do: challah, country bread, even stuffing bread. If using pre-sliced bread, be sure the slices are relatively thick to avoid sogginess. The corn syrup and brown sugar form a rich glaze so you don't even need to add maple syrup!

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
dash nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 eggs
2 cups milk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, nutmeg, and cinnamon and pour into greased 9x13" baking dish. Slice a loaf of French bread into 1/2" to 3/4" thick slices and press into mixture. Beat together eggs, milk, and vanilla and pour over bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake uncovered at 325 for 30-35 minutes.

If  you like your French toast crispy rather than soft, try uncovering for the last 10-15 minutes of baking time or baking at a slightly higher temperature. Overlapping the slices will also result in softer toast, so you may wish to divide everything into two pans and lay the bread flat for crispier results.

Scrambled Egg Muffins (based on a recipe from Taste of Home)
The best part of this recipe is that you can make it days or even weeks ahead of time and keep the muffins in the freezer until Christmas morning, then heat them up in either the oven or the microwave. You can also add whatever ingredients your family or guests prefer: sausage, bacon, ham, sweet peppers, mushrooms, onions, various cheeses...the choices are endless. This recipe yields a dozen muffins but can easily be halved.

12 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (or any other cheese or combination of cheeses)
Other ingredients (meats and vegetables) as desired (about 1/2 pound of meat and 3/4 to 1 cup of vegetables total is about the right proportion):
sausage, crumbled and browned
bacon, crisped and crumbled
ham, cubed
chopped onion
chopped or sweet bell peppers
sliced mushrooms
asparagus tips
finely cubed potatoes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, brown and crumble meat, if using. Drain fat and set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs and add salt, garlic powder, pepper, and vegetables. Stir in meat and cheese(s).

Coat standard muffin tins with cooking spray and spoon batter in by 1/3-cupfuls. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

To freeze, cool muffins thoroughly, then cover and place on waxed paper lined baking sheets and freeze until firm. Transfer to resealable freezer bags and return to freezer. To heat, place in greased muffin tins, cover loosely with foil, and bake at 350 until warmed through, or microwave each muffin for 30-60 seconds.

Breakfast Casserole (from My Baking Addiction)
Similar to the scrambled egg muffins above, you can adjust the meat and veggies in this casserole to include your own preferences (or whatever you happen to have on hand). The cubed bread in this recipe makes for a slightly heartier meal than the muffins.

16 oz. pork sausage
10 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups cubed bread (optional: toast the bread cubes)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup diced red pepper (optional)
sliced green onions (optional)

In a large skillet, crumble and cook sausage until completely browned. Drain fat. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and salt. Butter a 9x13" baking dish and distribute the bread cubes evenly in the dish. Sprinkle with half the cheese, half the black pepper, half the red pepper, and half the sausage. Repeat the layers. Pour egg mixture evenly over all. Cover and refrigerate overnight (can also bake immediately).

Bake uncovered at 325 for 55-60 minutes, or until eggs are set. If it gets brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil. If desired, sprinkle with sliced green onions before serving.

Berry Muffins (from Food Network)
Another recipe that can be made days or weeks ahead and frozen, its beauty is freezing at the batter stage rather than after baking, so the muffins come out of the oven perfectly fresh. Blueberry muffins are, of course, a classic, but try them with raspberries, blackberries, or diced strawberries for a fun variation. The crumble topping provides an elegant finishing touch.

3/4 cups fresh berries (diced if using large berries such as strawberries)
1-3/4 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For the topping:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with foil liners.

Toss the berries with 2 tablespoons flour in a small bowl and set aside. Whisk together the remaining flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Beat the eggs in a medium bowl until frothy, then whisk in milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the egg mixture. Stir in with a rubber spatula just until combined.

Combine topping ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a fork or your fingers, mix in the butter to form large and medium crumbs.

Scoop the batter into the muffin cups, about 3/4 full or a bit more. Divide the berries among the cups, then divide the topping among the cups, pressing lightly. Freeze until set (abut 3 hours). Place in zippered storage bags and return to freezer for up to 3 months.

When ready to bake, place muffins either in a muffin tin or on a baking sheet and bake at 325 for 35-40 minutes, until lightly browned and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. If baking immediately rather than freezing, bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

There's nothing that ups the "classiness quotient" of a holiday brunch like adding a festive adult beverage. For me, brunch cocktails fall into two basic classes: sangria, and champagne cocktails. The advantage of sangria is, of course, that it's made ahead in large batches rather than individually on the spot, and the advantage of champagne cocktails (other than the advantage that they're, you know, champagne) is that a single alcohol base (champagne) can be mixed with a little touch of any number of juices and liqueurs that you probably already have on hand.

Champagne cocktails: Start all of these with the base listed below and top with champagne, prosecco, cava, or sparkling wine, then add the desired garnish.

  • Classic Mimosa: Orange juice; garnish with orange peel
  • Poinsettia: Cranberry juice (optional: splash of orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier or triple sec); garnish with orange peel or a few fresh cranberries
  • Kir Royale: Creme de cassis or Chambord; garnish with fresh raspberries or a cherry
  • Creamsicle: Equal parts orange juice and vanilla vodka; garnish with orange peel, slice, or wedge
  • Bellini: Peach puree, juice, or nectar; garnish with orange peel
  • French 75: gin or cognac, simple syrup (or a sugar cube), lemon juice; garnish with a lemon twist
  • Champagne Mule: vodka, Domaine de Canton OR ginger beer, fresh lime juice; garnish with a twist of lime and a mint leaf

Sangria: Sangria is really a very basic recipe that can be adjusted to your own tastes. Here is a good general formula to start with:

1-2 cups fruit (apples, oranges, berries, pineapple, pears, peaches), cut into small pieces (skin on)
3 tablespoons sugar or brown sugar
1 cup orange juice
1/3 cup rum or brandy (optional)
750 ml bottle of a fruity but not too sweet red wine

Add fruit and sugar to a large pitcher and muddle with a wooden spoon. Add orange juice and rum/brandy and muddle again for about 30 seconds. Add red wine and stir to incorporate, adjusting amounts of all ingredients to taste. Cover and store in refrigerator for up to 48 hours or serve immediately. When ready to serve, add ice and stir. 

If you prefer a white wine sangria, simply replace the red wine in the recipe above with a dry white wine and add some club soda or ginger ale for a bit of sparkle. You may also wish to use a bit less sugar for a drier, lighter taste. 

If you prefer to use a specific recipe, I recommend Bobby Flay's Red Wine Sangria and Rachael Ray's White Sangria

Bon appetit, and Merry Christmas to all!

P.S. - If you haven't yet sent your invitations out for your fabulous holiday brunch, check out PaperlessPost - they have great Christmas cards and invitations and your purchase supports a worthy cause!

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