Santa’s left his goodies under the tree, the in-laws are on the way over, and brunch needs to be made stat. With a few make-ahead dish ideas and other brunch tricks you can do beforehand, feeding the masses won’t add to the holiday stress.
Jenna Johansen, innovation chef at Epicurean Catering in Colorado, has a bounty of suggestions. Big-batch brunch cocktails like a Bloody Mary base or juices for mimosas can be chilled the night before. Cold-brew coffee can be made ahead of time and served on Christmas Day — even warmed up for those who prefer their java hot. “Sliced breakfast breads and a selection of jams and soft butter make a beautiful display of preset brunch hors d’oeuvres,” she says. “Frozen premade or parbaked breads, scones, and biscuits can be a day-of timesaver. Pull and bake from the freezer — there’s no trip to the bakery, and your home smells like freshly baked bread!”
Add bacon slices and sausage patties to baking sheet trays the night before and refrigerate; these can be baked before guests arrive and then held in the warming part of the oven. “Resist the temptation to cook last-minute eggs when guests arrive,” she says. Instead, go for an egg dish that can be made a day in advance, like a bake-ahead quiche, strata, or casserole; just warm and serve on Christmas morning.
More chefs give ideas on what they’d serve for a hassle-free holiday morning brunch:
Slow Cooker Oatmeal Bar
Jessica Braider of the Balanced Kitchen whips out the secret weapon of a slow cooker for easy brunches. “Let your slow cooker work while you sleep. From breakfast casseroles to sticky buns, anything is possible,” she says. A favorite of hers is Slow Cooker Overnight Oatmeal.
Bring the presentation up a notch by creating a bar of oatmeal toppings so guests can get creative. “Fun topping ideas include berries (fresh or frozen), chopped nuts, chocolate chips, chocolate syrup, crystallized ginger, chopped dates, or even bacon crumbles,” she says.
Shrimp and Grits Casserole
Dusty Grove, executive chef at Pacci Italian Kitchen + Bar in Savannah, Ga., advises to take a traditionally multistep dish and turn it into a one-dish deal. “Many people don’t know that shrimp and grits can be prepared as a casserole,” he says. The night before your big brunch, add additional cream or milk to cooked grits along with diced cooked shrimp, ham, and a bit of gravy, if desired. Keep overnight in the fridge and bake until bubbling hot on Christmas morning; serve with extra gravy and cheese. “It’s a truly unexpected twist and much less work on the chef at home, allowing them to spend more time in the company of friends and family,” he says.
Biscuit Quiche Cups
A favorite breakfast holiday shortcut of personal chef Jermaine Wright uses biscuit dough as a vessel for quiche. Stack biscuits by two on a baking sheet and hollow out a hole in the middle of each biscuit. Fill the hole with a beaten egg mixture (adding veggies like diced tomatoes and fresh spinach, if desired), sprinkle with shredded cheese, and brush dough with melted butter. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown in oven preheated to 350 degrees.
French Toast Panettone Bread Pudding
“Use that loaf of panettone bread you’re not so thrilled about putting out,” says chef James Tchinnis of the Swallow Restaurant in Huntington, N.Y. Up to three days before Christmas, dice the bread into small pieces and mix with 3 cups whole milk, 5 eggs, 1 Tbs. vanilla extract, ¾ cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Let sit for 30 minutes. Spread out onto baking sheet and cook at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Chill the bread pudding and cut out rounds using a cookie cutter or a glass with a large mouth. “On Christmas morning, simply melt some butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat and sauté on each side for two minutes. Serve with syrup, whipped cream, and mixed berries,” he says.
Tchinnis also suggests baking a frittata in advance. Spray a large nonstick sauté pan with cooking spray and add a mixture of 8 to 10 beaten eggs with mix-ins—one of his favorites is diced roasted potatoes, goat cheese, and tarragon. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Place a large cutting board on top of pan and quickly invert pan to remove frittata from the pan. Refrigerate the frittata overnight. On Christmas morning, let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve.
French Toast Casserole
Most breads lingering in the pantry, like challah or French bread, can be transformed into a French Toast Casserole. Into a casserole dish layer 1-inch slices of bread and cover with a custard filling composed of 3 cups half-and-half, 6 eggs, 3 Tbs. sugar, and spices whisked together. For a more decadent twist, use croissants or even chocolate-filled croissants as the bread base. Let sit overnight and bake at 350 degrees until golden, about 45 minutes.