The word brunch originated as student slang in 19th century England. In 1896, a London food critic wrote in Punch magazine that “the excellent portmanteau word introduced last year, by Mr. Guy Berliner” described a new kind of meal replacing breakfast and lunch. Brunch soon came into fashion as a leisurely, indulgent mid-morning meal for the wealthy and noble classes.
In early 20th century America, “formal breakfasts” and “ladies breakfast parties” gradually evolved into brunch. After 1914, it became a Mother’s Day tradition when Congress sanctioned the national holiday. The first advertised restaurant brunch was in Chicago in 1930, celebrating Easter. By mid-century, American hostesses had elevated the brunch to an art form, serving a variety of dishes representing breakfast and lunch — and yes, even culinary indulgences like dessert.
Any day of the week is a good time for brunch but weekends are ideal, giving family and friends time to linger and catch up on the latest news. It’s the perfect time to choose dishes you might not prepare on a busy weekday, especially if they can be made in advance and don’t mind waiting. If you are expecting a crowd, consider a casual buffet that allows diners to serve themselves.
Offer guests a variety of beverages including your very best coffee from freshly ground beans. Don’t forget the decaf. Champagne and many other lightly sparkling wines and specialty drinks are popular at celebratory brunches and can accent brunch foods like eggs and cheese. Fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice is a good choice for those who wish to avoid alcohol. Don’t forget appropriate beverages for the kids: slushy citrus drinks, fruit punch or sparkling apple juice.
Here are a few favorite brunch recipes that, for the most part, can be prepared ahead, allowing you the opportunity to relax and enjoy the party along with your guests.
- Egg-cellent Cheese Strata
- Stuffed French Toast & Maple-Cinnamon Blueberry Syrup
- Peaches & Cream Breakfast Porridge
- Apricot Almond Danish
- Southern Brunch Biscuits
- Orange Yogurt & Berry Parfaits
- Mango & Passion Fruit Smoothies
- Carolina Breakfast Shrimp
- Maple Pecan Bacon
Egg-cellent Cheese Strata
An old saying among chefs is that there are as many ways to cook an egg as there are pleats on a chef’s toque (the distinguished white hat – some have up to 100.) There must be as many ways to cook eggs for a brunch! A rich egg custard is the base for this savory breakfast casserole. It can be assembled hours in advance of baking. For the bread cubes, pick a hearty country-style loaf or one of my favorite choices – Asiago Cheese bread from Panera Bread’s bakery. For the best flavor, use a blend of shredded cheeses like sharp Cheddar, Gruyère, Swiss or sharp Provolone. Serve the strata with a green salad featuring peppery arugula, orange slice, black olives and a balsamic vinegar dressing.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 9-ounce package fresh, prewashed
small spinach leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, in small dice
1/2 red bell pepper, in small dice
1/2 pound spicy or plain bulk Italian
5 cups 3/4-inch bread cubes, cut from
1-inch thick slices
1 1/4 cups shredded cheese
1 cup whole milk
1 cup half and half
6 large eggs
3 or 4 shredded fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon salt and black pepper, to
1/4 cup fresh-grated Asiago cheese or
Heat butter in a large skillet. When hot, add spinach and stir until completely wilted. Remove to a strainer in a bowl and cool; squeeze out all the liquid. Wipe skillet and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sauté onion and bell pepper over medium heat until translucent, stirring often. Add sausage and stir until meat is crumbly. Lightly butter an 8-inch square baking dish. Layer half the sausage mixture in the pan, then half the bread cubes and shredded cheese. Scatter half the spinach over the top. Continue layering with remaining sausage mixture, bread, shredded cheese and spinach. Whisk together milk, half and half, eggs, basil and seasoning, then pour over layered ingredients in pan. Cover dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight. Remove dish from refrigerator and let stand on the counter 20 minutes while preheating oven to 325 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and sprinkle dish with Asiago cheese. Bake casserole uncovered 60 minutes or until the top puffs and the center tests done when a small knife is inserted. Cool 10 to 15 minutes then cut into squares and serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers; reheat in the microwave. Makes 6 servings.
• Substitute 4 ounces diced Canadian-style bacon, sautéed pancetta or crumbled, cooked bacon for the Italian sausage. Meat can be omitted.
• Substitute for fresh spinach half of a 10-ounce package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed, briefly sautéed and drained to remove excess liquid.
• Omit spinach and substitute fresh steamed asparagus tips, cooked artichoke hearts or sliced mushrooms, sautéed and drained to remove excess liquid.
Stuffed French Toast & Maple-Cinnamon Blueberry Syrup
This delicious pan-fried French toast is a little crispy on the outside, crunchy on the inside, a bit custardy and not too sweet. It is best freshly cooked, but you can save time by soaking the stuffed bread in the egg mixture overnight then cooking it shortly before serving. If you prefer a less-sweet syrup topping, substitute a warm fruit compote. Combine 2 1/2 pints of mixed berries, 3 tablespoons tangy orange juice, zest of 1 orange, 1/4 cup brown sugar (or Splenda® Brown Sugar) and a pat of butter. Simmer on low heat 8 to 10 minutes until berries release their juices.
Stuffed French Toast
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, or to taste
1/2 cup lightly toasted slivered almonds,
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
salt, as needed
4 large eggs
1 cup half and half or milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 loaf of challah or other egg bread, cut
in 12 to 14 slices, 3/4-inch thick
unsalted butter and vegetable oil for
fresh blueberries, for garnish
In a small bowl, stir together cream cheese, sugar, almonds, lemon zest, almond extract and a pinch of salt. Whisk together eggs, half and half, vanilla, nutmeg and another pinch of salt; pour into a shallow pan. On half the bread slices, spread one side with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture. Top with remaining slices of bread. Dip each “sandwich” on both sides in the egg custard 10 to 15 seconds; place on a baking sheet. In a large frying pan over medium heat or a griddle, heat a small amount of butter and vegetable oil. Cook French toast in batches, about 2 minutes for each side. Keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve. Large slices can be cut in half; arrange on a platter or serve on individual plates. Dust with powdered sugar; garnish with berries. Serve with warm Maple-Cinnamon Blueberry Syrup. Makes 6 or 7 portions.
Maple-Cinnamon Blueberry Syrup
2 cups quality, pure maple syrup
2 1/2 to 3 cups fresh blueberries or
1 12-ounce bag frozen blueberries,
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or
In a medium saucepan, combine syrup, berries and cinnamon; simmer over low heat 5 to 6 minutes or until berries burst. Stir in lemon juice. Discard cinnamon. Serve warm. Refrigerate leftover syrup; warm to serve.
Spiced Blueberry Syrup: Simmer 2 12-ounce jars Smuckers Blueberry Syrup with 3 cups fresh blueberries or one 12-ounce bag frozen berries and 1 whole cinnamon stick. Stir in 2 tablespoons lemon juice; discard cinnamon stick.
To make Strawberry Syrup, follow the recipe using fresh strawberries and strawberry syrup; omit cinnamon. Serve over Stuffed French toast garnished with fresh strawberries.
A deliciously excessive variation is Stuffed French Toast topped with sliced Carolina peaches, a drizzle of pure maple syrup, and a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Cinnamon Bun (caramel) Ice Cream.
Peaches & Cream Breakfast Porridge
A welcome change from cold cereal, Cream of Wheat’s texture is similar to grits, but it’s actually farina made with ground wheat instead of corn. One serving supplies nearly half of the daily value of iron and can provide up to 70 percent calcium when served with milk. Add a glass of orange juice; Vitamin C helps enhance the amount of iron the body can absorb. The recipe can be increased, as necessary.
1 1/2 cups water, plus more if needed
1/2 cup maple syrup, honey or molasses
2 tablespoons currants or chopped raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg or
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup Original 2 1/2 Minute Cream of
2 tablespoons wheat germ, if desired
fresh peeled, sliced peaches or frozen
thawed, sliced peaches
3 tablespoons lightly toasted chopped
cream, half and half or milk, as desired
In a small saucepan, bring water, syrup, raisins, nutmeg and salt to a boil. In a medium-size saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add farina and wheat germ; stir 1 to 2 minutes or until lightly toasted. Reduce heat to medium-low. Off the heat, gradually pour hot liquid into the grain, stirring continually with a long wooden spoon to avoid hot steam. Place back on the burner, stir and cook 3 minutes or until thickened. Porridge can be kept warm on the lowest heat until served; stir often, thinning with a little water or milk, if necessary. Spoon portions into serving bowls; top with 1 teaspoon butter, several peach slices, 1 tablespoon pecans and cream, as desired. Makes 3 servings.
Recipe adapted from Cooking with Grains by Susan Fuller Slack (HP Books).
Apricot Almond Danish
Keep the puff pastry sheets cold when you use them. Make clean cuts on the pastry so the edges will puff.
1 17.3-ounce box puff pastry sheets,
1 12.5-ounce can Solo Almond Cake &
1 15-ounce can lite, unpeeled apricots,
packed in juice, well-drained
1/2 cup melted apricot preserves
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons cream or milk or
reserved apricot juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove one pastry sheet from the refrigerator at a time. Roll out gently on a lightly floured surface to remove creases and enlarge slightly. Cut lengthwise into 3 even strips. Cut widthwise two times to form 9 squares. Spread a heaping teaspoon almond filling over the center of each square then top with an apricot half, cut side down. (Refrigerate remaining filling for another baking use.) Brush apricots with jam. To finish each pastry, gently pull two corners of each pastry square up to the center and pinch together. Place shaped pastries on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or coated lightly with vegetable spray. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until pastry is puffed, crispy and golden brown. Remove from oven. Combine confectioners’ sugar, cream and vanilla then drizzle over each pastry. Serve warm or at room temperature. Pastries can be reheated before serving. Makes 18 small pastries.
Southern Brunch Biscuits
Serve these decadent cheese biscuits hot with eggs and sugar-cured country-style ham or crispy bacon. They’re delicious spread with butter and bitter orange marmalade, honey or berry preserves. To make ahead, cool freshly baked biscuits, wrap tightly and freeze. Reheat in the microwave or wrap in foil and heat in a low oven.
3 cups Gold Medal® self-rising flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter,
cut in pieces
2 ounces cold cream cheese, in pieces
2/3 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups whole buttermilk, or as needed
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease large baking sheet with butter or cooking spray. In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and orange zest. Cut in butter and cream cheese until mixture becomes coarse crumbles. Add 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and gently stir with a fork until mixture starts to come together. Add remaining buttermilk, as needed, to form a soft, moist dough. Turn out on a surface lightly floured with plain flour. Fold dough 2 or 3 times with a pastry scraper. Don’t overwork dough or biscuits will be tough. Pat the dough out 1 inch thick. Cut biscuits with a 3-inch biscuit cutter; place on prepared baking sheet about 1/4 inch apart. Brush tops with melted butter. Bake 15 to 18 minutes until tops are golden brown. Serve warm. Makes about 16 biscuits.
Tip: Dough is moist and slightly sticky. If necessary, dust cutter lightly with plain flour. Use a larger cutter for bigger biscuits, which are good for stuffing with ham.
Orange Yogurt & Berry Parfaits
If you don’t have parfait glasses, be creative and use white wine glasses, glass coffee cups or pretty glass dessert bowls. Or why not layer the yogurt, granola and fruit in a large glass trifle bowl and invite people to help themselves? Tangy, strained Greek yogurt is thicker — a little like sour cream but without all the calories. If your brand of yogurt is watery, thicken the texture and concentrate the flavor by draining it in the refrigerator several hours in a strainer lined with a coffee filter.
1 quart (4 cups) plain Greek or other yogurt
1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
3 tablespoons honey, or to taste
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla
fresh mixed berries, as desired (blueberries, raspberries,
strips of orange rind and fresh mint sprigs
Maple Walnut Granola, as needed (recipe below)
Raspberry Sauce, (recipe below)
Two days ahead, prepare granola; prepare and refrigerate raspberry sauce. One day ahead, combine yogurt, orange concentrate and honey in a large bowl. With a small knife, slit open vanilla bean and scrape some seeds into the yogurt; stir in the pod. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. Remove vanilla bean before serving. For each serving, spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons granola into each dish then 1/3 cup yogurt. Top with a spoonful of raspberry sauce and some berries. Continue layering ingredients to the top of the dish, ending with raspberry sauce, berries and a sprinkle of granola. Garnish with orange strips and mint sprigs. Serve at once or refrigerate up to 2 hours until serving time. Makes 6 servings.
It’s optional but adds a special touch. Drizzle over pancakes with maple syrup to enhance the flavor; decorate with fresh raspberries.
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 10-ounce box frozen raspberries in syrup, thawed
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice to taste
In a small saucepan, stir cornstarch into raspberries until well dissolved. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a full boil; cook for 1 minute. When slightly thickened, remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Pour into a fine strainer over a bowl and press out seeds. Put strained sauce in a jar and refrigerate until needed.
Stir into yogurt, warm oatmeal or cold cereal for extra flavor and crunch. 1/4 cup coconut would be a tasty addition.
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped pecan or walnut pieces
1/4 cup whole wheat flour or white flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons safflower or canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup dried fruits of choice, in small pieces (apricots,
cherries, cranberries, blueberries, plums, golden raisins)
Grease a large baking sheet. Heat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, mix oats, nuts, flour, dry milk and salt. In a small bowl, combine maple syrup, oil and vanilla; pour into the oat mixture and coat well. Spread mixture over a large baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring one or two times. If necessary, rotate pan for even cooking. Cook 10 minutes more, or until nuts and oats become fragrant. Remove from the oven and immediately stir in dried fruits. Cool and store in an airtight container up to one week. Makes about 4 cups. Recipe can be doubled.
Mango & Passion Fruit Smoothies
Tangy and refreshing, smoothies are a great way to start the day. Freeze the cut-up fresh fruits to give the smoothies a thicker consistency and to keep them cold. Store-bought frozen fruit works well, too. Passion fruits are delicious — their scent and flavor are like nectar. They are not easy to find and their yield is small so substitute commercial juice or nectar. If passion fruits are available, cut several in half then scrape out the juice and edible seeds to include in your smoothies. Passion fruit sorbet offers the essence of the fruit flavor. A decadent idea for breakfast – but worth every sip!
1/2 cup frozen Welch’s Passion Fruit Flavored Fruit Juice
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or other plain yogurt
1 medium ripe banana, peeled, partially frozen
1/2 cup tart fresh orange juice
1 cup fresh mango or pineapple cubes, frozen
1/2 heaping cup ice cubes
1 14-ounce carton Häagen-Dazs® Passion Fruit or Mango
mint sprigs for garnish
Put all the ingredients except mint and sorbet into a blender; process until smooth. Pour into chilled white wine glasses. Put a small scoop of sorbet into the top of each glass; garnish with a mint sprig. Serve at once. Makes 3 to 4 servings. Recipe can be doubled. Smoothies can be made and frozen in a container a day or two ahead. Thaw partially, stir until slushy and serve. Makes 4 servings.
Variation: Add 1 cup of the sorbet to the blender with the other ingredients; blend until smooth.
Carolina Breakfast Shrimp
The Charleston breakfast dish, shrimps and hominy, has been popular for decades and is now a culinary icon. In its simplest form, it has long been a favorite among coastal fishermen and their families. Hominy grits are a staple food that practically every long-time South Carolinian knows how to make. Make sure your grits are cooked and waiting before you start preparing the shrimp.
1 pound large raw shrimp, preferably fresh, wild American
2 slices quality bacon, such as Applewood smoked bacon
1 tablespoon butter
1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, in small dice
1 garlic clove, minced
2 small green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup shrimp stock or chicken broth, more if needed
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
salt and black pepper, to taste
dash Tabasco, to taste
Clean shrimp. In a large skillet cook bacon until crisp; set aside. Add butter to the bacon fat in the skillet over medium heat-high; cook onion, red bell pepper and garlic 3 to 4 minutes or until tender. Add shrimp; stir about 2 minutes then mix in green onions. Stir in 1 cup broth, lemon juice, salt, pepper and Tabasco. Cook 2 to 3 minutes more until shrimp is done. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. If a thicker sauce is desired, mix about 2 teaspoons cornstarch into 3 tablespoons chicken broth or water and stir into shrimp mixture. Cook 1 minute or until thickened slightly. Serve shrimp mixture over hot grits; garnish with crumbled bacon. Makes 4 to 5 servings.
Maple Pecan Bacon
Sweet, salty and delicious! Bacon may be the most popular breakfast and brunch meat. Bacon-mania has created a new genre of foods like bacon-flavored chocolate and bacon ice cream. Preparing bacon for brunch couldn’t be easier. If you don’t have a rack, form ridges in an extra long piece of heavy-duty foil to catch the bacon fat. Additional flavorings can include a pinch of cracked black pepper or cayenne pepper, Dijon mustard or light brown sugar.
1 pound thick-sliced or medium-sliced quality bacon
(16 to 20 slices)
1/3 cup quality maple syrup, or as needed
1/2 cup finely minced pecans, if desired
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a rack on heavy-duty (half-sheet) baking sheet lined with foil. Or, cover baking sheet with foil or a large Silpat pan liner. Arrange bacon on the rack; cook 15 minutes or until 3/4 done*. Brush bacon slices lightly with maple syrup; sprinkle with pecans. Cook 4 or 5 minutes until crisp and browned. Watch carefully to prevent burning. Drain on paper towels; serve warm. If necessary, cook on 2 baking sheets; rotate pans while cooking. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
*Partially cooked bacon can be drained and refrigerated a day ahead. The following morning, place on a baking sheet, glaze lightly with syrup, sprinkle with nuts, if used, and bake in a 375 degree oven about 5 minutes.
French Toast: Use 1/2 to 1 inch-thick bread slices. Choose egg breads like braided challah, brioche, croissants, Sally Lunn, Hawaiian sweet bread or fruit filled panettone. Try thick Texas toast, sourdough and cinnamon raisin breads. Extra dry, crusty French, Italian or Cuban bread slices can be cut on the diagonal then soaked
in the egg mixture overnight. Publix carries many varieties, including challah and Cuban bread.
Cream of Wheat cereal (farina) can be used to give French Toast a crispy coating. Dip bread in the egg and milk mixture, then coat both sides with dry cereal; sauté in butter or bake in the oven.
Brush Canadian bacon or ham slices with a mixture of Dijon mustard sweetened with some maple syrup. Broil on both sides until sizzling hot.
Wine-based brunch drinks can include champagne framboise (with fresh strained raspberries), Kir (white wine and crème de cassis), Kir Royal (champagne and crème de cassis), Spritzer (white wine, club soda, twist of lemon) and the Bellini (pureed white peaches or peach nectar and Prosecco).
Fruit ideas for brunch include a colorful fruit platter, a beautiful bowl of fresh berries, skewers of strawberries, pineapple wedges and melon cubes, grilled fresh apricot or peach halves, papaya slices with lime wedges, thick slices of quality dried fruits sprinkled with light brown sugar and caramelized, or fresh figs and dates with Greek yogurt and pine nuts.