On Cooking: Give a boost to breakfast

Many breakfast foods can be made or prepared ahead of time.

On many occasions I have mentioned great ways to transform your dinner making experience into a special event, like pouring a glass of wine and putting on some great music, but what about breakfast? Isn’t this the most important meal of the day? Yes, to most health professionals it is, so this column is dedicated to making that pinnacle feast into something extraordinary.

I understand that a vast percentage of the population have “day jobs” and that making a spectacular breakfast on a weekday is far from being at the top of your priority list. These ideas are more geared towards your days off or if you work evenings.

This is the perfect circumstance to forget about the bowl of cold cereal or toast and jam, and blow the dust off some old cookbooks to try something new. One of my wife’s favourite breakfast pastimes is making and perfecting different pancake recipes from around the world. It seems that every walk of life has their own version of what we know as the traditional North American pancake. Making it a tradition to do a different pancake recipe every Saturday or Sunday morning is a fantastic journey around the culinary world.

French toast is another common “special” breakfast that many people enjoy, but we prepare it differently on many instances. Instead of the traditional method of dipping bread in batter and frying in a pan, we often will make a large casserole dish of French toast the night before, letting the egg mixture soak in, and then baking it the next morning. Not only is it an extraordinary display at the breakfast table, it also allows us to have more free time in the morning to sip our special coffees and enjoy each other’s company.

Actually there are many recipes that you can get mostly prepared the night before, like muffins or biscuits for example. Measure and combine all of the dry ingredients and then all you have to do is incorporate the wet ingredients in the morning.

Incorporating fresh baked breads or unique types of bread will also enhance an ordinary breakfast. One way to make this easy is to prep the loaf the evening before, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight. The bread might rise slightly in the fridge, but you will need to remove it from the fridge an hour or two before baking. Remove the plastic wrap, let it rise in a warm place until it doubles its original size and bake as usual. On many occasions we will serve fresh baked bread simply topped with butter and honey.

If all of this seems like “work” however, there is one very quick way to help transform your regular breakfast of cold cereal: top with a handful of fresh in-season berries or some slices of banana. This will take very little time, offer more flavour, nutrition, and make a better presentation. There is a reason why all the photos of cereal on the cereal boxes are like this: better presentation equals more of a chance of you buying it.

Dear Chef Dez:

I love pancakes, but whenever I make them they turn out tough. I know it’s not the recipe because it is the same one that my mom uses and hers always turn out fluffy and delicate. Can you help me?

Sarah D., Burnaby, BC

Dear Sarah:

Pancakes are much like quick breads as they should have a cake-like texture, hence the name pan-“cakes”. The biggest mistake made when preparing pancake batter is that one tends to over-mix. Over-mixing flour and liquid produces gluten, which will give it more structure. The more mixing one does, the more gluten is created, and the tougher the cooked pancakes will be. It is okay for your batter to be a bit lumpy. The lumps won’t be evident in the cooked pancake.

Also, make sure you are not using “bread” flour, as it contains more gluten than all-purpose or pastry flour. I hope this helps.

Write to Chef Dez at dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4