Brunch remains a popular Sunday tradition
As we look forward to celebrating Easter, we’ve started planning our favorite meal of bunny Sunday - brunch. How exactly did the notion of brunch begin? The name is easy enough to puzzle out, a combination of breakfast and lunch. Menus for a typical brunch reflect the same fusion: offerings from eggs to a standing rib roast. And, the timing of brunch can be anywhere from late morning through early afternoon.
Conventional wisdom for the origins of brunch points us to an 1895 issue of the magazine Hunters Weekly. In his essay, “Brunch: A Plea,” Guy Beringer made the case to forgo both the hurried breakfast before church and the heavy meal afterward. Blending these two menus and serving the meal late in the morning would also benefit those who preferred to sleep in on Sundays (especially if Saturday evening’s activities included late-night carousing).
What started as a suggestion to more conveniently feed the foxhunting crowd after their long mornings chasing hounds has evolved into a tradition that remains popular today. Because of the wide range of foods served for brunch, it’s common for restaurants to offer a buffet instead of a menu. In many cities, restaurants and hotels have become legendary for their extensive brunch buffets.
Walk past the array of chafing dishes, pick up a plate and begin with breakfast items such as eggs, bacon and sweet rolls or opt for the waffles, pancakes and sausage. The next step is to segue into the lighter side of lunch, a middle ground where you’ll find soup and salad or chilled seafood cocktails. Finally, you’re ready for the carving stations, where you choose from ham, lamb, pork or beef - don’t forget the mashed potatoes and gravy.
Another popular brunch menu item is the morning cocktail, usually a mimosa or bloody Mary because of their juice content. This helps encourage diners to linger over their meals and may make them less aware of the uneven quality or failings of the food. Chefs have been known to express their dislike for brunch, which comes far too soon after a busy Saturday night at their restaurants.
While there are a number of places in this area that serve an excellent brunch, we prefer to stay home on Easter Sunday. As a test for one of the items on our upcoming menu, I made the fluffy miniature biscuits in the photo. Unlike angel biscuits, which call for yeast, or plain baking powder biscuits, I used a leavening agent called Bakewell Cream.
The maker, the New England Cupboard in Maine, sells tins labeled with the description “a leavening agent for better baking.” A chemist looking for a replacement for cream of tartar during shortages in the 1940s created the product by combining sodium acid pyrophosphate and redried starch. When the acid in Bakewell Cream mixes with baking soda, the chemical reaction produces prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide and a higher rise than with baking powder.
The Bakewell Cream biscuit recipe printed on the can calls for a different baking process, as well. Once the dough is cut into rounds, the biscuits are baked at a very high heat for a few minutes; then the heat is turned off and the biscuits are left in the oven for another 10 or so minutes. The rise happens quickly, and the remaining time in the oven allows the biscuits to reach a delicate golden brown.
In addition to its wonderful leavening effects, Bakewell Cream is aluminum free. If you’ve ever eaten a muffin that left an unpleasant tinny flavor in your mouth, blame it on the baking powder’s aluminum content. And, while baking powder has a limited shelf life (figure less than a year) Bakewell Cream will keep for several years in your cupboard.
I’ve included several recipes that feature Bakewell Cream, so you can compare your results to baked goods made with ordinary baking power. You’ll be sure to add some of them to your menu for Easter Sunday brunch.
Bakewell Cream Biscuits*
2 C flour
2 t Bakewell Cream
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 C unsalted butter
3/4 C milk
Preheat oven to 475 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Sift together dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles cornmeal. Stir in milk and pull dough together into a ball. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 5 or 6 times. Roll out to one-half-inch thickness and cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter. Place on prepared cookie sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and continue baking until lightly golden, about 12 minutes. *Note: adapted from the manufacturer’s recipe.
1 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 t Bakewell Cream
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 T sugar
1 C milk
2 T melted butter
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl; set aside. Whisk together eggs, milk and melted butter in a mixing bowl. Stir in dry ingredients, mixing just until combined.
Preheat griddle until a drop of water dances on the surface. Ladle spoonfuls of batter onto heated pan.
Cook until the tops are covered with bubbles. Flip pancakes and cook until done, about 1 or 2 minutes. Yield: 10 to 12 pancakes. *Note: adapted from the manufacturer’s recipe.
Oatmeal Jam Squares*
2 C rolled oats
1 3/4 C flour
1 C melted butter
1 C brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1/2 t Bakewell Cream
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 C chopped walnuts
3/4 C berry preserves
Preheat oven to 400 F. Coat the inside of a 9-by-12-inch glass pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Combine all ingredients except preserves in a large mixing bowl.
Beat at low speed until crumbly. Reserve 2 C and press remaining mixture onto bottom of prepared pan.
Spread preserves evenly over base layer and sprinkle with reserved mixture. Bake until golden, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool before cutting into squares. *Note: adapted from the manufacturer’s recipe.
1 3/4 C flour
3/4 t baking soda
1 1/4 t Bakewell Cream
1/2 t salt
1/3 C softened butter
2/3 C sugar
2-3 ripe bananas
Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of a loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Sift together the dry ingredients into a bowl; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until smooth. Add bananas and beat until smooth. Stir in dry ingredients, mixing until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until tester comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool slightly and remove loaf to a rack to cool completely before slicing. *Note: adapted from the manufacturer’s recipe.