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Gigi Warshawsky prepares Fluffy Scrambled Eggs Florentine, which is part of her brunch menu.

Slow down. Relax. Eat.

Ease holiday stress, refuel for shopping with brunch menu

Think of it as late-morning fuel during the holiday season. Whether it’s just a lazy day with family and friends, or a little calm before the seasonal shopping storm at the mall, you just can’t beat a few slices of French toast, some eggs, fruit and a little side of salad. And hey, for a little extra cheer, don’t forget a mimosa or spiced-up bloody mary.

Brunch is “just a happy and relaxing kind of meal,” caterer and food-safety expert Gigi Warshawsky says. “You don’t do business meetings for brunch. It’s for family and friends. It’s good company and good conversation.”

Indeed, when conducting a cooking class, Warshawsky was all about cranking out hearty brunch fare.

She kicked off the session in Sacramento, Calif., late last year with a classic: French toast. Her version came with a sweet and crunchy praline topping, and opted for French bread as its basis. Brioche and other eggy breads also make good French-toast options to better soak up the custard mixture before baking.

Warshawsky recommended skipping sourdough breads or anything that is too crusty.

No matter if it’s French toast or any holiday cooking, Warshawsky insisted on using fresh spices. After all, what gives a kitchen a better holiday scent than freshly ground nutmeg swirling around with real vanilla and cinnamon?

“Fresh spices are so much more robust and bold in flavor,” Warshawsky says. “Once dry grated spices are exposed to air, the flavor really decreases. Especially with holiday spices, you want flavors that are bold, not subtle. They all go together: the ginger, nutmeg, clove and allspice.”

The scones recipe led to a few nervous looks. Getting the perfect texture on this traditional Scottish bread and brunch favorite isn’t easy, and nobody likes a rock-hard scone no matter how much it’s been dipped in tea. Warshawsky still made it look easy, kneading the dough with a big smile and then cutting it into small, tasty triangles.

“This is the reason why you come to this class,” Warshawsky said.

She emphasized the importance of using cold butter and cold cream to better produce a scone texture that’s tender yet flaky. Before baking the scones, she adjured, be sure you still see chunks of butter in the dough.

And by all means, don’t overwork that dough.

“That’s the biggest thing,” Warshawsky said. “If you work it too much it’ll become tough and you won’t get that flaky fluffiness. And when you cut the scones into triangles, you want to see those chunks of butter, or else you’ll get a hard scone that’s dry.”

What brunch would be complete without a steamy egg dish? While omelets and eggs Benedict will always be go-to brunch staples, Warshawsky whipped out her recipe for Fluffy Scrambled Eggs Florentine. It’s a hearty way to warm that tummy over brunch on a chilly morning, with cubed cream cheese added for an extra-creamy texture.

Even something as simple as scrambling eggs requires a few pointers. For one, she recommended keeping the pan as hot as possible. She also advised sautéing the onions first in this recipe before adding the chopped garlic – and be careful not to burn them. Otherwise, the taste of this brunch might be on the bitter side.

Most important, if you really want fluffy eggs, don’t get too happy with the spatula.

“I’m just going to push the eggs into the middle of the pan and leave it alone,” said Warshawsky, while demonstrating her scrambled-egg technique. “Let the sides do their thing.”

By the end of class, the room smelled like one happy and fragrant holiday kitchen. Glasses of Gruet Rosé sparkling wine were offered, then out came the samples of French toast, Warshawsky’s fluffy scrambled eggs and her beloved “Gigi bacon” (1 pound of bacon slices sprinkled with brown sugar and baked at 350 degrees until crispy, about 20 minutes).

School should always be this scrumptious.

Baked French Toast with Praline Topping

1 loaf French bread or bread of choice

8 eggs

2 cups half-and-half

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Dash of salt

Splash of favorite liqueur, optional

Praline topping:

1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), melted

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 cup pecans, chopped

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice bread into 20 slices, each 1 inch thick.

Arrange slices in generously buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish in two rows, overlapping the slices.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and liqueur, if using. Beat until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over bread slices, making sure all are covered.

Spoon some of the mixture between the slices. Let egg mixture seep in.

Make the praline topping by combining all ingredients; spread evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and fully cooked in the center. Serve with maple syrup or whipped cream. Makes 20 slices.

– Gigi Warshawsky

Fluffy Scrambled Eggs Florentine

12 eggs

1/4 cup half-and-half, cream or milk

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon garlic, chopped

1/2 onion, chopped

1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed

1 (8-ounce package) cream cheese, cubed

Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix eggs with milk and season with salt and pepper. In a sauté pan, melt butter and then add garlic to brown a bit. Add onions and sauté until soft. Add the spinach and heat. When all the vegetables are heated, add the eggs and scramble until desired doneness. Add the cream cheese and stir until incorporated. Makes 6 servings.

– Gigi Warshawsky

Spiced Breakfast Scones with Almonds

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, finely minced

1 tablespoon orange zest

6 tablespoons butter, cold and cut into small squares (about 1/16 inch)

1 cup slivered almonds

1 cup heavy cream (cold)

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Egg wash

Raw sugar crystals

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, spices and ginger.

Add the butter and gently incorporate it until butter chunks are pea size.

Add slivered almonds.

Add almond extract to cream. Make a well in the middle of the dough mixture and add 1/2 of the cream. Mix just a little and then add some more cream.

Fold everything together, just to incorporate – do not overwork the dough.

Add more cream (by the spoonful) if too dry.

Put dough on a lightly floured surface. Pat together to form a ball. Do not overwork.

Cut in half and form into a log shape. Cut on the diagonal in a zigzag form. Place the scones on an ungreased sheet pan or parchment-lined pan. Brush the tops with egg wash, sprinkle with raw sugar crystals and sliced almonds.

Bake until brown, about 15 to 20 minutes for large or 10 to 12 minutes for minis. Let scones cool before applying glaze. Makes 24 mini scones.

Lemon Glaze

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

Combine all ingredients in a microwavable bowl and cook for 1 minute. Stir until mixture is incorporated. Microwave more if necessary. Add more water if too thick. Drizzle top of scones with a fork. Let the glaze harden.

– Gigi Warshawsky