Prep ahead, sleep in, get all the compliments.

By Stacey Ballis
October 31, 2019
Manny Rodriguez/Getty Images

With the holidays bearing down upon us, many are faced with the eternal brunch dilemma. Whether you are hosting a festive brunch as part of your regular holiday entertaining or have a house full of guests who require more than a bowl of cold cereal for their morning sustenance, the problems remain. You are essentially planning the equivalent of an elegant dinner party that takes place at an hour usually reserved for a second cup of coffee in your pajamas before your mid-morning pre-football nap. And which is worse, during a season where you very likely will have an event you have either hosted or attended the evening previous, and you may be working on not only limited sleep but potentially slightly fuzzy morning-after mental capacity.

So how do you set yourself up for morning success, even if you know the night before is going to be a late one? Here are some tips to get you through.

Set the stage

The major key to hosting brunch is to do as much as you can ahead, starting with prepping the space. Carve out a chunk of time the day before and do a few key things in advance. Set the table, set up the buffet, and lay out all the serving pieces you will need. My grandmother always put little slips of paper in serving dishes with the name of what would eventually go in them, and I do the same whether my party starts at 8 a.m. or 8 p.m. That way as items get finished, there is already a place to put them and a relevant way to get portions to plates.

Prep the beverages

Next, address your beverage needs. Because people will happily wait for food if they have access to appropriate fluids. Set up the coffee machine so that it can just get turned on when you wake, batch a brunch cocktail or two, put your half-and-half in the fancy creamer your Aunt Julie gave you for your wedding and stash it in the fridge. Fill the kettle with water and set out some tea bags and the honey bear. Put your juices in lovely carafes, and get all of the required mugs, glasses, spoons and the like out and ready to go. I usually set up a self-service beverage station somewhere a bit apart from the food so that people can help themselves.

Cook while you snooze

Consider an overnight slow-cooker hot porridge, like oatmeal or grits or even a congee. There are many recipes that allow you to set them up the night before and heat gently on low while you sleep. A stack of bowls, some garnishes like dried fruit, brown sugar and spices, and some spoons and you can wake up to one dish that is ready to go! The same goes for baked goods that are frozen as dough and then both thaw and rise overnight in the fridge for a quick morning bake. Cinnamon rolls, croissants and the like can all be bought frozen for ease and still be fresh and warm in the morning.

Lay out the spread

Think condiments. You can get away with a whole lot of food cheats if you have the right adornments. No one will quibble over store -bought scones or biscuits if you have artisanal jam and fancy butter. And the best part is that both can be set out up to four hours before, so that the jam will be at its best flavor without the chill of the fridge on it, and the butter will be perfectly softened for spreading. Grass-fed Kerrygold salted is the gold standard for anointing breakfast breads, it has a rich creaminess, and the light amount of salt makes for a great balance on any sort of morning carbs. This includes getting stirred into that bowl of steel cut oatmeal or grits, and having it at room temperature allows for that to be an easy emulsification of richness into the mix, instead of melting slowly on top into greasiness.

Make it better with butter

Butter is also your best friend when it comes to morning eggs. Frozen butter grated into your beaten eggs for scrambles, omelets, and frittatas keeps them extra tender even if they have to be held warm for a crowd. For this I use Kerrygold unsalted Irish butter, or if I am feeling really fancy, their garlic and herb butter which turns your basic morning scramble into something really elegant with no additional effort.

Hatch a batch

If you don’t think you will have the bandwidth for managing egg service, there are many morning casseroles that can be assembled up to two days before, and then baked fresh in the morning. A vegetable strata, a French toast casserole, cheesy hashed browns—all can be prepped and then popped in a preheated oven for a centerpiece main dish with minimal fuss, and there are variations that address any number of dietary restrictions. Bacon, Canadian bacon and sausage patties can be laid out on a rack over a sheet pan for oven cooking in large batches that don’t have you manning a sputtering stovetop pan while guests are gathering, risking pork grease spatters on your best brunch caftan.

Lighten the load

If you are hosting a brunch that includes guests who are not sleeping in your house? When they offer to bring something, let them. Whether it is a coffee cake or doughnuts from the great bakery near their house, a bowl of fruit salad or tray of cookies, there is no shame in letting people help. Same for ordering in some platters to be delivered the morning of. Local delis will put together a perfect bagel and lox spread with all the accoutrements and bring it right to your home, and you can fill in the buffet as needed. Often the expense is no more than buying and assembling yourself, and the stress reduction and extra 20 minutes of sleep are priceless.

Finally, take a deep breath. At the end of the day, it is just brunch. By its nature, a gathering of slightly sleepy people who like each other eating way too much and lingering over coffee and bloody marys. Serve whatever you serve with love and let the brunch chips fall as they may. 

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