I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a brunch girl. I wear this label pretty proudly and yes the stereotypes are all true: I have my favorite brunch spots in every neighborhood with backups, I will break a diet for brunch, I consider brunch as anytime between 8am and 4pm, I will optimize my brunch experience by ordering a savory dish for myself and a sweet dish to split, and anything on the menu can be had on the side. My one pet peeve is waiting more than 20 minutes for a table. I HATE waiting to eat, so I know that if I’m not at the neighborhood darling cafe by 10.30AM I better head to the unknown greasy spoon diner instead to get my omelette on.
A typical weekend includes Sunday brunch, usually exploring a new place in the neighborhood if the day is decidedly leisurely or heading straight to a favorite stand-by if there are other shenanigans planned for the day. However, my neighborhood gets a lot of crowds during certain city-wide events (Bay to Breakers, SF Pride) and its a nightmare to even consider going to brunch unless you are OK fighting the crowds. For those days, I’ll try to remember to plan ahead and make brunch at home. My goal for brunch at home is to make it as easy as pointing to the menu at that lovely place down the block.
I always use this wondrously simple recipe for baked french toast from Martha Stewart which turns out like a scrumptious bread pudding, yielding the perfectly baked texture of a creamy custard within each sweet slice of challah. Make sure to use thick slices of challah or a similar sweet eggy bread. The soaked up custard forms a caramelized crust on each slice. The best part about this recipe is it takes about 4 minutes to make it the night before and you have everyone’s French toast ready at the same time. Why would you ever make French toast on the griddle, a few at a time while the rest dry out in the oven, ever again?
I love to top this crisp, custardy French toast with the tartness of a simple summer fruit compote. Simply melt some brown sugar in an equivalent amount of butter over low heat. Add your favorite in-season fruit and simmer until the juices are released. Just before turning off the heat to allow it to thicken, I add cinnamon and a splash of maple syrup. I used plums and blueberries this time, but have also used peaches, raspberries, blackberries, pears, and apples with the same ease and tasty results.
There’s something magical about blueberries. A perfect portion of sweetness with a tart bite, and packed with health crusading antioxidants, how can you go wrong? Plus that mysterious blue – nature graces us with gorgeous picks from all over the color wheel but blue? Nope, just blue potatoes and corn that I can think of. Supposedly blue is an appetite suppressant, perhaps as some primordial reflex to avoid poisonous prey. And now, all I can think of is the Drano hangover cure from Heathers, so….good one, nature! But you got it all wrong with the blueberries. Who can resist cramming these beauties in your mouth by the handful? This summer season, I’ve had a pint (or three) in my fridge at all times but go through them so fast with only berry stained lips and fingers as evidence. I’ve also enjoyed dropping them in willy-nilly to my baking, because that burst of sweetness seems to make just about any baked good sing. I shopped around for a blueberry muffin recipe, but I tend to find them a bit boring. Something about the consistency and the weird grayish-blue batter that results is not appealing. Then I remembered that I much prefer blueberry cornmeal pancakes to regular pancakes, and the thought of a sweet, grainy, golden corn muffin seemed a perfect setting for ripe berries. My favorite recipe for blueberry cornmeal muffins is from The Baker’s Daughter. The muffins are rich and sweet, more like a cupcake even, without that bitter aftertaste some corn muffins can have. And I love the addition of the berries to the top of the muffin (like with pancakes) to prevent the batter from turning gray and the berries getting smooshed. I made these for a camping trip to Yosemite and despite the sweetness and creaminess, they paired rather nicely with the gloriously spicy and hearty vegetarian chili that our friend made over the open flame.
My other favorite blueberry-added recipe this summer has been a sour cream pound cake. You can use any pound cake recipe you like, but I find that replacing the buttermilk or milk with sour cream makes a decadently rich and moist cake that is deceptively light and fluffy in texture – not your usual dry, dense, brick that some associate with pound cake. Beware, though, that this makes it all the more likely to down 2-3 slices at a sitting and certainly, this is not diet food. The trick to keeping the blueberries whole is to toss them with a spoonful of flour before gently folding them into the batter right before baking. I used this recipe with the aforementioned tip, as well as adding a 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract which really complimented the fresh berry taste and I think elevated this cake to “scrumptious summer food memory” levels.