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Want to be different? Have you thought about inviting your friends for brunch? You won’t need to spend as much on booze, and you can all have a great time, summer or winter.
So that you can have time to talk, you’ll want to do as much preparation beforehand as you can.
The key to a really good spread is to have a good range of cold things, with your hot dishes being capable of keeping warm.
If you are looking for a theme, bear in mind that the term “brunch” was coined in Victorian times, but the brunch as we know it today developed in the mid 20th Century USA as folk chose to spend more time on leisure on Sundays rather than going to church. If you are looking for a theme, you could therefore do worse than to choose 1950s/1960s American or Victorian British. Our great-grandfathers in Victorian stately homes had incredibly hearty breakfasts which nowadays could only be part of brunch, unless you are training as a rower or boxer and need a huge intake of protein and calories.
Take as your inspiration the sort of spread you would find in a good hotel breakfast buffet. You could have grapefruit segments, mandarin or orange segments, tinned peaches or apricots, or fresh fruit salad. Try to include a bit of colour – a few cherries, raspberries or strawberries in a fresh fruit salad make it look much brighter and appetising. A small dash of an orange liqueur such as Triple sec, Grand Marnier or Cointreau can add an exotic touch to your fruit salad.
- Selection of breads
Include both white and brown bread. Fruit bread is very popular.
You can either bake your own bread – rolls are pretty easy to prepare, especially if you have a breadmaker to fix the dough – or buy it in. French bread or bread rolls kept in the freezer only take three or four minutes in the oven to defrost, so you can keep a back-up supply which will save if not used on the day.
Croissants, pains au chocolat, pains au raisins and Danish pastries will add a continental rather than an American or British touch, but they will be popular.
- Selection of marmalade, jams and honey
- Selection of cheeses
Three different cheeses is generally enough to make a good spread. Mild cheeses are likely to be the most popular. A smoked cheese will add variety and character. A goats’ milk cheese will provide a bit of a tang. Only guests with strong constitutions or jaded palates are likely to fancy blue cheese before lunch.
- Charcuterie selection
Small pieces of ham, salami, poloney, or similar.
- American pancakes
These are almost a must. Essentially small griddle sponge cakes these can be prepared in advance and kept warm or reheated. Serve in a stack and let people take their own. Eat with bacon, butter and maple syrup; sugar and lemon; honey or jam (the Americans call it jelly – what we call jelly in Britain is called jello in the States); or as part of a cooked breakfast. A healthier option is to have them with fresh fruit such as raspberries or strawberries.
If you want an authentic American theme, this should be thin streaky bacon cooked gently until it is crisp, but why be a slave to authenticity if you prefer your bacon done a different way?
You can bake these in the oven instead of frying them to make preparation easier.
- Tomatoes – Grilled, fried or tinned
- Baked beans
Do you recall the fuss there was when Heston Blumenthal proposed to remove baked beans from the Little Chef Olympic breakfast?
These could be either potato waffles or Belgian waffles. The advantage of Belgian waffles is their versatility – they can be eaten on their own (like American pancakes) as well as with a cooked breakfast.
- Hash browns
This was the traditional way in which Americans served potatoes for breakfast.
Thin (minute) steak cut into small pieces is likely to work best. If you are offering a big selection of food, folk are likely to want to take small portions from a range of different plates.
This was a breakfast favourite of the Victorians. Serving kidney is a pretty decadent gesture, but don’t expect many people to take a portion.
A dish brought back from India by the British, so not particularly authentic if you are going for an American theme.
- You need to take care here, because eggs spoil easily and are not easy to cook in bulk if there are other things you want or need to do. Scrambled egg is easier to do than fried eggs or omelette. If you want to serve fried eggs you will need to assign someone responsibility for it. Unless they are an experienced cook, it will take most of their attention.
Scrambled egg with pieces of smoked salmon mixed in is an extravagant touch. This is frequently served with Buck’s fizz (the drink, not the band). French toast is a pretty fool-proof way of serving egg.
Put the toaster out so that people can do their own.
- Blueberry muffins
Make them the day before, and just warm them up.
- Tea and coffee
Have you noticed that the world is full of Jack Sprats who drink no tea, and their other halves who will drink no coffee? You need to serve both tea and coffee.
- Herbal infusions
A selection of herbal drinks with a hot kettle nearby, or a flask of hot water provides extra variety, and in most groups of ten or more you will find at least one person who will go for them.
Before the advent of the “triple thick” shakes served in the big hamburger chains, milk shakes used to be much thinner and are pretty easy to make at home.
- Knickerbocker glory
The classic American dessert.
- Pecan pie
Classic American comfort food.
- Sherry trifle
The classic British dessert. Use enough sherry to be able to taste it.
- Treacle tart
Classic British comfort food.
Do you have any other brunch party ideas?
Please leave your ideas in the box below.