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Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 12:01 am

The key to peaceful mornings

Make-ahead breakfast delights

Pecan rolls
PHOTO BY ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

 

I’ve always been a morning person. As a child, this meant that I was left to my own devices on weekends until about 9:30, when the rest of the house would finally begin to stir. I grew up learning to cook at my mother’s elbow, but it was in these quiet early mornings that I discovered the joy of cooking.

I don’t remember watching cartoons or eating bowls of frosted flakes on Saturday mornings. Instead I would go downstairs, turn on the kitchen lights, and start making breakfast. First, there was usually a mountain of dishes from the previous night’s meal to be done (my mother was not one for doing the dishes right after supper). I’d make milky coffee and turn on NPR and get down to business. The reward for the early morning cleanup was a quiet kitchen and nobody to tell me what to do or how to do it.  My mother was incredibly creative and skilled in the kitchen, and cooking with her often felt like driving with a backseat driver. Like most kids, I did not want to be corrected or told what to do; I wanted to figure it out for myself.  

In the tick-tock quiet of dawn, I was free to experiment and make mistakes at my own pace. Before long, smells of biscuits and gravy or fried potatoes, bacon and eggs would begin to waft upstairs and wake my sleeping family members.

I’m still a morning person, and my husband and daughter are very much not. And as much as I look forward to big weekend breakfasts and coffee and NPR, these days I don’t want to squander my precious morning quiet time standing at the stove and doing dishes. It’s my time to take the dog for a sunrise walk, read a book or just putz about the house.

Enter the make-ahead breakfast. With a few minutes of prep the night before, I can put together a 9x13-inch pan of warm, good morning happiness that will have my house smelling amazing and my kitchen still looking clean. When my daughter wakes up she can make fruit salad if she is so inclined, and I can sip my coffee and be present with her, if only for a fleeting moment, before the hectic weekend agenda sets in.


Overnight Pecan Rolls

These are a holiday treat that I only make on Christmas and Easter mornings; because they are so delicious and sweet and rich (and simple), I felt like I had to establish some ground rules around how frequently we enjoy them.

Dough
• 4 large egg yolks
• 1 whole egg
• 6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
• ¼ cup sugar
• ¾ cup buttermilk
• 3 ¼ cups all purpose flour
• ¾ cup whole wheat flour
• 1 package instant yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Filling
• 1 cup packed brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
• ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1 cup chopped toasted pecans
• 2 tablespoons melted butter

Icing
• 2 cups powdered sugar
• 2-3 tablespoons buttermilk
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Begin this recipe the night before you plan to bake the rolls.

First prepare the dough. Make sure all ingredients, including eggs and buttermilk, are at room temperature. Combine egg yolks and egg, melted butter, sugar, buttermilk, flours, yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using a dough hook, mix the ingredients together on low speed until they form a shaggy ball. Turn off the mixer and let dough rest for 5 minutes, then turn the mixer on low and mix for 5 minutes more. Check the consistency and add a little more flour if necessary. The dough should be soft and moist but not too sticky. Turn on the mixer and knead for 5 minutes more. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for about 30 seconds. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap that has been lightly coated in oil. Set the dough aside in a warm, draft-free area to rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 ½ hours.

Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish. Mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, pecans and salt in a small bowl and prepare 2 tablespoons melted butter. When the dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down with your fist and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 12x18-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the melted butter and sprinkle the filling mixture over the surface, leaving a ½-inch border along the top edge. Press the nuts gently into the dough. Start with the long side nearest you and roll the dough into a tight log. Place the log seam side down and gently compress it with your hands to achieve even thickness. Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut the log into 12 evenly-sized rolls. Arrange the rolls in the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The following morning, remove the rolls from the fridge and place them in the middle rack of a cold oven. Place a dish on the bottom rack below the rolls and fill it half full of boiling water. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise for 30 minutes, until they look puffy. Remove the rolls and the pan of water from the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake the rolls in the preheated oven until they are golden brown and an instant read thermometer reads 190 degrees when inserted into the middle roll, about 30 minutes. While the rolls cool, whisk together the buttermilk, vanilla and powdered sugar until smooth, then drizzle the icing over the warm rolls and serve.

Spinach and Gruyere Strata

A strata is basically a savory bread pudding. Feel free to adapt the recipe to your taste – try adding bacon or sausage, mushrooms, roasted vegetables or different cheeses.
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 8 oz baby spinach
• ½ pound stale French bread cubes
• 8 ounces grated Gruyere cheese, divided
• 8 eggs
• 2 cups whole milk
• ¾ cup heavy cream
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon black pepper
• ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
• ½ teaspoon dry mustard
• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Saute the green onions, minced garlic and spinach in butter over medium heat until slightly wilted. Allow to cool slightly, then combine with bread cubes and ¾ of the grated gruyere and place in the buttered baking dish. In a mixing bowl combine eggs, milk, cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, dry mustard and cayenne (if using) and mix well. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes mixture and top with remaining Gruyere. Cover with greased foil and let stand for at least 30 minutes before baking to allow the egg mixture to soak into the bread. At this point, the strata can be refrigerated for up to 4 days before baking. Remove from fridge 1 hour before you plan to bake it to allow it to come to room temperature.

Bake, covered, in a preheated 325-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until golden and the eggs are set.

Contact Ashley Meyer at ashleyglatz@gmail.com

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