The holiday season is here, and that means it’s time to get together and celebrate. If you have a house full of family and friends, a wonderful way to entertain is having a low-key brunch with make ahead dishes. Sleep in, then bring everyone together for a morning indulgence that will set up the day.
CHRISTMAS MORNING SCONES
Makes 8 large scones
For the scones
2½ cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons unsweetened dried cranberries, chopped small
4 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 cup half and half (or milk or cream), plus 2 tablespoons more for brushing on top
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
For the glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 to 3 tablespoons water
Other Toppings (optional)
Unsweetened dried cranberries
Fresh rosemary leaves
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat liner.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, dried cranberries and rosemary in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a fork or using two butter knives until it looks like coarse meal.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the half and half and vanilla bean paste. Stir it into the flour mixture. (The dough should come together, but not be too wet.) Shape the dough into a ball, then flatten it into a disk. Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill 10 minutes in the freezer.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll or press the dough out to a circle about 7 to 8 inches in diameter and ¾ inch thick. Cut the circle of dough into 8 equal wedges.
Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet, lightly brush the tops with a little half and half (or milk), and bake until puffed and light golden brown on top and bottom, about 14 to 16 minutes. Cool completely.
Once cooled, whisk together all ingredients for the glaze, adding the water a little at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. Dip the tops of the scones into the glaze, letting it run down the sides; sprinkle a few dried cranberries and rosemary leaves on top, if desired. Place the scones onto a wire rack and let the glaze set completely before serving.
Recipe from Faith Gorsky, An Edible Mosaic
MAKE AHEAD: You can make the dough the night before; instead of chilling it in the freezer for 10 minutes, wrap it up and refrigerate it overnight. Bake the scones straight from the fridge the morning you want to serve them.
SWEET AND SPICY BACON
1½ tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
Rounded ¼ teaspoon cayenne
Rounded ¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 pound thick-cut bacon (about 12 slices)
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together brown sugar, cayenne and black pepper in a small bowl. Arrange bacon slices in one layer (not overlapping) on rack of a large broiler pan. Bake 20 minutes. Turn slices over and sprinkle evenly with spiced sugar. Continue baking until bacon is crisp and deep golden, 20 to 35 minutes more (check bacon every 5 minutes). Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Recipe from Gourmet, September 2006
BREAKFAST STRATA WITH CARAMELIZED ONION, MUSHROOMS AND THYME
1 loaf crusty sourdough or French bread
4 to 5 slices bacon (optional)
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, very thinly sliced into rings
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
10 large eggs
1 ½ cups whole milk (or half and half)
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
4 to 6 ounces goat cheese
1 ½ cups grated Gruyère, jack or mozzarella cheese
Thyme sprigs for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut bread into ¾ inch cubes and lay on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven 10 minutes. If adding bacon, spread out on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake in the oven 20 minutes or until crisp. Blot, then cut into small pieces.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add thinly sliced onions. Sauté, stirring often, for 2 to 3 minutes. Then turn heat down to medium low, continuing to cook until golden and tender, about 10 minutes. In another large skillet, heat butter over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Add fresh thyme and a generous 3 finger pinch of salt and pepper. Add the caramelized onions to the mushrooms and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, milk, sour cream, salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, add the toasted cubed bread. To this add the mushroom-onion-thyme mixture and bacon crumbles if using. Add the grated cheese and 2⁄3 of the crumbled goat cheese (saving the rest for the top) and gently mix.
Pour in the eggs and give a gentle stir. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir again and pour into a well greased 4-quart baking dish. Note: At this point you could refrigerate overnight.
Cover with foil and bake 35 minutes. Uncover, lower heat to 375 degrees and continue baking 20 to 30 more minutes until puffed and golden. During the last 10 minutes of baking, scatter the remaining goat cheese over the top and let it melt. Garnish with thyme sprigs and serve.
Recipe from Sylvia Fountaine, Feasting at Home
NOTES: If refrigerating overnight, be sure to remove from fridge 40 to 60 minutes before baking, so it comes to room temperature. Feel free to add spinach, arugula or other greens to the mushroom mixture for a boost in nutrients.
BAKED CHEESE GRITS
Serves 10 to 12
3 ½ cups whole milk
2 cups water
2 tablespoons (¼ stick) unsalted butter, plus more for coating the pan
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ¼ cups quick-cooking grits
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Crystal
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 large eggs
⅛ teaspoon hot paprika
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and arrange a rack in the upper third. Coat a shallow 2 ½-quart baking dish with butter.
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 1 ½ cups of the milk, the water, measured butter, garlic and salt. Bring to a rolling boil and slowly whisk in the grits. Whisk continuously for a minute until no lumps remain. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.
In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 cups milk, hot sauce, pepper and eggs. Gradually add the hot grits, stirring to combine. Pour the grits into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the paprika.
Bake for 45 minutes, until the grits are puffy around the edges and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve hot.
Recipe from Martha Hall Foose, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea
APPLE CRANBERRY WALNUT SALAD
Serves 4 to 6
6 cups salad greens
1 red apple
1 green apple
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1⁄3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1⁄3 cup dried cranberries
For the dressing (see note)
1 cup apple juice
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
Scant ½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup oil
Core and chop apples (thin slices or 1-inch chunks). Toss lettuce, apples, walnuts, feta and cranberries together in a large bowl. Whisk together all dressing ingredients. Toss with salad immediately before serving.
Recipe from Tiffany Azure, Creme de la Crumb
NOTES: You can also use a store-bought poppyseed dressing with this salad. Recipe can easily be doubled or tripled for a larger group.
Makes one cocktail
This refreshing, low alcohol cocktail is perfect for brunch.
1 ounce London dry gin
½ ounce St-Germain elderflower liqueur
1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
1 large basil leaf, for garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the garnish and shake well. Pour through a fine strainer into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with the basil leaf.
Recipe from Ryan Fitzgerald, Food & Wine, January 2011
NOTE: Another festive option is a simple cocktail of cranberry juice and prosecco, garnished with fresh cranberries.
ROASTED BEETS WITH BEET GREEN SALSA VERDE
Serves 10 to 12
Beets may be an acquired taste, but this recipe with ricotta and beet green salsa makes it appealing to the discerning palate.
2 ¼ pounds small or medium beets, scrubbed
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 cups beet greens, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced crosswise into ribbons
½ cup minced beet green stems
½ red onion, finely chopped
½ cup chopped dill, plus sprigs for garnish
½ cup pomegranate seeds
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beets in foil and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour, until tender when pierced. Unwrap and let cool.
Spread the ricotta on a platter. Cut the beets into chunks and arrange on the cheese. Season lightly with sea salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk the oil with the vinegar. Add the beet greens and stems, onion and chopped dill and mix well. Season the salsa verde with sea salt and pepper and spoon over the beets. Scatter the pomegranate seeds on top. Garnish with dill sprigs and serve.
Recipe from Tyler Florence, Food & Wine, November 2015
MARBLED BANANA BREAD
Serves 8 to 10 (one loaf)
3 large very ripe bananas
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
1 cup plus ¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup dark cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
¾ cup chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan, or coat it with a nonstick baking spray.
Melt butter in a large bowl in the microwave. Mash the bananas into the melted butter until mostly smooth. Whisk in brown sugar, egg, vanilla, baking soda and salt until thoroughly combined. Add 1 cup of the flour, stirring just until it disappears.
Pour half of batter into a second bowl. Into one bowl, stir the remaining ¼ cup of flour and ground cinnamon. Into the other bowl, stir in the cocoa powder and chocolate chips.
Dollop batters in large alternating spoonfuls into the bottom of the prepared loaf pan. “Checkerboard” the rest in layers (meaning that you’ll drop a chocolate batter dollop on top of a chocolate-free one and vice-versa until both batters are used up). Use a butter knife or small offset spatula to make a few figure-eights through the batters, marbling them together but just a little, any more and the swirls may not look distinct when you cut the cake.
Bake 55 to 65 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out batter-free. (A melted chocolate chip smear is expected, however.) Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe from Deb Perelman, Smitten Kitchen
MAKE AHEAD: The banana bread will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature.
This recipe is a show stopper and worth the effort. It is not terribly complicated and can be made a day ahead. To show off the layers, use a 12-cup trifle dish, a footed glass bowl measuring 9 inches across and 5 inches deep.
6 extra-large egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
2 cups mascarpone cheese, chilled
2 ¼ cups heavy cream, chilled
¼ cup brewed strong espresso, at room temperature
¼ cup coffee flavored liqueur
24 + good quality plain ladyfingers
2 pints raspberries or blackberries
In a bowl, using an electric mixer set on high speed, beat together the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow, smooth and shiny, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the mascarpone and beat until thickened and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes.
In another bowl, using clean beaters or a whisk, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Using a rubber spatula or whisk, fold the whipped cream into the yolk mixture until thoroughly blended, breaking apart any lumps.
In a small bowl, stir together the espresso and liqueur. Dip ladyfingers in the espresso mixture on both sides until almost soaked through.
Arrange ladyfingers in a single layer over the bottom of the dish. Spoon some of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers to make an even layer. Arrange raspberries or blackberries around the outside of the dish so they show (you can sprinkle a few in the middle as well). Add another layer of ladyfingers and fruit (optional) and mascarpone mixture. If you have enough ladyfingers you can add another layer of ingredients. Top with mascarpone mixture.
Cover and chill for up to 2 days before serving. To serve, sift a light dusting of cocoa over the top using a fine mesh sieve.