Easy Sunday Brunch (and French Toast Strata Recipe)

One of my favorite things to do is throw a brunch. The first place I lived after my parents’ was a house with four other girls, two of whom loved to cook and entertain, so group meals and brunches became a regular occurrence. The participants would change over the years (hazard of living in a college town), but getting some friends together for breakfast and mimosas at the weekend remains one of my small pleasures. Many people are freaked out by the idea of hosting a brunch, thinking it too big or too complicated or requiring too much effort, but once you stop trying to be Ina Garten and just be yourself, you’ll love throwing brunches, too.

Step One: Guests

Easy as this: invite who you like. If you want to have guys at your brunch, do it (there’s no rule saying it should be ladies’ only). If you want to have a gathering of your women-folk, do that! Sometimes you might want to keep it a close knit group of friends, but think about mixing groups sometimes, too. Two things you want to think about before you send out the invite are 1) can guests bring people (significant other, sister, brother, best friend in town, etc.) and are children allowed? You can choose to include this in the invite, or wait until it comes up, but having an answered prepared helps. When you’re ready, set a time (are your friends early risers? are a lot of people going to be at a gig the night before?) and date and send the invites out however your group does things (text, email, facebook, evite, carrier pigeon). One thing you really want to consider is how much room you have, as that’ll determine how many people you probably want to invite. With people sitting on the floor and my two couches, I can fit about 12 people comfortably. I could invite more than that, but I find with more, there’s just too much going on.

Step Two: Menu

Keep it simple. One great thing about brunch is that it’s such a hodge-podge of meals, so any dish that people want to bring is likely to fit in (unless you’re specializing your brunch). I tend to offer a staple of bacon, eggs and french toast strata (recipe below) and have some juices, coffee and tea on hand. That provides your breakfast basics of sweet and savory, so most people are set. I didn’t even make a pot of coffee for my last brunch, but go with what your friends drink. Now, I have it easy… none of my friends are vegan and the vegetarian and lactose-intollerant in the bunch are okay with what I make. If there are multiple people with similar dietary concerns, you’d probably want to work around it, but cool, considerate people will at least bring a dish they can eat if they have particular needs (and you’re probably only inviting cool, considerate people to brunch per Step One). I include my menu in the invitation, so that people know what’s lacking if they’d like to bring something. Things I always leave open for people to bring are champagne (I usually have a back-up bottle just in case), bread and fruit, since those are easy things that people like to prepare or pick up on the way over.

Spread From a Prior Brunch

Step Three: Preparation

Breathe. Tidy your place, but don’t worry about making it spotless (these are your friends, remember). Exception: bathroom… your bathroom is always dirtier to people who aren’t you, so scrub a little. One tip that helps me on the morning is to make sure that you’re done in the kitchen when your guests arrive. There’s always, inevitably, someone who wants to finish preparing their dish, so for me, it’s better if I’m out of the kitchen. My dishes are ones that can just sit in a warm oven for a bit while people arrive, and it frees me up to greet people (and introduce strangers).

Extra touches

I almost always have music on in the background (at work, at home, walking down the street), so I set my iPod up and have a playlist or Pandora running. Recently, I used our spanking new AppleTV to run a slideshow of artsy California vacation pics with a playlist, and people seemed to like it.
Once, I got a White Grape Peach juice as an option and someone suggested mixing it with champagne. It was DIVINE! It’s now my alternative to mimosas and it’s always a hit. Welch’s discontinued the original choice (or at least I can’t find it anymore), but Tropicana has a Peach Orchard flavor that was yummy, too.

Yummy French Toast Strata

Finished Product

This is kind of a baked french toast dish. It makes a really nice crutsy outside and gooey, delicious inside. It seems really impressive to serve, but is dead easy to make.

French Toast Strata
Serves 8-12

Ingredients:
4 cups milk
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups raspberries
1 healthy dollop of vanilla extract (approx 2 tbsp)
1 loaf challah, brioche or other sweet bread
Butter or cooking spray for coating pan

1 9×13 pan or 2 8×8 pans or 1 large oval and one square… whatever you’ve got.

In a large bowl, mix together milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until blended. If you taste a touch (don’t believe your mom, raw eggs won’t kill you), it should be a very sweet french toast batter. You can add more sugar if you want it sweeter, more vanilla, throw some cinnamon in, etc.
Use butter or cooking spray to coat the bottom and edges of your pan. (Seriously, don’t forget this part… my pans were soaking for two days afterward.)
Cut or tear your loaf of bread into inch sized chunks and place into (or distribute between) pans.
Sprinkle your raspberries into the pans and mix thoroughly. You can use fresh or frozen raspberries or use any other soft fruit you want (I find that raspberries provide the perfect sharpness to the sweetness of the bread).
Spread about ¾ of the french toast batter through your bread and fruit and mix thoroughly. Leave it for an hour or so… go shower, tidy up the room, cut some flowers, whatever you need to do.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix the remaining batter in, making sure all bread is saturated. Bake, uncovered for 40 minutes to 1 hour until the outer crust bits go brown and crispy. It’ll stay pretty warm, so you can take it out and use the oven for other things, popping it back in a warm oven for 5-10 minutes to warm up the top before serving.

Have fun at your next brunch! Raise a glass to me!

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Crystal Coleman

Florida girl living on the west coast. During the day, I consult in social media and community management. I have a really cute puppy (Elphaba) and a British husband (I keep him for his accent) as well as an unhealthy relationship with parentheses. http://thatgirlcrystal.com

6 thoughts on “Easy Sunday Brunch (and French Toast Strata Recipe)”

  1. Oh, brunch is one of my favorite, favorite meals to host too. It’s lovely and easy and it’s one of the only social occasions to host that no one expects much. You don’t need fancy sauces, complicated appetizers or a full bar with multiple wine/beer options. AND you usually get better attendance, because no one has anything going on at 11am on a Sunday. Encouraging PJ/Sweatpants wearing helps.

    Fav brunch menu? Me: Individual egg/bacon muffins, fruit platter, yogurt, a selection of waters (sparkling, infused, etc), juices and bloody mary bar. That I make others bring: Champagne (You’re totally right on this one, it’s easy for a non-cooking soul to pick up), assorted baked things(sweet and savory) from either their kitchen or their favorite bakery, and a stack of newspapers/magazines. If I think it’s going to run late or if there are more than 6-7 people, I usually do an antipasto thing too with cheeses and cured meats and olives, which gives a little snacky-lunch element.

    It’s easy and comfortable. We read, we eat, we get a little Sunday AM tipsy. Fab.

    (BTW – The egg/bacon ‘muffins’ aren’t actually muffins at all, just a strip of bacon lining a muffin tin into which you pour eggs and bake for 20 minutes. Delish and easy to keep warm).

    Brunch, the absolute best way to entertain.

    1. I love the suggestion of people bringing papers/magazines over. I can imagine my group of friends, tipsy with some Cosmos and the mocking that would happen.

      I do something similar to the muffins, sometimes but with egg, cheese, tomato and onion. Bite sized omlettes. Yum!

  2. Brunch is my favorite! The strata looks excellent. I make a savory breakfast casserole that is prepared very similarly; french bread as the base, pour a bit of cream over that and let it soak in, then sprinkle cheese, sausage, eggs, onion, tomatoes on top and bake. The base is spongy and the top is tasty. Hard to go wrong and it’s an all-in-one presentation.

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