3 Next-Level Recipes That Will Become Your New Brunch Time Favourites
Brunch has become more popular — and delicious — than ever. Try these unique recipes from celeb chefs. Photo: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images
Ah, brunch. That weekend activity we all clamour to do with friends and loved ones. Its mysterious allure that somehow compels even the most impatient to spend all morning in a line so that they can congregate with other brunch-time revellers in a packed space for a plate of gussied up eggs with a mimosa. Love it or loathe it, brunch service is popular and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Perhaps it’s coming out of pandemic hibernation. Or it’s the innate love we have for hearty breakfast plates served past lunch. But as Toronto-based chef and co-author of Brunch Life Matt Basile has wisely been quoted saying: “Breakfast is a meal, but brunch is a culture.”
For a person who tries to avoid lineups, I’ve caught myself doing brunch almost weekly since the start of the summer. Of the many iterations of the classics that were ordered and consumed, the following three dishes left the strongest impressions, which triggered the “I must have that recipe” reaction.
Well worth the visit, but if you can’t make it to these fabulous kitchens, then do try these recipes at home.
This playful Spanish restaurant in Toronto’s bustling King West strip is a tribute to the lively atmosphere experienced in tapas bars in Barcelona. Bar Chica is a joint venture by restaurant groups Scale Hospitality and ICONINK that’s known for its flavourful elevated share plates and craft cocktails. On Sundays, however, the restaurant offers an all-you-can-eat Spanish-themed brunch featuring bocadillo di jamon (Serrano ham sandwich with soft scrambled egg and tomato sofrito) along with their signature patatas bravas, croquetas and bottomless sangria. However, it’s the torrijas (Spanish-style french toast) that turns heads.
The latter reminded me of the benchmark-setting french toast from Barcelona’s Michelin three-starred Lasarte by lauded Spanish chef Martín Berasategui. Served with plum compote and frozen coffee crème, the lightly brûléed french toast cube straddles bread pudding and wobbly, just-set custard. It was heavenly, and a bite I’ve been reminiscing about for over a decade, until I met the version at Bar Chica.
Here, I found a simplified version that featured a stack of caramelized, custardy french toast rounds topped with a bright Calvados apple compote and finished with a generous fresh-whipped cream crown dusted with chopped hazelnuts. It evoked the warm flavours from fall but was fresh and light for summer, using ingredients that are available year-round for a dessert-worthy treat.
Bar Chica’s Torrijas a.k.a. Spanish-Style French Toast
1 Pullman loaf or any fluffy white bread (Bar Chica sources theirs from Blackbird), cut into eight 1-inch thick slices, crusts removed
8 tablespoons or 1 stick (113 g) butter
1 litre table cream
4 whole eggs
Coconut Dulce de Leche:
1 can condensed coconut milk or condensed milk
Calvados Apple Compote:
500 g golden delicious apples, peeled and diced ¼-inch thick
1 ⅛ cups (250 g) unsalted butter
½ cup (100 g) white sugar
1 teaspoon (5 g) cinnamon
140 ml (110 g) Calvados
A large pinch (1 g) salt
1 cup (250 ml) 35% cream, cold
Roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
½ cup (100 g) white sugar, divided
Calvados Apple Compote:
In a saucepot on medium heat, melt the butter with the sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
Once the butter has melted, add the Calvados and cook until the alcohol is cooked out.
Add the apples to the Calvados mixture and cook until the apples become soft, yet still holding their shape. Set aside and leave to cool.
Coconut Dulce de Leche:
Remove the label from the can. (Side note: More cans can be prepared at the same time, the amount is just limited by the space in your pot.)
Fill a large pot with enough water to submerge the can(s) by 1 to 2 inches. Heat over medium-high heat until the water comes to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 4 hours, checking on the water level and replenishing as necessary.
Let cool before opening the can to empty the contents into a container. Alternatively, you can always buy dulce de leche at any grocery store in the baking aisle.
Make the egg custard mixture by mixing the cream and eggs together in a shallow dish like a large pie plate.
In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.
Working in batches, soak two pieces of bread in the egg mixture for 20 seconds. When ready, pull the soaked bread out of the mixture and place them into the frying pan.
Cook each side of the bread until the surface is golden brown. The middle of the toast should be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. (Pro-tip: Use a toothpick and poke the center of the toast to ensure there’s no uncooked egg. Think of this like testing the middle of a baked cake.) Repeat with remaining ingredients.
To finish: Coat each piece of toast with 1 tablespoon of white sugar on one side only. Using a torch, brûlée the sugar on the toast until it’s melted and golden brown.
On a plate, stack two pieces of brûléed toast with the caramelized sugar side facing upwards.
Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the coconut dulce de leche over the toasts then top with 2 tablespoons of the warm Calvados apple compote.
In a chilled bowl, whip the heavy cream with a hand-held or stand mixer with a whisk attachment (or whisk) until soft peaks. Dollop a generous spoonful over the compote.
Sprinkle the hazelnuts over the whipped cream, and dust everything with icing sugar.
As ambassadors of Thai food in Toronto, celebrated chef Nuit Regular and business co-owner and husband, Jeff, have helped to reinvigorate the Toronto Thai food scene from being mostly casual to refined fare at their flagship restaurant, Kiin. Serving their version of royal Thai cuisine that ranges from dainty butterfly pea flower-stained Chor Muang (Thai flower dumpling) to flavourful Isaan larb (a type of Lao meat salad), they even serve a lobster pad Thai that’s wrapped with a delicate egg net.
The restaurant has recently expanded to offer brunch service daily as part of their Kiin Café concept. Here, you’ll find traditional Thai breakfast and lunch dishes like Jhok (Thai rice congee) and Guay Jub (Thai-style rice noodle soup), unique Thai coffee and espresso drinks, plus mini doughnuts given a Thai twist.
The Khao Mun Gai (Hainanese chicken rice) is an ever-popular classic that is simple in concept but is the quintessential comfort dish that features tender poached chicken and fragrant rice cooked in chicken broth. Served with various aromatic condiments and a side of melon soup, some homestyle preparations even reserve the rendered chicken fat for the chicken rice itself. It’s a favourite of mine, and a dish that Jeff loves, not just because it’s delicious. but also because it’s something he used to take his son to have for breakfast on the way to school every day.
Kiin’s Khao Mun Gai (Chicken Rice)
6 ¼ cups water, divided
1 tablespoon + 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
15 unpeeled Thai garlic cloves (or 5 unpeeled regular garlic cloves), lightly bruised
3 cilantro roots with 3-inch stems or 15 cilantro stems
4 (about 1 lb or 450 g) skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
¼ cup (60 ml) sunflower oil
¼ cup (60 ml) Thai garlic, unpeeled and minced (or peeled regular garlic)
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cups (500 ml) jasmine rice, rinsed and drained just before cooking
2 mini cucumbers, sliced, for serving
½ cup (125 ml) packed coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems, for garnish
2 tablespoons (30 ml) soybean paste
3 tablespoons (45 ml) white vinegar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) sweet soy sauce
1 tablespoon (15 ml) minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon (15 ml) Thai garlic, unpeeled and minced (or peeled regular garlic)
2 fresh green bird’s eye chilies, finely chopped
1 fresh red bird’s eye chili, finely chopped
½ cup reserved chicken broth
½ cup water
10 bite-size cubes of winter melon
9 white peppercorns, lightly bruised
In a large pot, combine 6 cups of the water, the salt, garlic, and cilantro roots and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.
When the water is boiling, reduce the heat to medium, add the chicken, cover, and boil for 10 minutes. Turn the chicken, cover, and continue cooking for another 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked all the way through. If you have a probe thermometer, the internal temperature should be about 165°F.
Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Set aside the chicken broth. (You will need to reserve ½ cup of the broth for the melon soup.)
Once the chicken has rested, remove and discard the bones and cut the meat into bite-size cubes. Set aside and keep warm.
In a medium wok or skillet, heat the sunflower oil over medium heat. After about 20 seconds, stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the jasmine rice and 1 cup of the reserved chicken broth and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pan regularly to avoid burning the rice. Add another 1 cup chicken broth and stir for another 3 minutes.
Transfer the partially cooked rice to a medium rice cooker. Add 2 ½ cups chicken broth and the remaining ¼ cup water. Cook the rice according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This should take 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your rice cooker.
Once the rice has finished cooking, use a spatula to stir and fluff the rice, then let it rest for another 10 minutes in the rice cooker on the “keep warm” setting.
Alternatively, you can continue to cook the rice on the stovetop. Transfer the partially cooked rice to a medium pot. Add 2 ½ cups chicken broth and the remaining ¼ cup water. Stir well. Increase the heat to high and boil until the liquid has evaporated enough to sit at the same level as the rice, 8 to 10 minutes. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for another 12 to 15 minutes. To determine if the rice is fully cooked, pull out a grain and break it with your finger. It should feel soft all the way through. Use a spatula to stir and fluff the rice, then remove from the heat. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes.
Using a stone mortar and pestle, grind the soybean paste to a smooth paste. Transfer to a small bowl. Stir in the white vinegar, sweet soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and green and red chilies. Set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the reserved chicken broth and water to a boil. When the broth is boiling, add the winter melon and white peppercorns. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes. The winter melon will turn almost transparent so that there is no white part visible in the middle.
Place 1 cup of jasmine rice on each plate. Arrange the chicken cubes on top of the rice. Arrange the sliced cucumbers on the side of each plate. Garnish each plate with ¼ cup fresh cilantro and drizzle with half the dipping sauce (or serve on the side in small dipping bowls).
Divide the winter melon soup between 2 small bowls with 5 pieces of melon in each bowl and serve on the side. The soup will cleanse the palate.
South of the border, tucked away on 300 acres of hardwood forests in the quaint town of Barnard, Vt., is the five-star resort of Twin Farms. This dreamy country estate is bucket list-worthy for a reason: The former private retreat of Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis and his journalist wife, Dorothy Thompson, is where you’ll find unadulterated natural beauty, graceful hospitality and a welcoming main house, which has been converted from the property’s original 1790s farmhouse and lodge, along with guest cottages outfitted with a private contemporary art collection from founder and American philanthropist, Thurston Twigg-Smith.
Twin Farms’ impressive all-inclusive experience includes gourmet meals with fine wines. This is where you’ll encounter the most delightful soufflé pancakes. It’s a popular item that doesn’t always appear on the breakfast menu but is always available. While the fruit and flavours might change daily, the tried-and-true standby remains the same. Having been on the menu since the hotel’s opening in 1993, executive chef Nathan Rich shares that it’s also the only item that has never been taken off the menu. I can tell you why: They are heavenly.
When I encountered the pancakes for the first time in late July, I was shocked at how they straddled breakfast and dessert (disclosure: I love soufflés), but even more surprised at how it seemed to disappear shortly after the order arrived at the table. Whether it’s because the pancakes are so impossibly fluffy and wobbly light or because I scarfed them down that quickly, it’s one of the many bites consumed on my visit that I can’t seem to forget. Loved by celebrities, the adults-only getaway can be challenging (and expensive) to book, but you can recreate these star-worthy breakfast treats anytime at home.
Twin Farms’ Soufflé Pancakes
Serves 2 to 4
2 cups (240 g) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon (13 g) baking powder
2 tablespoons (25 g) granulated sugar
½ tablespoon (9 g) salt
4 eggs, separated
1 ½ tablespoons (22 ml) vanilla extract
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
Fruit and nuts, optional
Maple syrup, whipped cream, preserves, or other toppings, optional
Preheat the oven to 425 F.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Do not sift.
In a mixing bowl, combine the yolks, vanilla, and milk.
In a separate bowl, whip egg whites to firm peaks. While whites are whipping, stir the yolk mixture into flour mixture.
Fold the egg whites into the batter gently, until just combined. Do not over mix!
If using fruit and nuts, fold a handful into the batter just before cooking.
Spoon batter onto a heated griddle and brown on both sides. Place pancakes on a tray and finish in the oven until the centers are cooked, approximately 8 minutes.
Serve with maple syrup, preserves or whatever pancake topping you enjoy.
Kiin’s Khao Mun Gai (Chicken Rice) recipe is excerpted from Kiin by Nuit Regular. Copyright © 2020 by Nuit Regular. Photography copyright © 2020 by Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott. Published by Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.