Go ahead, sleep in: Breakfast is almost ready
It’s Christmas morning, and your family’s got one thing on their minds – presents.
But all that tearing and mayhem is bound to make people hungry. So rather than tear yourself away from the fun to create an elaborate breakfast, rely on some easy make-ahead dishes that can be assembled the night before and popped in the oven when you turn on the coffeemaker.
“You don’t want to be in the kitchen when your family is opening presents in the morning, or if you have a long day of people coming in and out of your house,” says Peter Degnan, culinary director for Williams-Sonoma. “You want something really quick and easy, but it also has to be really good and something special.”
Here are a few ideas for egg dishes, yeast breads and even hot cereals so good – and fuss-free – your family and friends will think they’ve been left by food savvy elves.
Think of these custard-soaked bread dishes as cousins – one savory, one sweet.
For strata, start with a good baguette or Italian peasant loaf. The night before, saturate the slices with a milk-and-egg mixture, then layer them with your favorite ingredients (all meat should be fully cooked) in a buttered baking dish.
For a basic formula, try a standard baguette, a half-dozen eggs and 1 cup of milk. A total of 3 or 4 cups of ingredients can be scattered between the layers. Pour any remaining custard over the top.
Ham, bacon, sausage, cheese, spinach, broccoli and other omelet staples make perfect fillings. Try pairing cooked Italian sausage with thinly sliced apples and Grana Padano cheese for a hearty, salty-sweet sensation.
For Janis McLean, executive chef at the Morrison-Clark Historic Hotel and Restaurant in Washington, a Christmas morning strata is part of the family tradition, and she loads it up with intense ingredients such as wild mushrooms, sautéed chard, smoky bacon and caramelized onions.
For the family sweet tooths, nothing beats a creamy French toast. McLean starts with slices of egg bread, such as challah or brioche, and uses heavy cream in the custard with a touch of orange zest, vanilla and salt.
As with the strata, for French toast, soak the slices very well, then layer them with the ingredients in a buttered shallow baking dish the night before. Slices of cream cheese, bits of cooked bacon or even good-quality preserves can make tasty fillings. Pour any remaining custard over the top. Cover tightly and let it all soak in.
Both dishes should bake at 325 F for about an hour, or until a knife inserted at the center comes out clean.
When serving the French toast, try one of Degnan’s favorite tricks: sprinkle the top with superfine sugar and use a cook’s torch to create a crunchy creme brulée effect. Voila. Very French. Very toasty.
There are as many egg pies as there are holiday traditions. And like strata, all of them accommodate your family’s favorite flavors and fillings.
Among the easiest is quiche, a simple pie crust (use a purchased one for ease) filled with a mixture of eggs, milk and your favorite ingredients. Quiche can be cooked the night before and warmed up while the festivities get going.
If quiche seems too pedestrian, Degnan recommends sformatino, Italy’s answer to soufflé. Made by combining a bechamel base with eggs and flavorings, sformatino can be assembled the night before and baked in the morning.
Degnan suggests coating buttered ramekins with finely grated cheese or fresh, herbed bread crumbs. “It’s a less fussy soufflé,” Degnan says, suggesting flavorings from mild cheese to roasted peppers or nettles.
Or go with a frittata – Spain’s open-face, baked omelet – which can be made the night before and served warmed or at room temperature in the morning.
McLean’s favorite make-ahead egg dish? Crispy baked eggs. Line the bottom of well-buttered ramekins with sausage grits and place in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, crack an egg into each one, add a tablespoon of cream and some shredded cheese and bake in a hot oven for 20 minutes. “It’s really easy-peasey,” she says.
Thick, creamy, hot and filling, nothing says comfort like great oatmeal on a cold morning. Start with steel-cut oats for maximum flavor and texture (the rolled kind will turn to mush).
Cook them overnight on low in a slow cooker, or for even better texture, pour boiling water over the oats and let them soak overnight. A quick stir over heat in the morning will make them ready to eat.
Either way, have lots of luxurious garnishes on hand: warm, vanilla-laced heavy cream, pure maple syrup, gourmet honey, lots of fruits and nuts, and (for a unique holiday kick) really good egg nog.
McLean pairs her oatmeal with a dried fruit compote full of cranberries, cherries and apricots, spiked with a little cinnamon, star anise and Armagnac to make it “just a tiny bit adult.” The compote can be made a week in advance.
If you really want to go over the top, Degnan says get the torch out again: top a casserole dish of cooked oatmeal with bananas and superfine sugar and torch the top for that brulee effect.
Cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, even brioche do their last rise in the refrigerator overnight and emerge from the oven on Christmas morning soft and warm.
If you prefer scones or biscuits, McLean suggests making them up to a week ahead and freezing them. Roll out and cut the dough, then freeze them on a cookie sheet until they’re hard and pop them into a zip-close bag. They go straight from the freezer into the oven Christmas morning. “It’s a restaurant trick,” McLean says. “We serve scones and biscuits hot and fresh from the oven every day, but we make them 200 at a time. They work beautifully that way.”
Of course, if you have a bread machine, you can use the timer setting and awaken to a fresh, hot loaf.
All hail the slow cooker. Throw just about anything in and watch breakfast happen. The Internet is full of tasty recipes that suggest layering frozen hash browns with cheese, cooked meat such as ham, sausage or bacon, and, of course, beaten eggs. Set on low overnight, the cooker will yield a fluffy breakfast casserole ready for morning.
Or use the same approach in a buttered casserole dish. Assemble the ingredients and refrigerate overnight. Bake at 375 F for about 30 to 45 minutes Christmas morning.
Get a jump on a holiday breakfast with this simple, savory strata that can be prepared the night before and baked in the oven when you wake up.
Preparation time, start to finish: 9 1/2 hours (20 minutes active). Makes 6 to 8 servings.
6 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
8-ounce loaf Italian peasant bread, cut into 1-inch thick slices
3 cups fully cooked, finely chopped spicy Italian sausage
3 crisp, sweet apples, cored and sliced into very thin rounds
2 1/2 cups grated Grana Padano cheese
Lightly butter a 9-by-9-inch baking dish.
In a medium bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and nutmeg. Soak each slice of bread in the custard until fully saturated. Arrange a third of the slices in the prepared baking dish.
Top the bread with half of the sausage, half of the apples, and 1 cup of the cheese. Layer another third of the bread over the fillings, then top with the remaining sausage, apples and 1 cup cheese. Top with remaining bread.
Pour any remaining custard over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 325 F. Bake uncovered for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
(Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens’ “New Cookbook”)