Michele makes… Easter brunch

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I love Easter brunch. It’s a great time to exercise a variety of baking and cooking skill while creating a bountiful and special Easter breakfast/lunch table.

Cinnamon French Toast Casserole

A friend shared with recipe with me, I have tweaked it for my taste buds by increasing the amount of brown sugar and cinnamon. I also added bacon for texture. I use French Toast bread (I usually have about 4 slices of bread left over) and decorate with raspberries. This recipe packs a cinnamon punch, you can reduce the amount of cinnamon to 2 tsps. in both the bread mixture and the streusel topping if you want less cinnamon.

1 (22-ounce) loaf French bread, French Toast bread, sourdough bread or challah. (I use about 3/4 or 2/3 of the loaf.

16 ounces brick-style cream cheese, softened to room temperature

6 Tbsp confectioners’ sugar

2 Tbsp vanilla extract, divided

8 large eggs

2 and 1/4 cups half and half

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 cup packed brown sugar

Streusel Topping

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

1 cube (8 Tbsp) butter, cold and cubed

1 cup chopped walnuts

Garnish after baking

6 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

Confectioners’ sugar

Fruit

Grease a 9×13 pan with butter or spray with nonstick spray.

Cut the bread into cubes, about 1 inch in size. Spread half of the cubes into the prepared baking pan.

Beat cream cheese on medium-high speed until completely smooth.

Beat in the confectioners’ sugar and 1 Tbsp vanilla extract until combined. Drop random spoonfuls of cream cheese mixture on top of the bread, then spread cream cheese atop the layer of bread. Layer the remaining bread cubes on top of cream cheese.

In a separate bowl whisk eggs, milk, cinnamon, brown sugar and remaining vanilla together until no lumps remain.

Pour over the bread.

Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 3 hours minimum or overnight. (Overnight is best.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare streusel topping: Whisk the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon together in a medium bowl. Cut in the cubed butter (make sure it is very cold) with a pastry blender. Sprinkle the topping over the soaked bread.

Bake uncovered for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Sprinkle with crumbled bacon, confectioners’ sugar and decorate with fresh strawberries, blueberries or raspberries.

Serve immediately with butter and syrup.

Cover leftovers tightly and store in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Make ahead tip: Prepare the topping in advance, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator. Sprinkle over the soaked bread before baking. For freezing, prepare the recipe (without preheating the oven) and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator then add topping and bake as directed.

Recipe Notes:

This recipe can easily be halved in an 8 or 9-inch baking pan. The bake time will be slightly less, around 30-35 minutes.

Another fun and decadent variation is to add a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips on top of the bread before covering with the streusel topping.

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy

This will impress your brunch crowd. You can make your own biscuits from scratch or simply make boxed or canned biscuits.

To make sausage gravy first brown 1lb. pork ground sausage. After the sausage is browned removed the meat from the pan and set aside.

Into the rendered sausage fat add 2 Tbsp flour. Cook for one minute stirring constantly.

Whisk 2 cups milk into the pan and bring to a boil. Turn down head and simmer gently for three minutes. Add the browned sausage and stir well.

Split your biscuits in half and pour gravy over the biscuits. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Smoked Salmon Bites

3/4 cup cream cheese

2 tablespoons Greek yogurt

Zest from 1 lemon

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon dried dill weed

1 small garlic clove, grated on a microplane or very finely minced

A pinch of sea salt

2 cucumbers, sliced

6 ounces cold smoked salmon (lox)

Capers to taste

Fresh dill and cracked pepper, to garnish

Slice the cucumbers into discs.

Mix cream cheese, yogurt, lemon zest and juice, dill weed, garlic and salt. To assemble top each cucumber disc with the cream cheese mix, add salmon and garnish with capers, pepper and fresh dill.

Oven Bacon

2 lbs. thick cut bacon (about 16 slices)

Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 400 degrees. Divide bacon between two wire racks set inside large foil-lined rimmed baking sheets. Bake, rotating baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through, until brown and crisp, 35–50 minutes (depending on the thickness). Transfer to paper towels to drain. Regular cut bacon will take about 20 minutes or so. Keep a close eye on your bacon, it will burn or overcook very quickly.

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