By: Lynn Ogryzlo
The most leisurely of all meals with no boundaries and no rules, brunch has become our new dinner party. I often wonder how this lovely culinary tradition began.
The most exciting story originated in London in the late 19th century. Apparently there was this group of students and as the story goes, they liked to drink – a lot. So, they thought a later meal on Sunday morning would allow them to stay out later on Saturday night. This somehow became a license to party hardy and it explains the use of Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s as traditional brunch drinks and a perfect example of the English term, “hair of the dog that bit you”. Leave it to English to decide the way to cure a hangover was with more drinks.
Today, brunch is often seen as a casual meal, yet I think it has a certain luxurious feel to it. Think about it, on what other occasion can you take your time rolling out of bed and looking forward to a gourmet breakfast complete with cocktails? Under these conditions, brunch becomes my perfect way to start the day.
Of course, this means you’re going to prepare a lot of the meal the night before. It’s like all those magazines that suggest preparing meals hours in advance so you can enjoy your company when they arrive. I’m going to suggest doing most prep the night-before so you can sleep late like you know all of your guests will be doing.
Take a quick inventory of restaurant brunch options and the list can include all or some of the following: eggs, pancakes, sausages, bacon, ham, fruits, pastries, along with large roasts of meat or poultry, cold seafood like shrimp and smoked fish, salads, soups, vegetable dishes, many types of breadstuffs, and desserts of all sorts.
If you have a large staff with unlimited time and budgets, you too can have a buffet table overflowing with these options like restaurants do, but remember one thing when planning brunch – you are not a restaurant! It’s wiser for you to pick a few items that can easily be made ahead of time and serve it as a regular meal. So if your heart is set on Eggs Benedict or a Spring Chèvre Soufflé, then be prepared to be the only early bird in the group. If you want to lazily roll out of bed, looking forward to leisurely meal with guests, then here are a few suggestions for a pulling off a decadent brunch like a pro.
Yogurt should always be eaten in very small amounts, should always be plain and should never be low fat. Stick to good yogurt and you’ll be happy with the full flavour you get from layering tangy yogurt with fresh sweet berries and crunchy, earthy, granola. Use small, stemmed dessert glasses and only fill half way. Up your game by marinating the berries in icewine or your favourite liqueur the night before. Serve them on a white plate in the centre of the table and let your guests help themselves.
Another healthy way to use yogurt is to smear a tablespoonful or two between paper-thin crepes and top with fresh berries and dust with granola. Make the crepes the day before, layer them between sheets of waxed paper and refrigerate them to keep them fresh and in perfect condition.
You’ve seen it everywhere, a poached egg on top of everything from steak to rice. So go for it and top crab cakes with a thick layer of guacamole, a delicate salad of arugula leaves, bacon slices and yes, a poached egg. Everything except the poached eggs can be made the day before and refrigerated.
If you don’t like poaching, then whip your eggs. Line large muffin tins with bacon and cook mini, aged pecorino cheese soufflés inside – yum. You can make these the day before and simply warm them later.
Egg casseroles like Creamy Egg Strata, Red Pepper, Mushroom and Brie Frittata and Swiss and Bacon Pie can be prepared the night before then mixed together and baked on brunch day.
If that’s not inspiration enough for your next brunch, try baking eggs. Dishes you’ve made the day before such as a nest of potato rosti, stuffed peppers or layered spinach and sausage are perfect for this. Just wrap them in foil and bake to reheat. Remove the foil and crack eggs overtop and return to the oven to finish baking. You can top anything from a Moroccan Tagine to an Indian curry by topping it with an egg and baking.
The key to success with brunch breads is to know your baker. You want to serve your guests the best possible quality on this special occasion so find an artisan baker who produces a high quality bread selection. You could ask your baker if there are frozen options available that you can bake up fresh and warm.
Croissants are most popular but so is the light, almost sweetish, eggy flavour of brioche, Pannetonne has a lemony lightness to it, rye is more robust and slices of French baguette are versatile. These breads are especially delicious toasted with lots of soft, sweet butter on then.
Scones, biscuits, monkey bread or sticky buns can all be made the day before and baked on brunch morning. The smells of fresh bread in your home would drive the greatest enemy of wheat into a frenzy. If you’re unsure of baking bread, purchase fresh pizza dough from a bakery and roll it into sticky buns to bake in the morning.
I would stay away from traditional pancakes because they need to be made fresh but thick Belgian waffles can be made the night before and simply warmed before serving. Make a waffle bar by serving them on one plate with small bowls of accompaniments like whipped cream, fruit granola and dried fruit so your guests can create their own toppings.
You’ve probably heard Brutus, Montreal’s renowned bacon bar takes bacon and brunch to the next level with their all-bacon brunch menu that includes their bacon-meatball breakfast poutine. Ok, some of you are salivating but I find the overuse of bacon an assault to my stomach. I prefer to add bacon to quiche, tarts, biscuits or scones. Throw crispy bacon into a frittata or an eggy brioche brunch casserole. However you like your bacon, it should be thick-cut, lean as possible and cooked slow to render as much fat as possible. Smoking is optional and by-the-way, so is bacon. Maybe it’s time to explore the other popular brunch meats like country ham (cut thick), sausages of all kinds, smoked salon and shrimp.
Of course, Mimosas and Kir Royales are the classic champagne based brunch cocktails, but modern day hostesses can be a little more creative these days. I like to mix up a blend of coconut water, grapefruits wedges and sprigs of fresh rosemary. Let that steep overnight, place it in the centre of the table so your guests can serve themselves and put a bottle of sparkling wine next to it for guests who want to make a cocktail of their morning drink. Choose from champagne, sparkling wine and Moscato d’Asti. In addition to being especially good with eggs, the effervescence of sparkling wine stimulates the palate and creates a sense of lightness that is welcome early in the day. Moscato is lighter in alcohol (typically 5 – 6% alcohol) and that always welcome for mid-day drinking.
Check out the more than 100 brunch dishes and cocktails on The Ontario Table Pinterest page, Brunch My Way and enjoy.