It is officially the season for entertaining. Sure, you can compete with evening events like office holiday parties and neighborhood cocktails that take over our calendars come December, but If you want to get friends together in a relaxed setting without breaking the bank, hosting a festive brunch is a fabulous option. Plan ahead and you’re guaranteed a holiday hit. Here are our go-to tips to host the best holiday brunch ever.
Keep it simple
A balanced brunch menu should include one egg dish, one heartier dish, and a basket of baked goods like scones, muffins, coffee cake and/or quick breads. (See next section for ideas and make-ahead tips).
Additional easy sides include fruit salad (slice whatever fruits are in season and serve optional yogurt on the side) and bacon or sausage. For less mess and hands-off cooking, skip the frying pan and bake bacon on a wire rack placed on a rimmed cookie sheet in the oven (350 degrees for 20 minutes or until crisp).
Serve festive — and easy — beverages like bloody marys or mimosas, and remember to include non-alcoholic options like fresh squeezed juices. Oh, and don’t forget the coffee – your guests were probably indulging in holiday cheer the night before. Buffet style keeps it relaxed and allows your guests to serve themselves.
Make it ahead
Set your game plan at least one week in advance – this means pulling together your menu, shopping list and timeline so you aren’t rushed at the last minute and you can actually enjoy the process. Remember, entertaining should be fun! This is not the time to prepare made-to-order omelets for your guests, and you definitely don’t want to get up at 4 a.m. to prep your brunch — so choose dishes that can be prepped or even cooked entirely in advance like egg stratas, quiches or frittatas. French toast can be labor intensive and time consuming, but French toast casserole (see recipe, next page) is an easy and delicious option. As for baked treats, you can make and freeze scones, muffins, pastries and coffee cakes up to two weeks in advance — just take out the night before to thaw and warm prior to serving. Serve mimosas or bloody marys in pitchers.
Road map your brunch for the few days leading up to the event so you can pace your tasks – i.e., a quiche can be a made up to three days in advance and reheated that morning, flowers can be purchased two days prior, set the table the day before, assemble a strata or French toast casserole the night before and put in the oven that morning.
There is no shame in outsourcing!
When it comes to baked goods, which can take a lot of time (and skill), sometimes it’s best to leave it to the experts. Wow your guests with croissants or homemade pop tarts (to die for) from Butter Block (Butterblockshop.com), a coffee cake or stollen from Mazurek’s Bakery (Mazureksbakery.com), or crumb cinnamon and cheese sweet rolls from Wolters Bakery (Woltersbakery.com). Good bagels are always a hit – order them in advance and and pick up the morning of your party. (hint: Bagel Jay’s is consistently voted Buffalo’s favorite bagel). Serve bagels with all the fixings – a variety of cream cheeses, smoked salmon, sliced tomato, chopped red onion, capers – and that’s practically a meal in itself.
Keep your numbers under control
A brunch is not an open house – it’s best to keep the gathering somewhat intimate. Determine how many people your dining table can comfortably seat and go from there — Six to 12 people is ideal.
Decorate with what you’ve got
The good news is that your house is probably already decorated for the holidays, so there’s no need to go over the top with your brunch decor. Light some candles, place a few holiday decorations on the table (a glass bowl of silver ball ornaments or small potted poinsettias), and some flowers if you are so inclined — and decorating is done.
Pick a day, any (Sun)day
Sundays are ideal for brunch, particularly during the holidays when your guests will especially enjoy a lazy afternoon with friends to take a break from the hectic pace of the season. New Year’s Day or December 26th are both perfect days to end the holidays on a festive note.
Quick and Easy French Toast Casserole
1 loaf bread (stale is fine and any bread works here - French, Italian, sourdough, cinnamon or good old sandwich white or wheat)
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup half and half or cream
3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, cubed
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Spray a 9 x 13- inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Tear the bread into chunks or cut into cubes and place them in the prepared pan. Whisk together the eggs, milk, half and half or cream, sugar, and vanilla and pour the mixture evenly over the bread. Push the bread down with your hands so the liquid coats all the bread. In another bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add the butter and mix with a fork until the mixture comes somewhat together — there will be some pieces of butter and that’s fine. Sprinkle the flour/sugar/butter mixture over the top of the bread mixture. (You can refrigerate the casserole at this point and bake just prior to serving — you may need to bake for approx. 10 extra minutes if cold.) Otherwise, bake for 45-60 minutes until golden brown. Store any leftovers in fridge, tightly covered.