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Dancing Tomatoes

Easter in France, Brunch-Style

It’s spring, and all the leaves, buds, bunnies, and everything else in nature is bursting awake during this most gloriously alive season!  For me, this holiday is the ultimate fête of  life, and I grew up celebrating it with a big Easter brunch, an Easter basket filled with goodies, an Easter egg hunt in the church garden, and oh so much more (new dress, beautiful Mass, new shoes, everything bright and spanking new!).

From Asparagus to Strawberries

I still love Easter, and over the years have celebrated it with friends with a long table decorated with whatever was blooming in the garden.  The menu included whatever was fresh and local, from asparagus to a big basket of strawberries, which depended on the season and the year.  I love to make pickled eggs for their color, and hot cross buns are a must.  And of course, there was and still is always bread and butter pudding.   

You Make it the Night Before!

It represents our Easter meal more than anything else, because it pleases every one of every age. In fact no one can resist its buttery, cheesey, bacon-y tenderness.  And the fact that you make it the night before and bake it the morning of is perfect.  It gives the cook a chance to participate (or create!) the Easter egg hunt!

The Novelty of Brunch in France

Easter in France doesn’t include brunch. In fact, when I first moved to France and began inviting my friends to brunch, the whole idea of a meal at 11:30 in the morning was too weird.  Years went by, I changed the time to 12:30, and the brunch became an institution.  I invited friends with small children for obvious reasons, and the morning began with a hunt in the garden if the weather was good, in the house if it wasn’t.  A house like mine was perfect for an Easter egg hunt, with its millions of nooks and crannies.  Months later I’d find a chocolate egg perched in the hole of an old beam,  tucked into the mantle, resting in an alabaster lamp.

Flying Church Bells

Easter in France is all about church bells. As the legend goes, all bells in France “fly” to Rome on Good Friday, so not a bell tolls in the country.  They all fly back Easter morning, filled with chocolates, and the bells return to making music, for an extra-long,ear-deafening but glorious time.  This celebrates the Resurrection, of course, and it celebrates, too, the freedom to indulge in bell and fish-shaped chocolates, with a few bunnies thrown in for good measure. 

Raised Eyebrows

When I learned of the French tradition I raised an eyebrow. Then I thought of my own family tradition, where a bunny crept into our bedrooms in the middle of the night to deposit a basket filled with trinkets and chocolates.  Which tradition is odder, I thought.

I Stick with the Bunny!

WAKEUP BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING

This recipe is a template. Use the amount of onions, bacon, and cheese that you like. If you cannot find slab bacon, get the best bacon you can find and cut it into thin strips. If you use a Swiss-type cheese, the pudding will be slightly sweeter than if you use a cheddar-style cheese. Either way, it’s scrumptious. Remember, you can assemble this the night before you bake it.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: bacon, cheddar cheese, eggs, scallions, spring onions, whole milk

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf, about 15 slices, high-quality white bread with crusts
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons; 90-125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 bunch spring onions or scallions trimmed and sliced into thin rounds
  • 6 ounces;180g slab bacon rind removed, cut into 1 x ¼-inch (2.5 x .6cm) pieces
  • 6 ounces;180g Cheddar or Swiss-type cheese, grated
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes to your taste -- optional
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 cups;750ml whole milk
  • Fine sea salt

Instructions

  • Butter each slice of bread on one side, all the way to the edges. Arrange the slices in a baking dish, with one corner of each slice sticking up, as per the video.
  • Sprinkle the onions, then the bacon, then the cheese down in and over the bread slices. Season with a generous amount of pepper (this is where you can add red pepper flakes if desired).
  • Whisk the eggs in a medium-sized bowl, then slowly whisk in the milk. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and pour the custard over the ingredients in the baking pan, making sure to moisten the tips of the bread.
  • Let sit for 2 to 8 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 375F (195C).
  • Bake the pudding until it is golden and puffed, which will take 35 to 45 minutes depending on your oven. When it is baked, remove it from the oven and present it to the table, then let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

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