Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter brunch, or day-drinking for Jesus

I love the cozy warmth of Christmas Eve, and our family’s annual July 4th lobster bake at the beach, and the childlike excitement that I still feel on my birthday. But without question, my favorite food holiday is Easter, thanks to Easter brunch.

Brunch is the Holly Golightly of meals: Effortlessly sophisticated. Charmingly boozy. Sleeps past 9:00 am and rolls out of bed looking fabulous. It combines the best of breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktail hour, and dessert into a sweet and savory gastronomic extravaganza that lasts for hours. Anything goes at brunch. Bacon? Quiche? Ham? Yes, yes, and yes. Cake at the same time? Of course! Mimosas? Obviously. Day drinking is required business at brunch.  

Brian and I have been hosting Easter brunch since we got married, and every occasion holds a memory that I’ll never forget. Like the year I nearly lost a layer of foot skin when I dropped a spatula-full of 400-degree stuffed French toast onto my bare tootsies. Or the time my buddy Jon brought this creepily delicious Rice Crispy Treat lamb:
Since there’s something inherently lazy and decadent about brunch, it requires a lazy and decadent starring meal. At our house, the star of brunch is bread pudding.
Bread pudding is really just glorified French toast, but there are many reasons why bread pudding wins the breakfast battle every time: It can be prepared entirely the night before; it cooks in the oven in a single pan, eliminating the need for over-the-griddle tending; the custard fully soaks into the bread and always cooks completely; it can be served warm or cold; and it tastes better. You know what? Just stop making French toast altogether.
Bread pudding also lends itself well to rich and delicious accessorizing. This year I paired it with caramel-bourbon sauce and homemade whipped cream. So good, so easy. It’s truly an instance where the finished dish is much, much bigger than the sum of its parts.
Let’s say you’re hosting your brunch at 10:30 am on Sunday and want to serve bread pudding with caramel-bourbon sauce and homemade whipped cream.
First you’ll need:
½ dozen eggs
Milk (I used 2%)
Vanilla Extract
White sugar
A loaf of cinnamon swirl bread
Brown sugar
Light corn syrup
Pint of whipping cream
One nip of bourbon
On Saturday afternoon:  
Make the caramel-bourbon sauce (recipe slightly adapted from Epicurious) by melting and whisking 6 tablespoons of butter, 1 cup packed dark brown sugar, ½ cup whipping cream, ¼ cup light corn syrup, and ½ teaspoon of salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for one minute without stirring it. Pull it off the heat and add 3 tablespoons of bourbon. Pour into a glass container, like a mason jar, and cool for a while on the counter before covering and putting it into the refrigerator.
Pour the rest of the whipping cream and ¼ cup of white sugar into a glass bowl and beat it with an electric hand mixer until it becomes whipped cream. Cover and put it into the refrigerator.
Make the custard for the bread pudding (recipe adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book) by combining 6 beaten eggs with 2 ¾ cups of milk, ¾ cups sugar; and 2 tablespoons of vanilla. Cover and put it into the refrigerator.
Right before bed on Saturday night:
Place the slices of the cinnamon bread into a single layer on cookie sheets to let the bread dry out overnight.
At 8:00 Sunday morning:
Break the pieces of now-dry bread into chunks and put into a greased 9x13 baking pan.
Pull the custard mixture out of the fridge, whisk it a little, and pour it over the pieces of bread. Stir it around and push the pieces down to make sure all the bread gets wet. Cover the pan and put it back in the fridge.
At 9:30 Sunday morning:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the bread pudding for 35-40-minutes, until it’s puffy and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let it set on the table until it’s time to serve.
While the bread pudding is in the oven:
Warm and loosen the caramel-bourbon sauce by placing it (in its glass container) in a bowl or pan of hot water.
To serve:
Scoop out a large spoonful of the bread pudding, drizzle with the caramel-bourbon sauce, and top with a dollop of whipped cream.
Oh dream maker, you heartbreaker. Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.

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