Breakfast sometimes becomes an afterthought on Christmas Day.
Between family visits and the traditional morning exchange of gifts, the first meal of the day can fall to the wayside. And an empty stomach in the morning can lead to a famished feeling before the dinner table is decked out with all the trimmings of a traditional feast.
That’s why some culinarians prefer to feed their families and guests amid the pleasant lassitude of a late holiday morning. Christmas breakfast isn’t poised to overtake the popularity of the holiday dinner, but it’s a perfect function to help quell growling stomachs.
Noted local Chef Dale Miller is usually working on Christmas morning. But with Sperry’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs opening only for dinner last year, he decided to lay out a full Christmas breakfast for more than three dozen of his family and friends.
For Miller and his guests, it was a calming respite from the hectic moments leading up to the holiday. He said the key to a good holiday breakfast is ensuring that it can be made in advance and heated with ease before the meal.
“People loved it,” he said. “It was a nice way to relax.”
A perfect recipe to be made the night before Christmas is Miller’s baked French toast with pecan streusel topping. The challah bread can be battered and allowed to soak overnight, while the streusel can be prepared a day in advance.
Once breakfast is about an hour away, the toast is coated with the streusel and baked. Once cooked, the dish is dusted with confectioners’ sugar and ready to serve.
Miller also wanted to serve eggs Benedict with his meal. But the thought of poaching eggs and making hollandaise from scratch on Christmas didn’t seem like a mellow way to play out the morning.
Miller adapted the traditional recipe to one that could be prepared in advance and heated in the oven before the meal. His “strata-style” Benedict actually calls for the mixed ingredients to refrigerate for several hours before baking.
First, half an English muffin and a slice of Canadian bacon are placed in the bottom of an 8-ounce ramekin or layered in a casserole dish coated with nonstick spray. The dish is then topped with a mixture of milk, eggs, diced shallots, nutmeg and lemon zest and allowed to sit for several hours.
The dish is then baked for about a half-hour until browned. Miller said the dish is perfect to cook while the morning coffee is brewing, but can also be baked several days in advance and then reheated at low temperature with foil on top to prevent it from becoming too dark.
Miller accompanied both recipes with an assortment of fresh fruit, smoked sausage and bacon. The spread was easy to make the night before and was a hit among his guests.
“It was real nice,” he said.
Roseann Hotaling, the owner of the Country Corner Cafe in Saratoga Springs, typically cooks for just her family. She likes to make classics like eggs Benedict traditional style, with poached eggs and hollandaise.
But when it comes to simplifying, she also tends to cook eggs strata-style. A family favorite is one that is layered with good bread, summer sausage, eggs and seasonings that can be served with a citrus side dish like broiled grapefruit.
“And it can be made a night before,” she said.
That allows Hotaling to have a quiet morning spent with a book and a relaxing cup of coffee, rather than toiling in the kitchen. The rest of the family sleeps in, so she times the strata for when they awake and doesn’t have to worry about cooking.
Of course the most relaxing way to enjoy Christmas breakfast is to have someone else make it. Matt Baumgartner, the owner of Bombers Burritos in Schenectady and Albany, leaves all the cooking up to his mother in Utica.
Baumgartner’s mother is of Italian descent, and the family’s Christmas tradition is steeped heavily with dishes from the old country. The morning usually consists of coffee and sweet Italian baked goods, like cannoli.
The big meal of the day is served around noon, though it is considered Christmas dinner. The meal consists of homemade ricotta-filled ravioli as a starter course, a take on Italian wedding soup and then a traditional baked ham to round out the day.
Despite having a very successful restaurant, Baumgartner is never asked to cook. He says his ability never stands up to the women of his family, who take holiday cooking to a new level.
“Their cooking ability is amazing,” he said.
The following recipes are from Chef Dale Miller, the executive chef at Sperry’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs.
Baked French Toast with Pecan Streusel Topping
Can be made a week in advance and kept refrigerated
1⁄4 pound butter, cut into small dice
1⁄2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup pecans, finely chopped
Combine butter, brown sugar and flour in a medium bowl and blend well, rubbing the ingredients between your hands in a back-and-forth motion until the mixture resembles small peas. Add in the chopped pecans and stir until thoroughly mixed.
Baked French Toast:
1 pound-loaf challah bread
3 tablespoons soft butter for baking dish
8 large eggs
2 cup milk
1 cup half-and-half
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3⁄4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Maple syrup, warmed
1. Slice challah bread into 3⁄4-inch slices
2. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, half-and-half, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and whisk until blended.
3. Dip each slice of challah in the egg mixture and arrange and stagger the slices in a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
4. Pour the remaining mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
5. The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Uncover French toast and sprinkle streusel evenly over the bread layers.
6. Place the foil back over the pan and place on the middle rack. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for about another 15 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and serve with warm maple syrup.
Eggs Benedict “Strata Style”
12 servings. Can be made in 12 8-ounce round ramekins, or in a 9-by-13-inch rectangular casserole dish.
6 English muffins split, lightly toasted and buttered
12 slices Canadian bacon, lightly fried on each side
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons shallot, minced
4 cup milk
8 large eggs
1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 teaspoon lemon zest
dash of hot sauce
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
pan spray or soft butter
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Spray ramekins or pan with nonstick spray or lightly coat with soft butter. Place half of a prepared English muffin each in the bottom of each ramekin and top with one slice of Canadian bacon. Or shingle the muffins and bacon in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch rectangular casserole or cake pan.
3. Heat olive oil in a small pan and lightly sauté the shallot.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, shallot, nutmeg and lemon zest. Season to taste with a dash of tabasco and salt and pepper.
5. Pour 1⁄2 cup of mixture into each ramekins, or if using casserole, pour mixture over muffins and bacon. Top with chopped parsley.
6. Let sit for several hours and press down muffin and bacon if they float to the top. Bake in the center of 350 degree oven until puffed, golden and firm to the touch or a knife inserted near center comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes.
7. Allow to set for about 15 to 20 minutes before serving.