Brunch by numbers
While we’re all for the Bohemian devil-may-care, last-minute-makes-merry approach, we’re also rooting for the intensely detail-obsessed who like every moment and morsel to be carefully calculated. From the fold of the napkin to the shine on the butter knife and choice of butter, the pulp (or for others, a lack thereof) in the orange juice, the delicate mix of salty, sweet, sour, fruity, bitter and baked … all minutely measured and properly balanced. Whatever madness guides your method, it’s important to go in with a game plan – it’ll decide what they say about you and your spread when you’re out of earshot. Jokes and the perfect 10-minute egg aside, designing your brunch is an essential step to avoiding any faux pas. Here’s our take on doing brunch by numbers.
If you’re hoping to avoid headaches, heartaches and heartburn, then write up a chronological to-do list you can check off as each item is conquered. Remember: the bigger the brunch, the sweeter the victory. Let’s assume that before you begin that you’ve actually sent invitations and have received the bulk of the RSVPs. Now, if you’re sitting comfortably, let’s begin.
Prepare a menu
Don’t leave this to the night before. That’s Brunch 101. Will it be pre-prepared off-the-shelf gourmet fare, entirely homemade or a mix of both? The latter is better we think. A few items from that favourite foodie boutique can punctuate a plate perfectly and complement whatever you’re whipping up in the home kitchen. Work towards a comfortable combination of hot and cold platters. Lean towards hot when the weather’s cool, and cooler when things heat up. Themes are always fun; go Hollywood or try something with a little international flair. And an indoor picnic is sure to arouse both curiosity and appetites! A brunch can be all seafood, all vegan or all over the place; centred on the closest holiday, a special birthday or to celebrate the arrival of spring, summer, winter, fall or your best friend from high school you haven’t seen since graduation. Anything goes.
Evaluate the space
Inviting 20 guests? Then the breakfast nook probably isn’t the right venue. Size matters, so be sure to carefully match ambition to accommodation. Sitting atop some prime backyard real estate blessed with equal parts shade and shine? Then consider an outdoor do. Rule
of thumb: only after Mother’s Day and rarely after Labour Day. If you’re limited in your indoor area, then keep an open mind about a more casual eat-where-you-stand-or-sit setting rather than a more formal table arrangement.
Prepare the space
It can be as simple as putting on the holiday tablecloth or as complex as a complete thematic dining room makeover. Flowers are fabulous, a touch of mood lighting, some
ambient music. Think it out, plan it through, then rinse and repeat. No need to go overboard, done right, sweet and simple can be as sophisticated as showy and spectacular.
Anticipate the unexpected
Surprises crash every party, and brunch is no exception. Imagine what could go wrong and have a Plan B. B is for brunch. Here’s what you should hope not to expect: a toaster that won’t toast, one less chair than guests (excellent though, if you plan to play musical chairs after), running low on wine or essentials such as butter, cream, sugar, salt, pepper and a well-seasoned sense of humour.
Tips for terrific tables
Brunch isn’t breakfast, so you’ll need to lay out more than a plate, cereal bowl and bread plate along with the butter knife, jam spoon and fork. Empty the cutlery drawer and clear out the china cabinet so you can wow your guests with a collection of eating implements as varied as the menu.
On the left: table fork, salad fork, fruit fork and dessert fork.
On the right: table knife, butter knife, serrated knife and cheese knife. Dessert spoon, jam spoon and coffee spoon.
Silver is supreme; stainless is select, plastic … poison. Don’t feel you need a matched set; odds and ends from antique and curio shops cost next to nothing and round out a collection nicely. You’ll really stun them if not a single piece pairs with any other. For extra points, make sure the mismatch appears entirely intentional. Serving with silver? Don’t let laziness tarnish your reputation; shining up the sterling (or plated) is going to reflect well on the host. That’s you.
Top 15 toasty tunes
Au café des délices
The Rolling Stones
Du pain et du beurre
Weird Al Yankovic
Eggs over easy
Les petits pains au chocolat
Strawberry fields forever
Some group from Liverpool
The spam song
Va te faire cuire un œuf
Patrick Topaloff & Charlotte Julian
All kidding aside, choosing the right music isn’t easy. Tastes vary and what makes one guest tap their toes might make another roll their eyes. One way to take the burden of being DJ off your shoulders is to serve up your favourite streaming music – it comes in all flavours, and it’s as easy to switch moods as it is to butter toast. Gauge your guests and dial in what seems to make most of them smile. If you’re not sure what rocks the crowd, then best to keep it to innocuous background melodies. Brunch is a social event, and if music dominates the conversation then there’s the chance little else is going to be said. Try something ambient, New Agey or even a little light chamber music. This should make it easy to remember: The food should be from heaven and the music from the elevator.
10 unexpected brunch favourites
Sure, you can rely on those trusted brunch stalwarts: croissant and toast, beans, bacon by the bucket and the obsequious slice of cantaloupe, all while foisting off those countless tiny jam jars from gift baskets you received over the years. Or, opt for creativity and show them how well you can research exotic food on the Internet.
Egg, bacon and ramen noodle soup:
Fusion cuisine done right!
Japanese cabbage pancakes:
Didn’t see that coming, did you?
Russian pancakes … on a yeast diet, so they’re puff-a-licious. Think blintz.
Quail, brie and spring vegetable frittata:
As if anyone needs a reason to serve quail.
Candied buttermilk doughnuts:
For the dessert end of the brunch table.
Don’t bother pronouncing it – just enjoy this open-faced dark rye sandwich with whatever fløts your bøat. We recommend eggs, smoked salmon, cured meats.
Poached eggs, but replace the water with tomatoes, chili peppers, onions, and sprinkle on plenty of cumin.
Lemon-cured fish. It’s borderline exotic, particularly for the breakfast sausage crowd.
Vegan French toast:
Out go the eggs, in come the soy beverage and flour. It’s trendy.
Sticky toffee flapjacks:
Like regular flapjacks, but sticky, because of the toffee.
Green eggs and ham:
It’s possible, and easy; a dash of food dye in a poached egg and you’re as good as Sam.
Spiked and liked – alcohol, brunch, and company
Here are the ABCs of serving alcohol for brunch: in moderation, preferably in a glass. It’s not about tying one on with toast on the side, but adding flavour to the experience. Here are five brunchable* drinks that’ll go well with nearly anything!
Strawberry grapefruit mimosa:
Like the classic, but so much better.
Go classic (green tea doesn’t cut it), then add either bourbon, whiskey, rum or gin. Apparently Chai tea and Coureur des Bois maple whisky liqueur packs a tasty punch.
Heavy on the OJ and preferably made with white wine – serve freezer-cold.
Hot White Russian:
All of the zing of a cold White Russian, but with a dollop of cream and fresh-brewed coffee. Wake up and chill out at the same time!
Any white wine that is sweet, light, fruity and low in alcohol works!
* Strictly speaking “brunchable” is not an actual word. But nor is this a grammar lesson. ;-)
Brunch bread bonanza
White square loaf: Smooth, slightly elastic, medium honeycomb crumb
Milk bread: Tender crust, soft, dense crumb, slightly sweet and buttery
Whole-wheat loaf: Thick, dark brown crust, densely textured crumb
Wheat sourdough: Honeycomb crumb, firm, golden crust
Organic sourdough: Slightly sweet, firm and dense
Country-style bread: Large white and rye flour loaf with thick crust and dense crumb
Country-style round loaf: A breakfast classic with a thick crust and rustic appeal
Raisin, honey & hazelnut: Aromatic, dense and flavour-filled
Cheese bread: Moist, tender crumb accented with aged cheddar
The perfect egg in perfect time
Brunch without eggs is like Christmas without snow. But you’d be surprised how eggs can be as tough to master as they are to keep from breaking. Here’s a guide, but if you scour the Interweb, you’ll find about as many ways to make the perfect egg as there are chicken-crossing-the-road jokes.
Steaming is an excellent option when it comes to large and extra-large eggs, and perfection is possible if you use a steamer. Bring water to a boil and gently place the eggs on the surface of the steamer, cover and steam as desired. Immerse the eggs in cold water
to stop the cooking process.
Never break an egg directly into a skillet; it’s a sure-fire way to yuck the yolk. Rather, break it into a ramekin or small bowl and gently slide it into the pan. That is, unless you prefer perpetually serving up half-scrambled eggs.
Soft boiled: 5 minutes
Hard boiled: 14 minutes: an absolute necessity for devilled eggs. Trust us on this one.
Sunny side up: Preheat non-stick skillet on medium setting, melt in a pat of butter, then gently plop in the eggs and cook to desired yolk firmness (generally 2 to 3 minutes).
Easy over: Do sunny side up, easy-peasy, then flip eggs over for an extra 15 to 30 seconds.
Poached: Break an egg into a ramekin or small bowl and then carefully slip it into a saucepan filled with water and heated to just under boiling in which you’ve added a tablespoon (15 ml) of white vinegar. 3 to 4 minutes ought to do it. Use a spoon to lift the egg out and into cold water. Drain on paper towel and serve!