Dinner for Christmas Eve or Christmas night usually involves handed-down family recipes, elaborate table settings and hours of kitchen time. Exactly why a worry-free, easy holiday breakfast makes sense for everyone.
A buffet is one way to go, and it can be luxurious and simple. Spread a festive table cloth and set out yogurt, nuts, granola, sliced ham or cooked bacon and a big fresh-fruit salad, and you’ve got the morning covered. Almost everything can be done ahead of time and involves very little prep.
Always a hit is a platter of holiday breads, cut into small slices for kids and grownups alike. Quick breads — zucchini, banana nut, cranberry-eggnog — can be made in advance and frozen, or made a day or two ahead so you’re not in the kitchen too much on brunch day.
Even easier: Let Missoula’s amazing bakeries do some of the work for you. They’re already turning out holiday breads that would be a hit at any gathering. Their loaves are pretty, fresh, delicious and seasonally flavored.
Many of these breads can be bought in advance and frozen, freeing up the kitchen for other chores. Choose a selection of different breads and flavors, cut them in half, and you’ll have two batches for two different days.
Of course, each of the bakeries has other items that can round out a breakfast buffet, including scones, muffins, bakery-made granola, cookies and more. The Good Food Store also has many small or medium loaves, and even single slices, of various breads, including some that are vegan (rum-glazed vegan gingerbread, for example) or wheat-free — and lots of family gatherings these days include someone with some special dietary needs.
Want some ideas? Visit any of the area’s bakeries to see what they’re offering this time of year, and choose a variety based on color, flavor and texture to offer a variety for all guests’ tastes. Here is a sampling of favorites you’ll find:
Black Cat Bake Shop, 2000 W. Broadway
Even before the Black Cat opened its storefront bakery, owners Jack and Christy Wich produced their famous Christmas stollen — about 3,000 of them a year, according to Christy — at their home and shipped them around the country. Now, the Black Cat’s stollen is available regularly through the season at the bakery. They still ship them across the country, too.
Stollen is a traditional German fruit bread made with nuts, spices and dried or candied fruit. The Black Cat makes two varieties: the Black Cat Holiday Stollen, made with California dried fruits, such as cranberries, currants, pears, plums and apricots; and the European Holiday Stollen, made with orange and lemon citron ordered from Europe, dried cranberries and currants, and cardamom to bring out the flavors. The Black Cat is soaked for 24 hours in a dark rum, coated in butter and almond streusel and dusted with powdered sugar; the European is soaked for 24 hours in brandy, then coated in butter and dusted with lemon-vanilla sugar.
Both stollen come in small or large sizes and cost $19.95 to $29.95 (or a stocking-stuffer size for $10). These are dense, rich, very festive and the flavors are amazing. They’ll hold for a week in the refrigerator and can be frozen, too. To freshen up a thawed stollen, just dust on a little fresh powdered sugar.
The Black Cat has other items that would be good for a Christmas breakfast platter too, including a huckleberry coffee cake ($10- $20) and kugelhopf, a buttery teacake baked in a Bundt pan and dusted with powdered sugar ($25).
Great Harvest Bread Company, 1407 S. Higgins Ave.
Great Harvest produces a number of breads that would flatter any bread platter, including its apple crunch and decadent cinnamon swirl breads.
But a particularly appropriate one for Christmas is a cranberry-orange loaf ($5.95). It’s a dense loaf with dried cranberries and a subtle orange flavor that is not overly sweet, just right for a morning of yogurt and fresh fruit. It’d be good toasted or made into French toast, but it’s lovely sliced just as it is — and festively elegant, too.
Many Great Harvest breads, including the cranberry-orange loaf, would be good with butter whipped with a little honey and some citrus zest. Gives the breakfast a little extra elegance or the holiday.
Great Harvest also makes its own German stollen. It’s available starting Dec. 17.
Le Petit Outre Bakery & Cafe, 129 S. Fourth St.
Every Christmas season, Le Petit Outre makes its version of the Italian panettone, made with fresh candied lemon and orange ($14.99). These cakes are distinctively tall, shaped like a cupola of a church. The Missoula bakery’s panettone comes wrapped in a see-through bag tied with a thick jute rope, and contains a card with a legend about how panettone came to be. Le Petit’s version involves a lovesick nobleman, a lovely baker’s daughter and a baker named Tony.
Panettone is a light, sweet bread that is good served as is, or sliced and lightly toasted under the broiler. As with other breakfast breads, small pieces go a long way, especially when served with fruit, yogurt and a good cup of tea or coffee.
Le Petit also makes a gingerbread loaf ($4.99) this time of year, a perfect flavor for the season. It’s a dense, robust bread made with molasses, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne and cocoa. Gingerbread cookies might be better known, but gingerbread as a loaf is really a treat, especially with fresh raspberries — and, some might say, whipped cream. Because it is dark, it’s a nice contrast for a plate of other, lighter, citrusy breads that are staples for Christmas.
Bernice’s Bakery, 190 S. Third St. W.
Bernice’s has a range of breakfast pastries, including muffins (some vegan and wheat-free), scones, pound cakes, Danish and croissants. This time of year they are especially famous for their plates of Christmas cookies — priced at just over $10 per plate, they include a variety of big and small cookies of different shapes and flavors.
Which leads to a pressing question of the season: Are cookies really meant for breakfast?
The answer is yes. But only at Christmas.