Last Updated on December 22, 2020
Most years at the beginning of December, I nestle some narcissus bulbs in a rock-filled pot, stick them in a sunny spot, and spend the month watching them grow. It’s a way to pay attention as the weeks careen by. Between closing out the year at work and school, shopping and cooking and writing cards and wrapping gifts and seeing friends—wow, December.
A wonderful but straight-up bananas month, no matter what holiday you celebrate.
Until that week between Christmas and New Years, when time—tightly wound and accounted for all month long—unspools, becomes abundant. We’ve done everything! There’s nothing left to do but spend the entire morning making breakfast—or even (gasp!) prepare a few things for breakfast later in the week. Even better if we do it in our pajamas.
When time passes at this slowed-down tempo, simple tasks feel extravagant—it’s a luxury to roll out of bed, grind coffee beans, chop vegetables for a frittata or mix up batter for muffins or scones. Second carafe of coffee, check. What time is it? No idea—doesn’t matter.
You know what else feels luxe? A bagel brunch spread.
Maybe you want to plan ahead and make your own lox. While it cures, mix together some signature cream cheese blends—whip the bricks of cheese in a standing mixer until loose and fluffy, then add in flavors of your choice: bits of bacon and a lavish pour of maple syrup; finely minced chives and a fat spoonful of grated horseradish; a dusting of cinnamon with a drizzle of honey—you get the idea. Squirrel them all away for later.
Then, pickle some red onions, chill the bubbly, and order the bagels. Everything’s prepped in advance, and it’s all top-notch stuff: a recipe for a relaxed but decadent meal.
Personally, I like to exploit my short window of copious time to mess around in the kitchen with dough, specifically, brioche, a simple yeast dough enriched with butter and eggs that’s the foundation of so many special treats. I love making it because I learn something new every time; and also because it’s not a project I can easily fit into my day-to-day life. Making brioche is an occasion—and so is eating it.
Especially if we get to eat our special occasion breakfast in the sunny spot where the narcissus is finally blooming. I don’t think it gets more luxurious than that.
Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhardt
6 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5½ tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1¼ cups whole milk
½ cup cinnamon sugar (6 tablespoons granulated sugar mixed with 1½ tablespoons cinnamon)
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup whole milk
1. Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening on medium-high speed in a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
2. Whip in the egg and lemon zest and beat until smooth. Reduce speed to low and add flour, yeast and milk. Mix on low until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes, or until the dough is silky and supple. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
3. Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size (you can also put the bowl in the fridge at this point for up to 3 days).
4. Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter.
5. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about ⅔ of an inch thick – measuring around 14 inches wide by 12 inches long. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log with the seam side down. Slice the dough into 8-12 even pieces.
6. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place the buns approximately ½ inch apart so that they aren’t touching but are close to one another.
7. Proof at room temperature for 75-90 minutes or until the pieces have nearly doubled in size (You may also put the shaped buns in the refrigerator for 2-3 days before baking, make sure to allow 3-4 hours for the dough to proof before baking).
8. Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake cinnamon rolls for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown.
9. In a separate bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, lemon zest and milk for the glaze.
10. When buns have cooled slightly, drizzle fondant glaze over the buns.
Leigh Belanger is a writer, editor, and content strategist. Her 2018 cookbook, My Kitchen Chalkboard, features a year of seasonal family dinners with menu ideas and meal planning tips to help make home cooking easier.