Let’s Do Brunch

Turns out, everyone’s favorite meal does not have to be labor intensive. This make-ahead menu is just right for seriously laid-back weekend entertaining.

Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

Croque Madame Casserole

Traditional croque madames are made one at a time, but this casserole cuts the work in half. No sweat!

12 slices day-old, thick-cut white bread
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
3 1/4 cups grated Gruyere (about 10 ounces), divided
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
12 thin slices Black Forest ham
6 large eggs
nonstick cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. If bread is not a day old or still feels moist, arrange slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake, flipping once, until dry to the touch but not toasted, 5 – 10 minutes. Using a 2-inch ring, cookie cutter or sharp paring knife, cut a hole in the center of six bread slices. Trim bread to fit in two even layers in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, with the whole slices on the bottom and the slices with holes on the top, forming six sandwiches. Remove from dish.
2. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until light golden brown and thickened, about 3 minutes. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, whisking, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, 4 – 6 minutes. Reduce heat to very low. Whisk in nutmeg, 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Whisk in 1 cup Gruyere a handful at a time.
3. Spread 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of a greased baking dish. Arrange six whole slices of bread in a single layer. Spread Dijon evenly on bread. Top each slice with two slices of ham. Spread another third of the sauce over ham. Sprinkle with 1 cup Gruyere. Place six bread slices with holes on top. Spread remaining sauce over sandwiches. Crack one egg into each hole. Sprinkle with remaining Gruyere. Season with remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.
4. Spray a large piece of foil with nonstick spray. Place foil, greased side down, over baking dish, and fold to seal. Bake on middle rack for 20 minutes. Remove foil, increase oven temperature to 400 degrees, move dish to top rack of oven, and bake until egg whites are just barely set and yolks are still runny (eggs will continue to cook slightly when removed from oven), 8 – 12 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Casserole serves 6

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Cold Brew Latte

You can pour one latte at a time, or serve a pitcher of cold brew coffee with a few coffee ice cubes in it for self-service.

2/3 cup ground high-quality coffee
3 cups filtered water
6 cups vanilla almond milk (or milk of choice)

1. In a large pitcher, stir together ground coffee and water. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Strain the coffee through a cheesecloth into another pitcher to remove coffee grounds. (You may need to strain twice.)
3. Pour chilled coffee into two ice cube trays and freeze.
4. Fill each serving glass with coffee ice cubes. Top with almond milk and serve. You can easily adjust the strength of the latte by using more or less coffee ice cubes. Serves 6.

Praline Bacon

Nothing could be better than crispy, fatty bacon covered in a crunchy layer of brûléed sugar! Welcome to your new addiction.

8 slices bacon
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top.
2. Arrange bacon in a single layer on rack. Bake 20 minutes.
3. While bacon cooks, combine brown sugar and pecans in a small bowl.
4. Flip bacon and sprinkle with brown sugar mixture. Bake 10 – 15 minutes longer or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool 10 – 15 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

Asparagus Tarte

Flour, for work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
1 1/2 pounds medium asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly flour a work surface and roll the puff pastry to make a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Place the dough on a baking sheet and pierce with a fork repeatedly. Run a sharp knife around the dough 1 inch from the edge to make a border that will puff. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
2. Rinse the asparagus, dry and discard the tough ends. Remove pastry from oven and sprinkle with cheese. Arrange asparagus in a single layer over cheese. Brush with oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until asparagus is tender, 20 – 25 minutes. Serves 8.

The Elvis Scone

Inspired by the scones Jennifer Haffner whips up at Warehouse Bakery in Fairhope, these pastries are truly fit for The King!

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for dusting
1/4 pound unsalted butter
2 teaspoons creamy peanut butter
1 small banana, diced
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.
2. Cut cold butter into small pieces and work into flour mixture with your hands or a pastry cutter until well-combined. Use your fingers to separate the peanut butter into small lumps and scatter over the flour mixture. Gently stir in the banana, chocolate chips and peanut butter. Make a well in the center of the bowl and add the cream. Gently incorporate the cream until the dough pulls together.
3. Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto the flour. Gently pat the dough together until it makes a solid form, and press or roll it out to be about 1-inch thick. Cut with a 3-inch biscuit cutter and place on a cookie sheet.
4. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.You can either freeze scones in a plastic bag and save for future use or bake immediately.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine egg with 1 tablespoon water in a small dish. Arrange scones on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper and use a pastry brush to brush the tops with egg wash. Sprinkle sugar over the scones. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes 10.


No-Fuss Bagel Brunch

No time to cook? Or just don’t want the hassle? There’s no need to sweat it when you want company to go with your next bloody mary. Try our “straight from the grocery bag” bagel bar. It’s self-serve, so guests can eat when they are ready without the host slaving over a hot stove. Just follow these tips for sure success:

  • Start with salmon. Smoked fish, cream cheese, capers, red onion and lemon wedges are a brunch staple.
  • Add something sweet. Butter, jam and a few cinnamon raisin bagels will please the breakfast traditionalists.
  • Go veg! Hummus, avocado and some sliced tomatoes are key.
  • Don’t forget a few extras! Mix your own “everything bagel” seasoning with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sea salt, dried garlic and dried onions. Guests will love to sprinkle it over a schmear.
  • Lettuce always adds a nice jolt of color to the oversized platter.
  • Luxe toppings like caviar are a sure hit!

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