Think of it as late-morning fuel during the holiday season. Whether it's just a lazy day with family and friends, or a little calm before the seasonal shopping storm at the mall, you just can't beat a few slices of French toast, some eggs, fruit, and a little side of salad. And hey, for a little extra cheer, don't forget a mimosa or spiced-up bloody Mary.
Brunch is "just a happy and relaxing kind of meal," said caterer and food-safety expert Gigi Warshawsky. "You don't do business meetings for brunch. It's for family and friends. It's good company and good conversation."
Indeed, when conducting a cooking class, Ms. Warshawsky was all about cranking out hearty brunch fare.
She kicked off the session in Sacramento late last year with a classic: French Toast. Her version came with a sweet and crunchy praline topping, and opted for French bread as its basis. Brioche and other eggy breads also make good French-toast options to better soak up the custard mixture before baking. Warshawsky recommended skipping sourdough breads or anything that is too crusty.
No matter if it's French toast or any holiday cooking, Warshawsky insisted on using fresh spices. After all, what gives a kitchen a better holiday scent than freshly ground nutmeg swirling around with real vanilla and cinnamon?
"Fresh spices are so much more robust and bold in flavor," said Warshawsky. "Once dry grated spices are exposed to air, the flavor really decreases. Especially with holiday spices, you want flavors that are bold, not subtle. They all go together: the ginger, nutmeg, clove and allspice."
The scones recipe led to a few nervous looks. Getting the perfect texture on this traditional Scottish bread and brunch favorite isn't easy, and nobody likes a rock-hard scone no matter how much it's been dipped in tea. Warshawsky still made it look easy, kneading the dough with a big smile and then cutting it into small, tasty triangles.
"This is the reason why you come to this class," said Warshawsky.
She emphasized the importance of using cold butter and cold cream to better produce a scone texture that's tender yet flaky. Before baking the scones, she adjured, be sure you still see chunks of butter in the dough. And by all means, don't overwork that dough!
"That's the biggest thing," said Warshawsky. "If you work it too much it'll become tough and you won't get that flaky fluffiness. And when you cut the scones into triangles, you want to see those chunks of butter, or else you'll get a hard scone that's dry."
What brunch would be complete without a steamy egg dish? While omelets and eggs Benedict will always be go-to brunch staples, Warshawsky whipped out her recipe for Fluffy Scrambled Eggs Florentine. It's a hearty way to warm that tummy over brunch on a chilly morning, with cubed cream cheese added for an extra-creamy texture.
Even something as simple as scrambling eggs requires a few pointers. For one, she recommended keeping the pan as hot as possible. She also advised sautéing the onions first in this recipe before adding the chopped garlic -- and be careful not to burn them. Otherwise, the taste of this brunch might be on the bitter side.
Most important, if you really want fluffy eggs, don't get too happy with the spatula.
"I'm just going to push the eggs into the middle of the pan and leave it alone," said Warshawsky, while demonstrating her scrambled-egg technique. "Let the sides do their thing."
By the end of class, the room smelled like one happy and fragrant holiday kitchen. School should always be this scrumptious.
Baked French Toast with Praline Topping
1 loaf French bread or bread of choice
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Dash of salt
Splash of favorite liqueur, optional
½ pound butter (2 sticks), melted
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup pecans, chopped
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350°. Slice bread into 20 slices, each 1 inch thick. Arrange slices in generously buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish in two rows, overlapping the slices.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and liqueur, if using. Beat until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over and between bread slices, making sure all are covered.
Make the praline topping by combining all ingredients; spread evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and fully cooked in the center. Serve with maple syrup or whipped cream.
Yield: 20 slices
Per slice: 426 cal.; 12 g pro.; 53 g carb.; 19 g fat (9 saturated., 7 monounsaturated., 3 polyunsaturated.); 109 mg chol.; 392 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 15 g sugar; 40 percent calories from fat.
Source: Gigi Warshawsky
Spiced Breakfast Scones with Almonds
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, finely minced
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, cold and cut into small cubes
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup heavy cream (cold)
½ teaspoon almond extract
Raw sugar crystals
½ cup sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 400°.
Mix together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, spices and ginger. Add the butter and gently incorporate it until butter chunks are pea size. Add slivered almonds.
Add almond extract to cream. Make a well in the middle of the dough mixture and add ½ of the cream. Mix just a little and then add some more cream. Fold everything together, just to incorporate — do not overwork the dough! If too dry, add more cream by the spoonful.
Put dough on a lightly floured surface. Pat together to form a ball. Do not overwork. Cut in half and form into a log shape. Cut on the diagonal in a zigzag form. Place the scones on an ungreased sheet pan or parchment-lined pan. Brush the tops with egg wash, sprinkle with raw sugar crystals and sliced almonds.
Bake until brown, approximately 15-20 minutes for large or 10-12 minutes for minis. Let scones cool before applying glaze, below.
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
Combine all ingredients in a microwavable bowl and cook for 1 minute. Stir until mixture is incorporated. Microwave more if necessary. Add more water if too thick. Drizzle top of scones with a fork. Let the glaze harden.
Yield: 24 mini-scones
Per mini scone: 175 cal.; 3 g pro.; 18 g carb.; 10 g fat (5 sat., 4 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 30 mg chol.; 125 mg sod.; 1 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 53 percent calories from fat.
Source: Gigi Warshawsky
Fluffy Scrambled Eggs Florentine
¼ cup half-and-half, cream or milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
½ onion, chopped
1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
8 ounces cream cheese, cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix eggs with milk and season with salt and pepper. In a sauté pan, melt butter and then add garlic to brown a bit. Add onions and sauté until soft. Add spinach.
When all the vegetables are heated, add the eggs and scramble until desired doneness. Add the cream cheese and stir until incorporated.
Yield: 6 servings
Per serving: 355 cal.; 17 g pro.; 6 g carb.; 29 g fat (15 sat., 9 monounsat., 3 polyunsat., 2 other); 433 mg chol.; 401 mg sod.; 1 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 75 percent calories from fat.
Source: Gigi Warshawsky