Chef John Ash serves up some delicious ideas for a festive brunch
Apparently, the first use of “brunch” - a playful blend of “breakfast” and “lunch” - happened back in 1895. Guy Beringer, a British writer, authored a piece called “Brunch: A Plea” in Hunter's Weekly. He urged people to gather for a late breakfast on Sundays, not necessarily for the food but for the convivial experience.
Beringer had high hopes that the mash-up meal would bring together the best of both worlds.
“By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday-night carousers,” he wrote. “It would promote human happiness in other ways as well. Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk- compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”
That may have been a bit of an exaggeration. But there is no question that brunch has become a solid part of our culinary tradition in America.
Some historians have derided the meal as simply an excuse for drinking. Well, maybe so. Famous brunch drinks, including Mimosas, Bloody Marys and of course, Champagne, have all become associated with the brunch tradition.
I, for one, love the idea of brunch and, if it is an excuse to have a good glass of Champagne or a California sparkling wine, so be it.
I agree with Beringer that brunch does help us slow down and is a great excuse for being with family and friends, which is so hard to do during the rest of our busy weeks.
Here then are some ideas for you to serve at your next brunch gathering this holiday season and beyond.
This recipe was adapted from the “Cafe Beaujolais” cookbook by Margaret Fox of Mendocino.
Buttermilk Cinnamon Coffee Cake
Makes 12 servings
21/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar, preferably organic
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg beaten
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, both sugars and oil. Remove 3/4 cup of this mixture to a separate bowl, stir in the nuts and set aside to use as a topping.
To the remaining batter, add the baking soda, baking powder, egg and buttermilk. Mix to combine all ingredients. Small lumps in the batter are OK.
Pour the batter into a well-greased 8- by 8- by 2-inch deep baking pan or dish. Sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the surface. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Traditionally, eggs Benedict uses Canadian bacon. Here we are using smoked salmon. According to “The Food Lover's Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst, the dish originated at Manhattan's famous Delmonico's Restaurant when regular patrons Mr. and Mrs. LeGrand Benedict complained that there was nothing new on the lunch menu. Delmonico's maître d' and Mrs. Benedict began discussing possibilities, and Eggs Benedict was supposedly the result.
Classic Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict
Makes 4 servings
- Hollandaise Sauce (recipe follows)
2 teaspoons vinegar
4 large eggs
2 English muffins, fork split in half
- Softened butter
5 ounces or so sliced smoked salmon
- Optional garnishes: dusting of paprika and fresh salmon roe
Make the Hollandaise sauce and keep warm. Poach the eggs by filling a 10-inch skillet with water at least 1 inch deep. Add vinegar and bring to a simmer. Break the eggs one by one and carefully slide them into the water around the edge of the skillet, which will help keep the eggs together. Poach for 3 minutes or so or until the whites of the eggs are just set. You want the yolks to be runny. Alternately, you can add the eggs, turn off the heat, cover the skillet and let them sit for about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast the English muffin halves and lightly spread with butter.
To serve: Place a muffin half on 4 warm plates, top each with the smoked salmon, a poached egg and a big dollop of hollandaise. Garnish if you like with a sprinkle of paprika and/or fresh salmon roe.
Easy Blender Hollandaise Sauce
Makes about 1 cup
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Place the egg yolks, lemon juice and mustard in a blender and pulse 2 or 3 times to combine. With the blender running slowly, add the hot butter in a thin stream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more lemon juice if you'd like. Keep warm.
Note: If the sauce curdles or “breaks” (separates), you can correct by whisking in a teaspoon or two of boiling water, a drop at a time. If that doesn't work, put another egg yolk in a bowl and very slowly whisk in the broken sauce. Usually it'll come back together with one of these two methods.