EveryMonday.ie: Brunching at Christmas: Christmas Muffins

Christmas Muffins Christmas is the time for long, leisurely brunches with family and friends. Make it easy with dishes that you can prepare in advance and whip into the oven just before your guests arrive. Caroline Hennessy, writing for EveryMonday.ie, gives you a few easy ideas that won’t have you losing your Christmas cheer.

’Tis the season for lie ins and late starts so, instead of a morning-long breakfast, why not go straight to brunch? Rather than confining all your entertaining to the evenings, brunch is the perfect way to continue the festive celebrations and avoid that post-Christmas slump, especially on St Stephen’s Day and New Year’s Day.

It may be a busy time of the year but preparing brunch doesn’t have to mean a hectic start. Make yourself a cup of coffee and potter around the kitchen getting things ready in a relaxed manner. Avoid doing something like a big fry up or you’ll spend the entire time tied to the cooker. Choose dishes that can be prepared ahead of time and take minimal last-minute intervention.

Set the atmosphere
Set the scene by digging out a Christmas album or two and setting your table with as many Christmas dishes and Santa mugs as you can get your hands on. Anything red, green or sparkly is perfect for this time of year but even plain, white crockery on a red tablecloth with a few holly branches or sprays of ivy will look the part. Light plenty of candles and make space for the toaster, coffee machine and kettle nearby so that no one has to go too far to replenish the basics.

Start with a festive beverage like egg nog, a glass of champagne or even a cranberry mimosa (three parts champagne/sparkling wine to one part cranberry juice and one part orange juice – use sparkling mineral water for the non-drinkers). Set out a basket of breads, scones and muffins, all of which can be baked or bought before Christmas, frozen and then warmed gently in the oven before serving. It’s easy to add a seasonal touch to everyday recipes – put some cinnamon and nuts in your favourite sweet bread, add dried cranberries and chocolate chips to a scone mix and make muffins more festive by stirring mincemeat through the batter of these Christmas Muffins.

Prepare to enjoy
Most of the preparation for the Potato, Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Frittata and the Buttermilk Pancakes with Cranberry Orange Sauce (recipes below) can be done beforehand. Boil, peel and slice the potatoes, chop the smoked salmon and cube the cream cheese the day before. The next morning, you just have to assemble and cook. Frittatas are best eaten at room temperature so this dish can be finished early and put on the table. The cranberry orange sauce can be made up to a week ahead of time and stored in the fridge. It can be used with either sweet or savoury dishes so any leftovers will do double duty with cold turkey. Have your wet and dry pancake ingredients in separate bowls, all ready to go; then it’s a simple matter of mixing and cooking.

Serve everything with plenty of strong dark coffee (maybe even enlivened with a dash of flavoured liqueur) or large pots of your favourite tea. Most importantly, remember that a festive brunch should be fun so make sure that you take the time to sit down with your guests and really enjoy this little luxury. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Muffins (makes 12)
Plain flour – 280g
Baking powder – 2 teaspoons
Bicarbonate of soda – ½ teaspoon
Salt – ¼ teaspoon
Ground cinnamon – ½ teaspoon
Light muscovado sugar – 85g
Egg – 1
Milk – 240mls
Mincemeat – 300g
Butter – 90g, melted and cooled
Dried cranberries – 85g

Preheat the oven to 190°C and line a muffin tin with paper cases.

Sift the plain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and ground cinnamon together into a large bowl.

In a small bowl, beat the egg, milk, mincemeat and melted butter together. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir until just barely combined, adding the cranberries for the final few strokes. Be careful not to over mix.

Fill muffin cases two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool.

Potato, Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Frittata (serves 4-6 as part of a large brunch)
Red onions – 2, finely chopped
Eggs – 6, lightly beaten
Small waxy potatoes – 800g, cooked and cooled
Paprika – ¼ teaspoon
Smoked salmon – 100g, chopped
Cream cheese – 100g, roughly cubed
Olive oil for frying
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Heat a little olive oil in a heavy, oven-proof frying pan and fry the onions over a moderate heat until they start to soften. Meanwhile, peel and slice the potatoes. Stir them into the beaten eggs along with some salt, pepper and the paprika.
Scrape the softened onions into the egg and potato mixture with the smoked salmon and cubes of cream cheese. Fold gently together. Heat a little more olive oil in the frying pan. When it is hot, pour in the egg/potato/smoked salmon/cream cheese mixture. Give it 5 minutes on the hob to cook the base. Then bake it in the oven for about 15 minutes or until set.
Slide onto a serving platter and cut into wedges to serve with slices of lemon.

Buttermilk Pancakes (makes about 8 x 7.5cm pancakes)
Plain flour – 150g
Baking powder – 1 teaspoon
Bicarbonate of soda – ½ teaspoon
Salt – ¼ teaspoon
Buttermilk – 250mls
Egg – 1
Vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon
Melted butter – 1 tablespoon, plus a little extra for greasing the frying pan

Put plain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and whisk to mix. Beat buttermilk, egg, vanilla extract and melted butter together. Pour wet ingredients into the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Heat a heavy-based frying pan over a medium-high heat until drops of water sizzle on the surface. Add a little melted butter to coat the pan.

Using a small ladle, pour enough batter on to the pan to make a small pancake. You should be able to fit two or three into the pan, a little distance apart. Cook until golden brown on each side, flipping once. Serve immediately with dollops of crème fraîche and cranberry orange sauce.

Cranberry Orange Sauce (makes about 750mls)
Fresh or frozen cranberries – 450g
Light muscovado sugar – 225g
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
Cinnamon stick

Heat the cranberries, sugar, orange juice and cinnamon stick in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries pop. Add 250mls water and simmer for about 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if necessary, stirring to dissolve.

Remove from the heat, discard the cinnamon stick and stir in the orange zest.



Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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