By Cindy Dampier and Joe Gray
December 23, 2009
But in all that last-minute hustle, aimed squarely at presents and Christmas dinner, it can be easy to overlook another holiday tradition: Christmas breakfast. For all the visions of stacked blueberry pancakes and crisp hot bacon that dance in our heads, it's often hard to pull off a brilliant breakfast when the gift-wrap flies and an uncooked holiday dinner looms in the kitchen. We know all about it — the road to cold Pop-Tarts and paper plates is paved with good intentions. That's why we devised a plan that will keep that breakfast ball from dropping and cement your hostess-with-the-mostess status with a table so festive they'll think it's another Christmas miracle. Don't worry, it's so easy you'll hardly muss your bouffant. Here's how:
1. Make your grocery run count. Add a few items to your list when you're headed to the supermarket for the extra eggs you forgot to get for the nog: A bundle or two of inexpensive evergreen branches from the floral aisle. Ingredients for our supereasy make-ahead breakfast. (See our menu for details.) A roll or two of extra ribbon.
2. Grab the gift-wrap. Those leftover wrapping supplies can give your table a lot of oomph for no extra money, and topping the table with the same wrap you put under the tree means that your tabletop look instantly coordinates with the rest of the holiday decorations. Pick your favorite roll and unfurl a length of it down your table. Fold it to the right width for a table runner (around 18 inches, but do what looks good to you). Trim the ends with pinking shears to get the right length. (We like our runner about 6 inches from the end of the table.) Got extra gift tags lying around? Tie your napkins with a bit of gift-wrap ribbon, and attach a gift tag as a place card.
3. Raid the tree. Since the moment is all about gifts, grab a few small ones and make a long, low stack down the center of the table, on top of your gift-wrap runner. (Don't worry, you'll open them when breakfast is over, which means everyone will be eager to help clear the table.)
Tuck in those evergreen branches you picked up at the supermarket. Sneak around to the back of the tree, and grab three to five ornaments; add those to the table too. Use the extra ribbon you picked up (or leftovers) to top it off, allowing ribbon to curl through the presents like streamers. In total, dressing the table with things you have on hand should take about 15 minutes.
4. Do some prep. Go ahead and put dishes, glasses, etc., on the table so that morning finds you ready to serve. Then prep our do-ahead menu, tuck it in the fridge and settle down for a long winter's nap, secure in the knowledge that, come Christmas dawn (if the kids can wait that long), wrapping paper may be flying, kids may be screaming and chaos may reign, but a festive breakfast will be a snap.
Baked cinnamon- apple French toast
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 60 minutes
Makes: 8 servings
You can cut down the work of making French toast to almost nothing with this baked version from "Gale Gand's Brunch!" — the eponymously named cookbook from the nationally known pastry chef and star of "Sweet Dreams," formerly on the Food Network. Gand describes the dish as being "somewhere between French toast and bread pudding." Fine by us. Prepare on Christmas Eve, then on Christmas morning, heat the oven and bake while the kids rip into their gifts.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
6 medium apples, peeled, cored, cut in ¼-inch slices
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 slices thick bread, toasted
8 large eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
3 ½ cups whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
Honey butter, see recipe
Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat until it starts to foam; add the apples. Cook until tender, 10 minutes. Off the heat, stir in brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Cut toast in half diagonally to make triangles; arrange triangles, overlapping, in a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Beat eggs in a bowl; whisk in sugar, milk and vanilla. Pour over toast triangles; spoon apples over the top. Cover; refrigerate overnight.
Christmas morning, heat oven to 350 degrees; bake French toast, uncovered, until custard is set and doesn't shimmy when you shake pan, 50-60 minutes. It will puff up and brown slightly. Remove from oven; let rest 10 minutes. Serve with maple syrup or honey butter.
Honey butter: Beat 1 stick unsalted, softened butter in a bowl with a wooden spoon; mix in pinch salt and 1 tablespoon honey. Pack into a ramekin; serve at room temperature. Or melt in a saucepan and serve hot.
Per serving: 371 calories, 29% of calories from fat, 12 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 230 mg cholesterol, 55 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 270 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
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