by Michael Vyskocil, photography by Tara Hope Cofiell

After the stuffing and the roasting, the sautéing and the stirring, the whisking and the rolling that go into cooking and serving a holiday dinner, cooks who host guests this season can be assured of one reality: Everyone will be hungry again the following morning.

With so much focus on the dinner menu, preparations for a holiday brunch can sometimes be overlooked. After all, there aren’t too many mornings a year when you can gather family and friends together for a long, leisurely start to the day in style. Breakfast or brunch deserves to be a festive affair.

Everybody’s favorite French toast gets a dash of seasonal flavor with a sweet-tart cranberry syrup. A brunch ham and egg casserole not only uses leftovers to great advantage, it can also be prepared the night before, refrigerated and baked the next morning for a fuss-free dish that feeds a crowd. Plus, jazz up hearty bowls of Irish oatmeal with a warm winter compote.

Who says you have to wait for cocktail hour for special drinks? Grapefruit-orange mimosas are delightful, fruity drinks that bubble over with holiday cheer.

Combining the best of breakfast and the best of lunch, and with the following recipes in your entertaining repertoire, you can make your holiday brunches as memorable as the main meals.

French Toast with Cranberry Syrup
Brioche adds a lofty touch to this classic breakfast and brunch favorite. Leftover cranberry sauce (recipe follows) from your holiday dinner creates a tart yet tasty syrup topping.

French Toast

6 large eggs
Zest of 3 oranges
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup whole milk
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
Unsaturated vegetable oil, for frying
1 loaf of fresh brioche bread (or other white bread such as challah or good French bread)
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnishing
Reserved cranberry syrup from Homemade Cranberry Sauce (recipe follows)

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, zest, orange juice, milk, sugar and salt. Set aside.
  2. Lightly oil 2 large nonstick skillets. Place skillets over medium-high heat until very hot, but not smoking. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside; line a plate with paper towels and set aside.
  3. Cut the bread into ¾-inch-thick slices. Dip the slices into the egg mixture, making sure to coat the slices. Transfer the soaked bread slices to a baking sheet and allow bread to soak up egg mixture, about 2 minutes.
  4. Fry coated bread slices for about 3 minutes on each side, until golden. Transfer cooked French toast to the paper towel-lined plate to drain briefly, then place on second, clean baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm until ready to serve.
  5. Serve French toast warm, dusted with a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Cranberry Sauce

1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries, washed well and patted dry
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  1. Combine cranberries, orange juice and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir until cranberries begin to pop, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. To serve with French toast (above), drain syrup from whole cranberries and drizzle syrup over French toast. Makes about 3 cups

Brunch Ham and Egg Casserole

For a variation on this casserole, use roasted turkey meat instead of the ham.

6 large eggs
1 ½ cups milk
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound cooked ham, cubed
8 slices white bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
Nonstick cooking spray, for baking pan
1 cup (about 4 ounces) grated cheddar cheese

  1. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Add ham and bread cubes.
  2. Lightly spray a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Pour casserole mixture into dish, cover dish with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 8 hours or overnight.
  3. Before baking, remove pan from refrigerator and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove dish from oven and sprinkle the top of the casserole with cheddar cheese. Return dish to oven and bake until the cheese is melted and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 5 to 10 more minutes. Serve warm. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Irish Oatmeal With Warm Winter Compote

2 cups Irish oatmeal (such as McCann’s)
8 cups water
Warm Winter Compote for serving

  1. In a medium saucepan, soak oatmeal in water overnight. When ready to serve, place saucepan over medium heat. Cook oatmeal for 30 minutes.
  2. Divide oatmeal among serving bowls. Top with about ⅓ cup Warm Winter Compote and serve. Makes 8 servings.

Warm Winter Compote 

2 cups fresh apple cider
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cardamom
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into eight wedges
2 Bosc pears, peeled, cored and cut into eight wedge
2 cups fresh cranberries
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice

  1. In a medium skillet, combine apple cider, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla bean. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer, uncovered, for 4 minutes.
  2. Add apple and pear wedges; stir to coat with syrup. Add cranberries; simmer, uncovered, over medium heat until fruit is tender, about 4 minutes.
  3. Remove vanilla bean with a slotted spoon. Stir in orange juice and serve warm. Makes about 6 cups.

Grapefruit-Orange Mimosas

6 ruby red grapefruits
6 navel oranges
½ bottle champagne, chilled
Whole slices of ruby red grapefruits, for garnish

  1. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut off the tops and bottoms of grapefruits and oranges. Cut away the peel and pith from the top to the bottom of the fruit.
  2. Holding the peeled fruit over a bowl (to catch the juices), use a sharp paring knife to remove the fruit segments from the inner membranes. Transfer fruit segments to a bowl and squeeze membranes over fruit segments to extract any remaining juice before discarding membranes.
  3. Before serving, drain fruit segments from juice. Reserve juice in a measuring cup. Divide fruit segments and reserved fruit juice evenly among six cocktail glasses. Pour champagne over fruit slices in each glass and garnish the rim of each glass with a grapefruit slice. Makes 6 servings.