Who doesn’t love brunch? It is the greatest concept ever invented. I don’t know who first came up with it, but I want to shake that person’s hand. And then take them to brunch. Even the word is amazing. BRUNCH. It’s fun to say and it’s not even a real word! Someone had to make it up — a meal so revolutionary it didn’t even have a name. That’s what I’m talking about. Breakfast? Nope, too early. Lunch? Nope, too sandwich-based. Um, lunchfast? Definitely not. Brunch was the only way to go.
Typically a gloriously lazy brunch full of pastries, eggs, and boozey juices takes place at a restaurant, but every now and then the rare homemade brunch pops up. A few weeks ago I was walking to work and it suddenly hit me “I want to throw a brunch.” The stars must have been aligned that day because when I checked my email when I got to the office I had an message from my fantastic roommate Jenny saying “Let’s do a brunch thing.” I kid you not. I typed furiously back to her explaining how nuts it was that we had mutually thought of having a brunch party at our apartment. It’s something we’d been talking about ever since we moved to Brooklyn. Don’t get me wrong, we throw a good party, but never had we attempted what I once referred to as a ‘drunken Sunday breakfast party’.
But this brunch had a twist! What started out as an excuse to bake scones and drink mimosas and bloody mary’s turned into a great literary exchange. Each guest brought a stack of books they were willing to part with and we sorted through them, sharing our perceptions of each tome, whether they were good or bad. There were some winners (David Rakoff’s Half Empty) and some losers (a miscellaneous Dave Barry book we decided would make a great ‘dad gift’). Strangely enough, a book called “How to Date a Vampire” that I got from a work free table didn’t find itself a new home. But it was great to get inspired by some new titles and give different types of books a shot.
But let’s be honest here, as appealing as the written word can be, the food was the star of the show. Naturally I took this opportunity to try out some new recipes of the scone and biscuit variety. I had never made scones before, so I was a little apprehensive. Any baked good involving cutting ice cold butter into flour can go very wrong very quickly. The brunch gods must have been smiling on me though because everything worked out beautifully!
Cranberry and Oat Scones from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook took the spotlight as my first ever scone. And it was quite a success. They were golden brown with a moist, crumbly interior. The oats added a heartiness and the dried cranberries punched it up with their usual chewy sweetness.
There’s something refreshing about mixing ingredients by hand — just you, a bowl, and a spoon. Martha expects us to be in possession of a pastry blender, but that is not the case for me, so a fork sufficed. The cold butter combines with the flour and dry ingredients to create a coarse, crumbly mixture. Once you stir in the creamy combo of eggs and buttermilk, the pile of buttery crumbs starts to actually resemble dough. At this point it’s essential to work quickly and shape the dough into a rough rectangle. The more you touch the dough, the faster the butter melts, which means a less tender scone. And who wants a tough scone? No one.
I love the look of triangular scones. They’re just so rustic and simple and they don’t require any extra tools like a biscuit cutter. The sweet little triangles get brushed with an egg wash comprised of a yolk mixed with heavy cream followed by a liberal sprinkling of sugar for shine and crunch.
Sweets weren’t the only type of pastry being passed around amongst the books. A savory, spicy, cheesy biscuit made an appearance as well. I stumbled upon these beauties when flipping through the Baking Handbook to find a scone recipe. The combination of smoky paprika and one of my favorite cheeses, a Spanish sheep’s milk called manchego, was too much to pass up.
They came out golden and crispy on the outside, but revealed a soft, doughy, cheesy center. The paprika gave it just enough heat and the flavor of the anchego was prevalent in every bite. And many bites were taken. Although, I think you could make these biscuits with any kind of cheese and they would be delicious. But manchego is a welcome addition to just about anything.
It wasn’t until the day before the brunch that Jenny and I realized we had no menu planned whatsoever. Sure, the scones and biscuits would be a tasty treat and Jen’s homestyle hash browns were sure to be a hit, but we needed something substantial to tie it all together. So of course I turned to my mom, a go-to resource for just about anything. She suggested our famed Egg Casserole that has graced my family’s table every Christmas morning for as long as I can remember. It has been replaced in recent years by a fancy quiche that my brother and dad find irrisistable due to its flaky, buttery crust and cream-laden filling. But the Egg Casserole was just perfect for the brunch.
It’s essentially a strata — a layered casserole consisting of eggs, bread, and cheese. I likened it to a savory bread pudding. It’s extremely quick and simple and feeds a crowd without much work. It’s economical too, as it only calls for six eggs and a loaf of stale bread. The cubes of bread soak up the milk mixture and onions, mustard, chives, and cayenne give it great flavor. I for one can’t even think of this dish without referencing one of my favorite Christmas movies (that is just as good any time of year), The Family Stone. Fortunately, I didn’t end up wearing the casserole like SJP does in the movie. Um, spoiler alert.
Well, the brunch was a success, the food was devoured, and this post has gotten entirely too long. I’m sure you’ve stopped reading by now. Speaking of reading, I have some newly swapped books to peruse…
Here’s my favorite strata-related clip from The Family Stone. Enjoy: