Sweet, savory and indulgent brunch dishes

Noelle Carter
Los Angeles Times
Alternate layers of plain yogurt and fresh fruit with homemade granola, in which ingredients can vary according to your taste or mood.

"Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting," wrote Guy Beringer in Britain's 1895 Hunter's Weekly, in an article titled "Brunch: A Plea." "It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week."

Of course, what's not to love about a late-morning meal? Be it on a Sunday or holidays, brunch is a great way to share leisurely time with family or friends over a hearty spread. Not to mention it's also a great way to recuperate after a late night. (I'm certainly not one to judge.)

When I know I'll be hosting a brunch, I like to prepare as much in advance to keep things simple in the morning, fuzzy brain or not. Why make things harder than they have to be?

One of my go-to dishes is a big platter of maple bacon cinnamon rolls. They're like traditional cinnamon rolls but a little bigger, with a sweet maple syrup mixture brushed on a soft, yeasted dough before rolling. Sprinkle on a generous amount of crumbled bacon, then roll the dough up and cut the portions.

What's great about this dish is you can prepare it up to this point and refrigerate it until ready to bake. Make them the day before, if you'd like, then take them out first thing in the morning, when you're nursing your first cup of coffee, to warm them up slightly before baking. Out of the oven, drizzle them with a rich cream cheese glaze and you're ready to serve.

Another great option is a savory bread pudding, which also can be prepared the night before. Make a custard base, folding in sauteed mushrooms and onions, fresh thyme, large cubes of French bread and grated Gruyere cheese. Make the dish up to this point, then cover and refrigerate until ready for action; this will give the bread cubes time to soften and soak up some of that custard base. Then simply uncover and bake until golden brown. It's rich and fragrant, so your guests might never guess it's vegetarian. But if you'd like to gild the lily, serve the bread pudding with a bowl of thick sausage gravy.

For my pious friends, I keep a batch of homemade granola for parfaits. If you've never made granola, it's incredibly simple. Though the combination can vary to suit your tastes, I typically combine a few cups of rolled oats with nuts, flaked coconut, a touch of spice, brown sugar and maple syrup to sweeten, and a little oil for richness and to help the granola roast up nicely. Then spread the granola out onto a rimmed baking sheet and place it in the oven until golden brown, tossing occasionally for even coloring.

Serve the granola with yogurt and fruit, and you have a dish that's both beautiful and seemingly virtuous. Everyone's happy.

Savory Bread Pudding with Sausage Gravy

Bread Pudding

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon oil

1 onion, chopped

1 pound button or crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/3 cup sherry or dry white wine

3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 eggs, beaten

3 egg yolks, beaten

4 cups half-and-half

1 (1-pound) loaf stale French or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

½ pound Gruyere cheese, grated

Prepared sausage gravy (see recipe below)

In a large saute pan, melt the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened and just beginning to color, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms soften and begin to give up their moisture. Continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated from the mushrooms and both the mushrooms and onions are a rich golden.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the wine. Return the skillet to the heat and stir, scraping any flavoring from the bottom of the pan, until the wine is absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the thyme and season with one-half teaspoon salt and one-fourth teaspoon of pepper, or to taste. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks. Beat in the half-and-half, then stir in the mushroom mixture. Stir in the bread cubes, then the cheese. Place the bread pudding base into a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish or casserole. Cover loosely and refrigerate the mixture until ready to bake, up to overnight.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the baking dish from the refrigerator to warm slightly as the oven heats.

Bake the bread pudding, uncovered, until the pudding is well-puffed and the topping is golden, about 45 minutes. Serve immediately, with the prepared sausage gravy on the side. Serves 12

Per serving: 600 calories; 36 g fat (20 g saturated fat); 45 g carbohydrates; 10 g sugar; 191 mg cholesterol; 832 mg sodium; 23 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Sausage Gravy

1 pound loose breakfast or country pork sausage, crumbled

1 tablespoon butter

1 small onion, finely diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon black pepper, more if desired

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional

¼ cup flour

4 cups half-and-half

1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme

Salt, to taste

In a dry skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat until the fat is rendered and the sausage is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Strain the sausage, leaving the fat in the pan. Add the butter and onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened, 6 to 8 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Slowly stir in the flour, mixing well to avoid any lumps. Slowly add the half-and-half, whisking well to avoid lumps. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste and thicken the gravy. Stir frequently to prevent the flour from settling and scorching on the bottom of the pan.

About 5 minutes before the gravy is ready, stir in the sausage and fresh thyme. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired with salt and pepper. This makes about 4 cups of gravy.

Summer Fruit and Yogurt Parfait with Homemade Granola

Homemade Granola

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons wheat bran

1 cup pecan halves

1 cup sliced almonds

1 ½ cups unsweetened flaked coconut (see note)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ cup dark brown sugar

2/3 cup maple syrup or honey

½ cup canola or vegetable oil

Dried fruit, cacao nibs or chocolate chips, if desired

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together the oats, wheat bran, pecans, almonds and coconut. Stir in the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar. Pour over the maple syrup and oil, mixing well to combine. Spread the mixture out onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is toasted to a nice, even golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool, then fold in the dried fruit, cacao nibs and/or chocolate chips to taste, if using. This makes about 2 quarts granola, more than is needed for the rest of the recipe; the granola will keep, sealed in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dry place, up to 2 weeks.

Note: Unsweetened flaked coconut can be found at select well-stocked supermarkets, as well as cooking stores and online. Sweetened shredded coconut may be substituted, but decrease the brown sugar slightly to account for the sweetness of the coconut and note that the coconut will brown more quickly in the oven.


About 4 cups plain yogurt

About 4 cups granola

About 4 cups sliced summer fruit and berries

Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons (depending on the size and diameter of the glass) of yogurt into each of 8 parfait, Champagne or similar glasses. Top each with 2 to 3 tablespoons of granola, then 2 to 3 tablespoons fruit. Repeat until the glasses are filled. Serves 8

Per serving: 427 calories; 23 g fat (8 g saturated fat); 47 g carbohydrates; 30 g sugar; 191 mg cholesterol; 238 mg sodium; 12 g protein; 7 g fiber.

Use Grade B maple syrup for these Maple Bacon Cinnamon Rolls; the syrup is less filtered, so it has a more pronounced flavor.

Maple Bacon Cinnamon Rolls

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

1 package active dry yeast (2 ½ teaspoons)

1/3 cup sugar, divided

3 eggs, divided

10 tablespoons butter (1 ¼ sticks), at room temperature, diced into ½-inch pieces; plus 2 tablespoons butter, melted, divided

3 ½ cups (15 ¾ ounces) bread flour, divided

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ pounds thick-cut bacon, preferably applewood smoked, sliced crosswise into ¼-inch pieces

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup, divided (see note)

1 cup light brown sugar

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

¼ cup cream cheese

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted

Milk, for thinning the glaze, if needed

In a small pan, heat the milk over medium heat just until warmed. Remove from heat and pour the milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar, then set aside until the yeast is activated and the milk is foamy, about 10 minutes.

Whisk two of the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining sugar until fully incorporated.

With the mixer running, add the diced 10 tablespoons room temperature butter, one or two pieces at a time, until all of it has been incorporated.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 cups of the bread flour and the salt. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, a spoonful at a time, until all of it has been incorporated into the dough.

Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and elastic with a silky texture, 5 to 7 minutes. Knead in additional bread flour as needed, up to the remaining ½ cup. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours.

While the dough is rising, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently so the bacon cooks evenly and does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and drain the bacon on a paper towel-lined plate, saving 2 tablespoons of bacon grease for the glaze and the rest for another use.

In a small saucepan, warm the melted butter with 2 tablespoons maple syrup, then remove from heat and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and cinnamon.

When the dough is doubled, punch it down and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a 12-by-18-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the butter-maple syrup mixture. Sprinkle over the brown sugar-cinnamon mixture, then the bacon bits, keeping 1 inch empty along one of the long edges. Roll the dough loosely into a long tube, pressing the empty edge along the length of the dough to seal the tube. Place the tube, seam-side down, on the work surface.

Cut the tube crosswise into 12 evenly sized rolls using a knife or a length of unflavored floss (slide the floss under the roll and then pull both ends tight, which doesn't squash the dough as much as a knife would). Place the rolls, spiral side up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spaced approximately one-half inch apart.

Loosely cover the rolls with plastic wrap and set aside until almost doubled in volume, 45 minutes to an hour. Alternatively, loosely cover and refrigerate the dough overnight; remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking for the dough to come to room temperature.

About halfway into the rising time, heat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon maple syrup with the remaining egg. Brush the egg wash over the outside of the rolls. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the rolls until puffed and golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through cooking. Remove the rolls from the baking sheet and cool, still on the parchment paper, on a rack.

While the cinnamon rolls are baking, make the glaze. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons each bacon grease and maple syrup. If the glaze is too thick, thin with milk, whisking in 1 tablespoon at a time.

Drizzle the glaze over the warm cinnamon rolls before serving. Serves 12

Note: Grade B maple syrup is recommended for this recipe; the syrup is less filtered, so it has more pronounced flavor.

Per serving: 529 calories; 24 g fat (12 g saturated fat); 65 g carbohydrates; 36 g sugar; 104 mg cholesterol; 468 mg sodium; 14 g protein; 2 g fiber.