The best ideas for hosting an Easter brunch

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I’ve hosted my fair share of holiday parties, and Easter brunch is one I’ve nearly perfected over the years. I do myself and my guests all a huge favor by preserving my sanity and poise and prepping as much as I can in the days before the party. What makes for a perfect brunch table? A combination of sweet and savory dishes, homemade and store-bought breads and crackers, something light alongside like a simple fruit or green salad, and a decadent dessert that reminds my guests that this isn’t just any ordinary brunch — it’s an Easter holiday brunch. Oh, and cocktails. Don’t forget the cocktails. The meal is served buffet style, and just a few fresh tulips or daffodils in small vases around your house will transform your party into a real spring fling. Ready?

Prepared meats and fish

When serving a meal to guests in the early hours, be kind to yourself. A well-planned combo of make-ahead dishes plus some items you bought premade from the store will ensure that everyone is enjoying their morning. One of my favorite ways to throw together an impressive holiday brunch feast is to let a smoked ham or fish platter take center stage on my table. Organic Prairie makes an excellent organic, bone-in, hardwood-smoked spiral ham that’s delivered straight to your door. Pop in the oven for an hour or so, and brunch is served. My family goes gaga for it, and I love using the leftover bone to make a split pea soup.

Another idea is to take advantage of prepared fish. I make a beautifully arranged platter of sliced, smoked Nova lox, and fish salads like whitefish, tuna, and shrimp. I surround it all with cream cheese, sliced cucumber, tomato, and red onion. This can all be done the night before the party, as long as you cover it well with plastic wrap before storing in the fridge. I serve plenty of sliced bagels, rye bread, rolls, and crackers alongside so guests can make a sandwich or just enjoy a bite or two.

Deviled eggs

Deviled eggs are the first thing everyone asks me to bring when I’m attending a family party, and I’ve served them more than once as part of an Easter brunch. Ninety percent of the work can be done the day before, and the filling can be stored in a plastic food storage bag until you’re ready to fill your hard-boiled egg shells. Just snip the tip and use like a piping bag to expertly and easily fill your eggs. If I’m feeling really ambitious, I might make two or three different variations to serve, which makes for a beautiful presentation. This year I’m planning my classic, go-to recipe for bacon and jalapeno deviled eggs, much like the ones made here at Real Housemoms. I also have my eye on this recipe for smoked salmon deviled eggs from Ina Garten and these avocado deviled eggs from Jenn at Mother Thyme for a brilliant pop of color.

Savory brunch stratas and quiches

First of all, if you have an awesome little bakery or specialty shop nearby that sells yummy ready-made quiche, buy it! If you’d rather make your own, quiches and strata casseroles are perfect for make-ahead ease. For a quiche, you can make your own classic butter crust and add the filling of your choice. For a shortcut, consider using frozen puff pastry to make a crust, like this spinach puff pastry quiche that can be prepared and baked the day before. Reheat just before brunch.

Stratas are like an eggy, savory bread pudding, and they’re dynamite for feeding a hungry brunch crowd. The basic formula involves layering the bottom of a casserole dish with torn-up day-old bread. Cover completely with a mixture of eggs, cream, spices, and cheese so the bread is saturated. You can leave it as is or enhance it with your favorite fillings, like cooked sausage, lump crab, asparagus, ham, bell peppers, fresh basil, or tomatoes … you do you. Allow the creamy mixture to sit overnight in the fridge. Bring the casserole dish close to room temperature, then pop in the oven for about an hour before your guests arrive. The strata will puff up and achieve a gorgeous browned top. Watch it closely as it browns, and remove it from the oven when the color is perfect. Let the strata sit at least 20 minutes before serving.

Sweet brunch casseroles

I’ve never been a huge fan of sweet breakfast flavors, but there are a few sweet treats I can never pass up. One of them is Nutella. I once hosted a brunch and labored over Nutella-stuffed French toast as my guests sat and enjoyed bloody marys without me, so I love that it’s possible to recreate the same flavors ahead of time, like with this overnight Nutella French toast, which bakes much like a strata. Similar recipes include blueberry and mascarpone French toast, as well as a French toast casserole made with apples and cinnamon.

If your Easter spread is starting to sound way too bready, consider offering your guests a gluten-free baked oatmeal casserole. This collection offers some tantalizing flavor ideas like raspberry and coconut, peanut butter cup, and banana almond.

Waffles

Yes, it is possible to serve hot, crispy, homemade waffles for your Easter brunch without wanting to hurl Easter eggs at your guests. The key is in your make-ahead planning, and you have two big choices. Your first choice is to completely make your waffles ahead of time, freeze them, and then reheat for your guests. That’s what Rachel does at Baked by Rachel. Her waffles are cooked completely, allowed to cool, then frozen in gallon freezer bags. Reheat in a toaster or regular oven before serving, and top as you wish.

If you want to prepare your waffles on Easter morning, the key is to make your homemade batter the night before. A yeasted waffle is going to be a better choice than a waffle batter that rises with baking soda, which is more appropriate for the day of. For a yeast-based batter, try Bon Appetit’s brown butter batter or Ina Garten’s overnight Belgian waffle batter. Both batters will get a better rise if you cover them well and leave overnight on the counter — not the fridge. Cook the waffles right before guests arrive and hold at room temperature for up to an hour. Reheat before serving.

Brunch sides

I’ll admit it. I’m a complete potato addict, and it’s the first side dish I look for at any decadent brunch or breakfast I may enjoy. Hash browns, the ultimate brunch side, can be challenging to pull off for a crowd — they require attention and time, and really should be served right away when they’re still at crispy perfection. Potato pancakes, on the other hand, are far more forgiving and can even be made ahead, frozen, and reheated on the day of your party. That’s the approach I take when making one of my favorites, parsnip and sweet potato pancakes. They’re a fantastic combo of sweet and savory with the addition of thyme and scallions.

And what’s a brunch without a salty dose of fatty meat? Bacon cooked in the oven can be very crowd friendly, and you’ll wow the crowd even more if you glaze the bacon with maple syrup, as shown here at Everyday Maven. If it wouldn’t be brunch for you without sausage patties, skip the packaged log from the freezer case and try making it yourself with this recipe from Bon Appetit using ground pork butt, fresh herbs, and smoked paprika.

Muffins and biscuits

Sure, you could enlist the assistance of your local bakery here and grab your favorite muffins and breads to enhance your spread. And there’s certainly no shame in popping open a canister of ready-to-bake cinnamon rolls. But I find it’s pretty simple to make and freeze one or two baked items for my brunch get-togethers and heat them the day of. Quick breads like muffins and coffee cakes can be fully baked days before your party, and they freeze beautifully. Mini muffins, in my opinion, are preferable to their older siblings, which guests may find too large to commit to with so many other tantalizing goodies on the table. I like to offer two or three different flavors, like chocolate chip, banana, and strawberry. Freeze the cooled muffins in gallon freezer bags, thaw the day of, and warm gently in the oven.

Scones and biscuits are ideal for flash freezing, meaning you can prepare the batter ahead, shape them, and arrange them on a baking sheet (without baking) before popping them in the freezer overnight. Your guests get fresh-baked breads, and you get to sleep in. Check out Smitten Kitchen’s ideas for scones and biscuits including chive buttermilk biscuits, and Meyer lemon and cranberry scones.

The best brunch cocktails

As far as I’m concerned, there’s one crucial difference between breakfast and brunch: the presence of booze. Mimosas and Bellinis are classics, easy enough to pull off with inexpensive sparkling wine and bottled orange juice or peach nectar. Jazz it up a bit and make it a platinum sparkle, an eye-opening blend of vodka, Lillet liqueur, and fresh lemon juice, topped with sparkling wine.

Ho-hum screwdrivers, that familiar combination of vodka and OJ, can easily be enhanced with just a few simple additions. Make a screwdriver with vanilla vodka, and you have a creamsicle. Add some amaretto with a splash of soda to make it a bocce ball. Thrown in some peach schnapps, and you have a hairy navel.

Those are all great, but bloody marys will make me show up to any brunch party. And nothing can compare to freshly made bloody mary mix. My very own recipe is one I picked up and tweaked after watching the bartenders of my favorite New York brunch spot. I combine one 46-ounce can of tomato juice with a hefty tablespoon of jarred horseradish, a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce, freshly ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon of celery salt, and hot sauce to taste. Stir well and refrigerate overnight. Pour over ice and 1 ounce of vodka, then garnish with green olives, celery sticks, or long dill pickle spears. Prefer it with tequila? That’s a bloody maria.

Brunch desserts

Dessert may seem counter-intuitive on a day when jelly beans and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs are abundant. Plus, the meal you’ve just enjoyed had plenty of maple syrup-drenched baked goods. But it’s a holiday brunch, and holidays demand a stand-out dessert.

If a cake recipe calls for cream cheese icing, I look no further than the queen of full-fat dairy products, Paula Deen. Her Grandma Hiers’ carrot cake recipe does not disappoint and would make for an excellent finish to your Easter spread. The zippy flavor of fresh lemon screams springtime to me, and these lemon cupcakes with lavender icing from The Pioneer Woman are just so Easter. (I dare you not to picture their pastel purple and yellow hues on your Easter table.) And last but not least, we have my dessert recipe from last Easter, one that has already been requested again. A stunning key lime trifle, that I made my own with the addition of shaved white chocolate, crushed graham crackers, and granola added to the layers. I tend to shun most desserts, but even I have a hard time resisting those flavors.

Mashed