Brunch: Part Breakfast, Part Lunch

An assortment of tart pans
Brunching has become an increasingly popular weekend pastime. The word “brunch” owes its etymology to the combination of the words breakfast and lunch. As an amalgamation of the two, the meal is served at a time that one would expect either a late breakfast or an early lunch. There need not be a particular reason to opt for this combo meal except, perhaps, a taste for Mimosas or as an occasion to serve as the precursor to a football game or other entertainment event. But, I would suggest that, especially now, without weekend activities, football games, and other sporting events to fight cabin fever, there is nothing better than to gather friends and family for an early afternoon brunch.

Brunches served at restaurants frequently involve a significant choice of items from a buffet. This practice tends to define a “brunch” in many people’s minds as a smorgasbord, but the size of the spread alone is not a defining element of brunching. Rather, what defines the meal is a combination of items that would be appropriate for lunch or breakfast. Thus, we have menus that feature individual omelets or waffles to order along with carved roast beef or Seafood Newburgh. Regarding restaurants as the standard of what a proper brunch should be, it is no wonder that any host/hostess would be hesitant to gather friends and family for a homemade brunch because of the apparently insurmountable food preparation task.

The difficulty stems, I think, from our failure to meld the foods in the same way that we have melded the words. Breakfast is joined with lunch to create “brunch,” but the foods we expect to see on the menu have remained categorically either lunch or breakfast. That may be all well and good for a restaurant, replete with a full kitchen staff, servers, and a buffet line, but does not work well for the person desiring to host a brunch at home. In order to successfully host this meal, the menu must be something which can be undertaken by a host/hostess even if they are unwilling to commit themselves to cooking, not enjoying, the social gathering. There are certainly a number of dishes which can be prepared a day ahead and cooked or warmed immediately before the guests arrive so that the host can create a credible brunch buffet. And, that’s okay, if your intent is to try and copy a restaurant brunch, but I would rather look at what breakfast foods can be melded with lunch dishes in order to present a truer combination of the two meals, while still limiting the menu items and kitchen prep time. To my mind, there is one dish that is versatile enough to be a true combination of breakfast and lunch dishes.

Dear readers, I give you the versatile tart that we know as the quiche. The breakfast part of a quiche comes from the rich, egg-based custard that fills the pastry shell which is somewhat reminiscent of creamy scrambled eggs. The lunch qualification can met by the fillings that you choose to use in that custard. If your idea of a great lunch is crab salad, then try that as an addition in a quiche. How about a Reuben quiche? Or, what about a grilled ham and cheese quiche (the classic Quiche Lorraine with custard filled with bacon and cheese)? The quiche is the perfect main brunch dish - part breakfast, part lunch - bridging the culinary gap between the two.

The beauty of a quiche is how easy they are to make. The most difficult part of a quiche is making the pastry dough. If you’ve ever made pie pastry, it’s essentially the same thing. But, if this presents an obstacle, please feel free to use a prepared piecrust or a sheet of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry. While a classic quiche is prepared in a fluted flan pan, not having one is also no excuse - a standard pie tin will work quite well. The custard is simplicity itself: eggs and cream. Any additional ingredients are limited only by your imagination or diet. Clearly, the use of egg yolks and heavy cream removes quiche from the healthy eating category, but, by the same token, refraining from the addition of meat can keep your tart in the vegetarian category.

The quiche is the perfect centerpiece for your “do-it-yourself” brunch. Add a simple fruit salad with a yogurt honey dressing, some blueberry muffins, a basket of assorted toasted breads with fresh fruit preserves, some steamed broccoli, and a pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice and you’re in business. If you’re in the mood, mix that orange juice half and half with dry champagne for Mimosas.

Basic Quiche Pastry (8-inch ring)

1 Cup + 2 Tbsp. flour
3 tbs. Refrigerated butter (cut into 1/4-inch cubes)
3 tbs. Vegetable shortening
2-4 tbs. Ice-cold milk
Pinch of salt

Put flour and salt in a bowl. With a pastry blender, cut butter and shortening into the flour until the texture is mealy. Mix in milk 1 Tbsp. at a time - add just enough milk so the mixture forms a crumbly ball. Roll dough out between 2 sheets of waxed paper. Less milk and less working of the dough will result in a flakier pastry. Line the pan, prick the inner surface, and lightly paint the inside surface with beaten egg white.

Basic Quiche Custard (enough to fill an 8-inch ring)

1 Cup heavy cream
4 Egg yolks
Pinch of salt
Grating of fresh nutmeg

Blend all ingredients together.
Pour custard into prepared shell. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes and allow to rest 5 minutes before serving.

Suggested Variations on Basic Quiche:

Quiche Lorraine

1 lb. Bacon, cooked and drained (or 1 lb. lean ham, cubed)
1⁄2 lb. Thin-sliced Gruyere cheese

Layer cheese and bacon (ham) over prepared pastry shell. Pour in the custard, bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, and allow to rest 5 minutes before serving.

Crab Newburgh and Avocado Quiche

8 oz. Lump crab meat
1 Tbsp. butter
1⁄4 Cup sherry
1 Avocado, thinly sliced

Melt butter in a small skillet. Add crab, sauté briefly. Add sherry, cook off liquid, and cool. Layer the crab and avocado slices in a prepared crust, add the custard, and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Allow to rest 5 minutes before serving.
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Volume 3, Issue 5, Posted 9:09 PM, 07.17.06