You’re a season that means big changes for cooks. Our thoughts turn to lighter fare and dishes that remind us of warmer weather and fresh-from-the-garden ingredients. You’ve also become the season of brunch, whether it’s brunch in a restaurant or one prepared at home.
Part breakfast and part lunch, brunch is one terrific meal. It allows us to combine eggs and other breakfast fare with quite a mix of sweet and savory dishes and ingredients. Brunch can be casual or gussied up for special occasions. At this time of year, asparagus and fresh greens help make it cheerful and colorful.
For our brunch issue this year, we’re offering a selection of our latest favorite recipes as well as some past favorites.
The Dreamy Lemon Cheesecake screams spring. It’s lemony flavor is in every part of the cheesecake: the crust, the batter and the lemon curd topping.
Bacon is mainstay on brunch menus, and the recipe for Sea Salt Caramel Bacon Bread Pudding is an amazing treat you can prepare in advance.
Asparagus is a spring must-have, and the Asparagus Fontina Tart is a longtime favorite. You can serve it hot or at room temperature. It, too, can be made in advance because it reheats well.
Here are a few things to remember when planning a brunch:
Have a menu plan and do as much as you can in advance. Many egg, potato and casserole-type of dishes reheat well. Menu items like bacon can be prepared in advance.
Will you be serving a complete meal or will you have small plates or appetizer-like dishes? Set everything out in advance.
Take stock of your glassware, dishes or china, linens and silverware.
Accents of flowers and fresh small plants or herbs make inexpensive centerpieces and add color to your brunch table.
Don’t forget cocktails. You can serve spicy Bloody Marys or mimosas made with a variety of juices.
DREAMY LEMON CHEESECAKE
Serves: 12 / Prep time: 1 hour / Total time: 3 hours (plus cooling and overnight chilling time)
Baking the cheesecake in a water bath helps prevent the top from cracking. And if it does crack, no worries. The top is covered with a layer of lemon curd. You can use lemon curd from the store or make your own. Before making this cheesecake, make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature.
2 1/2 cups crushed cream-filled lemon sandwich cookies (such as Lemon Oreo Sandwich Cookies) (about 25 cookies)
2 1/2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
5 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon zest plus 5 tablespoons fresh juice (about 2 large lemons)
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
Yellow food coloring gel paste
1 cup lemon curd (recipe follows or use store-bought)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap the outside of a lightly greased 9-inch shiny springform pan in a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Stir together crushed cookies and melted butter in a bowl. Press onto bottom of prepared pan.
Bake until lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Cool on a wire rack until ready to use. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
In a mixer bowl, beat cream cheese on medium speed until creamy, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and flour, beating until smooth. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears after each addition. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears after each addition. Stir in lemon zest, lemon juice and heavy cream.
Place 3 cups of the batter in a medium bowl. Using a wooden pick, add a small amount of food coloring gel paste to the 3 cups of batter. Stir until batter is pale yellow, adding more gel paste if necessary.
Dollop half of untinted batter into prepared crust. Dollop half of pale yellow-tinted batter on top of untinted batter dollops. Swirl together, using a small knife, to create a marbled look. Repeat procedure with remaining halves of untinted and pale yellow-tinted batters. Place springform pan in a roasting pan. Add boiling water to reach about halfway up sides of springform pan.
Bake until center is almost set but still slightly wobbly, 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes. Turn off oven and let cheesecake stand in oven with door partially open for 1 hour.
Remove cheesecake from roasting pan and water bath, and place on wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours. Cover with plastic wrap, using wooden picks to prevent plastic wrap from touching top of cheesecake. Chill 8 to 24 hours.
Gently run a knife around outer edge of cheesecake to loosen from sides of pan. Remove sides of pan. Spread top with 1 cup Lemon Curd.
Adapted from Southern Living magazine, February 2017 issue.
Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
Makes: about 3 cups / Prep time: 30 minutes / Total time: 45 minutes (plus chilling time)
This lemon curd will keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator
1/2 cup salted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon zest, plus 1 cup fresh juice (about 4 large lemons)
Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until blended, about 45 seconds. Add eggs and egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Gradually add lemon juice to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in zest. (Mixture will look curdled.)
Transfer mixture to a heavy 4-quart saucepan and cook, whisking constantly, over medium-low until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, 14 to 16 minutes.
Transfer curd to a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on warm curd (to prevent a film from forming). Chill until firm, about 4 hours.
SALTED CARAMEL BACON BREAD PUDDING
Serves: 8 / Prep time: 30 minutes / Total time: 2 hours (not all active time)
Brace yourself. This is the ultimate bread pudding. It’s sweet, salty and savory all in one bite. You’ll get at least 8 servings out of the recipe, and you can easily cut the pieces into appetizer-size portions. Be sure to use bread that’s several days old so it’s dry. You can also dry bread in the oven at 300 degrees for 20-30 minutes.
SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE
2 cups cane or granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
7 large eggs
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 to 12 brioche rolls (dinner roll size), 2 days old, cut into 2-inch cubes (or use other favorite rolls)
1/4 cup finely chopped cooked bacon, plus 4 to 6 strips cooked thick-cut bacon for garnish
Sea salt to taste
To make caramel sauce: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid, combine the sugar and 1/4 cup water. Stir gently until mixture is consistency of wet sand. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, reduce heat to low and cook until sugar begins to caramelize and take on color of dark honey.
Remove from heat and stir in butter with a long-handled whisk. When the butter is fully melted, stir in 1 cup cream and finish with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Let sauce cool for 20 minutes before tasting or using. The sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
To make bread pudding: In large bowl, whisk eggs, brown sugar, whipping cream and vanilla until completely combined. Add bread cubes and chopped bacon and toss to let bread soak up egg mixture. Lightly press bread mixture into the bowl. Cover surface of bread mixture with plastic and set it aside to rest for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9- by 13-inch baking pan (metal preferred). Spread 1/4 cup caramel sauce on bottom of pan, followed by half the bread mixture, then 1/4 cup caramel sauce, a pinch of sea salt, then the rest of the bread mixture, and another pinch of sea salt. Drizzle 1/4 cup caramel sauce on top. Serve any extra caramel sauce on the side.
Adapted from “Egg Shop, the Cookbook,” by Nick Korbee (William Morrow, $35.)
Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
ASPARAGUS FONTINA TART
Serves: 6 / Prep time: 15 minutes / Total time: 45 minutes
You can also cut this tart into smaller squares and serve it as an appetizer.
Flour, for work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
5 1/2 ounces (2 cups) Fontina or Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 1/2 pounds medium asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16-inch-by-10-inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges. Place pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, pierce dough inside the markings at 1/2-inch intervals.
Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove pastry shell from oven and sprinkle with the cheese. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell; arrange in a single layer over Gruyere, alternating ends and tips. Brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Bake until spears are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
Adapted from www.marthastewart.com
Tested by Susan M. Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen.
TARRAGON DEVILED EGGS
Makes: 12 / Prep time: 20 minutes / Total time: 30 minutes
6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
2 tablespoons chopped shallots or green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 cup fat-free or light mayonnaise
1/4 cup fat-free or light sour cream
1 to 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Dash of hot red pepper sauce, optional
Salt and black pepper to taste
Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Remove the cooked yolks to a medium bowl and mash them with a fork. Set aside the egg white halves.
Add the shallots and tarragon to the egg yolks and mix together. Add the mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, garlic powder, hot red pepper sauce, salt and black pepper. Mix until slightly smooth.
Fill the egg whites with the yolk mixture. If desired, sprinkle the tops with paprika.
Cook’s note: If the mixture is not creamy enough for your taste, add more mayonnaise as desired. Adjust the seasonings as necessary to your own taste.
From and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
43 calories (50 percent from fat), 2 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 2 g carbohydrate, 3 g protein, 84 mg sodium, 93 mg cholesterol, 20 mg calcium, 0 g fiber.
HAM, LEEK AND MUSHROOM QUICHE
Serves: 6 / Preparation time: 20 minutes / Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
1 pastry crust for a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan
1 egg white
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup sliced leeks (about 2 leeks, white and light-green parts only, washed well)
2 cups chopped ham
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups fat-free or regular half-and-half
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups favorite shredded cheese, divided
3 green onions, washed, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, with rack in lowest position. Fit the pie crust into a 9-inch pie plate and flute a high edge. Brush the bottom of the crust with egg white. Fit another pie pan into the crust to hold it in so it doesn’t shrink. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add the leeks, ham and red pepper and sauté about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they release their liquid and the liquid evaporates, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, Dijon, cornstarch, pepper and salt.
Remove the pie crust from the oven. Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese on the bottom of the crust and top with the ham mixture. Pour egg mixture on top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and green onions.
Bake until center of quiche is just set, about 45 to 50 minutes. If the edges start to get too brown, cover them with pieces of foil.
Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
From and tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
435 calories (54 percent from fat), 26 g fat (11 g saturated fat), 22 g carbohydrates, 26 g protein, 344 mg sodium, 208 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber.
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