When most of us think of holiday meals, we are thinking of Christmas dinner. But have you considered serving a holiday breakfast instead?
Prep work is your friend. You can set a beautiful table the night before and make some of the food ahead. What works for my family is to get up, look at our stockings and then have breakfast, followed by opening presents. But if you have very young children, you may want to tweak the order a bit.
I started a brand-new family tradition of a holiday breakfast after my first marriage abruptly ended and I suddenly had to face only spending half of Christmas day with my then-grade-school-aged children. I had them in the morning but not in the afternoon, so I decided to start serving a special breakfast. For us, it was two varieties of homemade scones, fresh berries and whipped cream. The sides might include bacon or sausage and scrambled eggs. I’d put a bit of Irish cream in my coffee and top it with a dollop of whipped cream, and I’d give my children hot cocoa with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles.
We’d light candles, play the old The Nutcracker CD and do everything possible to make the breakfast special.
Now, my children are grown up and they aren’t always at my holiday breakfast table at all, but I’ve retained the tradition, even if it’s only my husband and me at the table some years. The menu might change, but the formal table has not.
Setting the Breakfast Table
Prepare the table with a festive holiday tablecloth and cloth napkins. (We use these at every meal. They’re environmentally friendly and save money!) Bring out the silver candlesticks Aunt Martha gave you when you got married. Consider decorating the table with some greenery or other appropriate holiday decor.
If you have Christmas dishes, this is the time to bring them out. Set the table the night before. Get out every pan and utensil you’ll need so you can very quickly put everything together in the morning. Preheat the oven before anyone else gets up, if possible. (If you have little ones in the house, it’s probably not possible!)
Don’t Forget the Kids!
If you have children, make Christmas extra special by turning a pancake, fruit and whipped cream into a Santa face. (See photo for an example.) It’s just another way to make a holiday breakfast memorable.
Choosing the Holiday Breakfast Menu
Depending on the age of your children and whether any guests will be coming, you might want to go more formal or more simple:
Scones are delicious and not difficult to make. You can make them the night before and refrigerate them, popping them into the oven that morning, or you can mix them that morning. I usually mix the dry ingredients the night before and finish them up in the morning. It’s easy to divide the dough into two bowls, adding chocolate chips to one and something like slivered almonds and dried cranberries to the other.
Dutch Baby, an oven-baked pancake, is also a favorite breakfast option at my house. It must be served as soon as it comes out of the oven, so it cannot be baked ahead. You can serve it with things like maple syrup, fresh fruit, whipped cream, or a topping made from sliced apples and walnuts cooked with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Scrambled Eggs are a welcome break from all the sweet stuff.
Bacon and/or Sausage are also welcome. The best way to make bacon is to lay the slices flat on a deep baking sheet and pop them into a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.
Fruit is a must. I splurge on red raspberries and often also have strawberries and blueberries. Wash everything the night before and arrange your berries in pretty dishes.
Whipped Cream goes with the fruit, the scones, the Dutch baby and even into the coffee and hot cocoa. It’s absolutely vital at my house! You might want to have some chocolate sprinkles on hand, too.
Your family might have other favorites. I’ve considered making fresh croissants now that I don’t have little ones in the house, because they are very time-consuming. You might prefer to simplify, or, if your family members enjoy cooking together, the sky is the limit.
I’m going to assume you can handle scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and fresh fruit.
This is as simple as can be. Simply combine a little bit of powdered sugar and a dash of vanilla into however much heavy cream you want to use. Beat it (using a mixer unless you have arms of steel) until it’s fluffy but do not overbeat or you’ll end up with sweetened butter.
My recipe calls for sourdough starter, and it is, in my opinion, far better than non-sourdough versions. If you don’t have a starter, you can reach out to baking friends, make your own, or simply use a different recipe.
But here’s my version. Set the oven at 425 degrees and place a large cast-iron skillet in the oven to heat. In the meantime, mix two cups of starter, six eggs, a third a cup of milk and a pinch of salt. Some people prefer to add a tablespoon of sugar, maple syrup or honey, but I don’t. There will be enough sugar in whatever topping you favor. Mix well. I use a stick mixer to get it completely smooth.
Now place four tablespoons of real butter into the hot skillet and return it to the oven. Give it a minute or two to melt. When the butter is just melted, swirl it around the pan and pour in the sourdough mixture. Use a spatula to get every drop into the pan. You can quickly sprinkle some cinnamon on top if you like. Carefully place it back into the oven. (Be careful! The cast iron is 425 degrees!) In my oven, it takes 18 minutes. No more, no less. You may want to take a peek at 16 minutes, but don’t open the oven before that. Serve it immediately.
Why is this called a Dutch Baby? I have no idea. The first time I made it, I thought my Dutch husband would be excited to eat an old favorite, but in fact, he’d never heard of this dish. (He’d never heard of a Dutch apple pie, either. That’s a Pennsylvania Dutch dessert, i.e., not Dutch at all.)
I always have real maple syrup, a jelly/jam assortment and sometimes some fresh fruit and whipped cream to go on top. I will also sometimes, usually in fall, whip up an apple topping while the baby is in the oven. It’s pretty easy. Slice several apples into a smaller cast-iron skillet, along with a bit of butter. Use a medium or low heat. Stir often. Sprinkle with cinnamon. If you have ginger, nutmeg and clove, use those as well. If you don’t avoid sugar, you might also want just a touch of brown sugar. A handful of walnuts is an excellent addition. You could also add raisins. You cannot go wrong!
My children adore scones. When they were younger, I made them every weekend for breakfast. During my single-mother years, that was one of the things I no longer had time to do. My daughter asked me for them, and I said, “Honey, those are a lot of work. But if you want to help me, we can make them together.” She did, so we spent a Saturday morning making them together. Making them actually isn’t the hardest part; it’s cleaning up the flour that always gets everywhere.
So when the following week, my son asked if we could make scones again, my daughter immediately piped up and said, “Those are a lot of work.” They never again were a weekend standard.
But they’re great for a holiday breakfast, especially since you can make them the night before and then pop the pan into the oven.
Here’s my recipe:
3 cups flour
⅓ cup of sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter
1 cup of plain yogurt or buttermilk
2 tablespoons of sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Combine and set aside the sugar and cinnamon for topping.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees if you’ll be baking these right away. Place a sheet of baking parchment on a baking sheet and set aside. Combine dry ingredients, mix. Using a pastry blender, mix the butter into the dry mixture. Add the yogurt or buttermilk. If you’ve used yogurt and it seems too dry, you can add one or two tablespoons of milk as needed. The original recipe I started from called for buttermilk, but I never have that on hand. I do always have plain yogurt on hand, and depending on the thickness of the yogurt, I sometimes feel like it could use just a touch of extra liquid. (I’ve also been known to pour in a tiny bit of orange juice to combat the too-dry dough if I happen to have any juice on hand, which I usually don’t.)
Don’t overmix the dough. When it’s nearly but not completely mixed, you can divide it into two equal batches and complete the mixing process after adding anything you desire. I sometimes leave one batch plain and add chocolate chips to the other. Another favorite at my house is slivered almonds and dried cranberries. You could also add in any nut or chopped fruit you want. Customize! Dried cherries would rock, with or without nuts or chocolate chips. Just do not overmix the dough or your scones will be tough.
Pick up one of the mixtures and form it into a flattened disc. Pat it into a circle about ¾ of an inch thick. Sprinkle lightly with the cinnamon-sugar topping and press it into the dough. Using a sharp knife or a dough scraper, cut the circle into eight wedges. Pull them slightly apart. Repeat with the second batch. Now you can either bake them immediately or cover them and place them in the refrigerator until morning. Whenever you’re ready to bake them, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake them for about 15 minutes, or slightly longer if they’ve been refrigerated overnight. Check them every so often, as ovens vary.
All these items are equally as good as the basis of brunch at any time of the year. You don’t have to wait for the holidays!