Christmas Brunch + Happy New Year.

Ack, here I am on January first, having not written you all in quite some time.  I wish I had some sort of glamorous reason why — A surprise trip to Bonaire!  An unexpected delivery of Vizsla puppies!  A new pair of Frye boots to break in! — but the sad truth is that I was just plain sick (though I did recently get those boots and love them).  Keith and I spent Christmas Eve at his brother’s, and come the day after Christmas, six out of the nine guests were moaning on their respective sofas.  We were two of them.

Instead of telling you how I felt during the three days immediately thereafter (unhappy, unwell, unpleasant), I thought you’d rather hear about the Christmas brunch I put together before the sickness set in. Unfortunately I’ve got zero photographic documentation, so please just take my word on how great everything turned out.

Brunch, or breakfast, is a meal I’m pleased to say I can turn out both really quickly and really well, something I fully credit book group with as we mostly meet up at brunchy times.  In fact, I recycled two successful recipes from some of those get-togethers — a jam crumb cake and a citrus salad — that are easy to throw together.  They also seem more impressive than they are, and are definite crowd pleasers.

Since I like to have something savory at breakfast, I decided to also make a quiche.  I didn’t think it would be cheating per se to use a premade crust especially since I was extremely limited on time, but I wanted to make up for it by choosing a recipe full of decadent ingredients.  A trio of cheeses, chopped leeks, strips of double-smoked bacon and a more than generous dollop of crème fraîche fit the bill exactly.

In spite of my morning preferences, I knew that my guests tended to lean more towards the sweet; for that reason I chose to do a baked French toast.  When you’ve a group of people coming over for breakfast, the last thing you’ll want to do is stand over the stove, mechanically flipping slices of bread — it’s no fun for you and besides, your friends came over to see you, not your back at the cooktop.  I don’t care if your back is particularly lovely, or if you’ve got a spectacular neck tattoo you’re dying to share — I prefer having my conversations face-to-face, and that is why a baked French toast is perfect.  All you have to do is arrange your bread in an oven-proof dish, douse it with custard, refrigerate overnight and slide the whole thing in the oven about thirty minutes before you plan to eat.  It couldn’t be any simpler, and it will most certainly be a hit with those craving something sweet.  And best of all, you’ll be able to spend time with your friends.

Speaking of friends, I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for reading my sometimes rambling messages.  I really appreciate it, and am wishing you all the best year yet.

Jam Crumb Cake, from Gourmet
Makes six to eight portions.

For cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ stick unsalted butter, melted
½ cup milk
1 large egg
½ cup raspberry jam or preserves

For crumb topping
¾ stick unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  1. Preheat oven to 400° with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9-inch square or round cake pan.  Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk together butter, milk, and egg in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Pour batter into cake pan. Dollop jam all over surface, then swirl into batter with spoon.
  2. Whisk together butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt until smooth. Stir in flour, then blend with your fingertips until incorporated. Sprinkle crumbs in large clumps over top of cake.
  3. Bake cake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides begin to pull away from pan, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.

Note:  I’ve only got a ten-inch round cake pan, so I double the cake recipe but prepare just one recipe’s worth of crumb topping.  The cake then takes about thirty to forty minutes in the oven.

Boozy Baked French Toast, from Smitten Kitchen
Makes six to eight portions.

1 loaf  Challah bread cut into 1-inch slices
3 cups whole milk
3 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons Grand Marnier
zest of one orange

  1. Generously grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with butter.  Arrange bread into two tightly-packed layers in the pan.  Reserve one slice of bread to cut into smaller pieces to fill in gaps.
  2. Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, salt,  Grand Marnier and zest and pour over the bread.   Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The bread will absorb all of the milk custard while you sleep.
  3. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden. This will take longer if you have additional layers.  Cut into generous squares and serve with maple syrup, fresh fruit, powdered sugar or all of the above.

Note:  I used a deep 9×5 baking dish, so I made this with three layers of bread.  It still took only thirty minutes in the oven until the bread inflated and turned gold.

Citrus Salad with Mint Sugar, Bon Appétit.
Makes six to eight portions.

2 white grapefruits
2 pink grapefruits
6 large navel oranges
½ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup sugar

Cut peel and white pith from grapefruits and oranges. Cut between membranes to release segments. Combine fruit in large shallow bowl. (Fruit can be segmented 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)  Place mint and sugar in processor. Using on/off turns, blend until mint is finely chopped, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Sprinkle mint sugar over fruit; serve.

Note:  There were some really gorgeous-looking blood oranges at Whole Foods, so I decided to use 4 ruby red grapefruits, 3 large navel oranges and 4 good-sized blood oranges.  The combination of colors was fantastically pretty.

Ham, Leek + Three-Cheese Quiche, from Gourmet.
Makes six to eight portions.

1 round of refrigerated pie dough for a 9-inch pie (from a 15-oz package; not a preshaped frozen pie shell)
¾ pounds leeks (about 3 medium; white and pale green parts only)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ pound thinly sliced smoked ham
3 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 ounces Italian Fontina, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 ounces whole-milk mozzarella, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ¾ cups crème fraîche (from two 8 ounces containers)

  1. Prebake pie dough in pie plate according to package instructions, then remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350°.  Meanwhile, halve leeks lengthwise and cut crosswise into ½ inch pieces, then wash well in a bowl of cold water, agitating leeks. Lift out and drain leeks in a colander and pat dry. Melt butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat and cook leeks, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Line warm pie shell with sliced ham, overlapping layers as necessary to cover bottom and side of pie shell completely. Toss cheeses together and sprinkle evenly into pie shell (do not pack cheese), then spread leeks evenly on top of cheese. Whisk together eggs, nutmeg, and pepper until combined well, then whisk in crème fraîche until smooth.
  3. Carefully pour half of custard on top of pie filling, gently moving cheese with a spoon to help custard disperse evenly. Slowly add remaining custard in same manner. Cover pie loosely with foil, gently folding edges over crust (keep foil from touching top of cheese mixture) and transfer to a baking sheet.
  4. Bake until center of filling is puffed and set (center will be slightly wobbly but not liquid), about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Cool on a rack at least 20 to 30 minutes before serving (filling will continue to set as it cools). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note:  I’m not a fan of ham, so I was really pleased to see a double-smoked bacon in the case at Formaggio Kitchen.  I mean, honestly — who doesn’t prefer bacon?

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