What’s the secret to great brunch? Slowing way down, says Joy the Baker

Joy Wilson was already a pancake expert before writing her new brunch cookbook.

Wilson, the longtime blogger behind JoytheBaker.com, had written two cookbooks about decadent dishes, including pancakes and French toast, but she was curious about developing more savory recipes.

Brunch seemed like a pretty good place to combine her love of baking with her love of leisurely meals, not to mention crispy hash browns and runny eggs and gravy and White Russians and all the other dishes that would never see the light of day if she stuck within the baking box.

For Wilson, the only difference between breakfast and brunch is the attitude. “Your vibe is what makes it brunch,” she says. “Your willingness to linger around the table and drink a cocktail before noon is what makes it brunch, otherwise it’s just a fried egg or a salad.”

It wasn’t a coincidence that Wilson’s love of laid-back meals picked up when she left California for New Orleans a few years ago. The flavors of Cajun and Creole cuisine have crept into Wilson’s cooking, and New Orleanians’ affection for cocktails before noon and an extra dusting of powdered sugar on everything sweet has helped give her a more laissez faire approach to life.

In “Joy the Baker Over Easy: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Leisurely Days” (Clarkson Potter, $27.50), Wilson rounds up dozens of her favorite brunch recipes, and she’ll be in Austin this week for an event at BookPeople at 7 p.m. Wednesday to talk about all thing brunch, blogging and, yes, baking.

Making quiches, casseroles and other dishes for a crowd is a good way to serve a group, but keep in mind that people spend their weekends very differently. If some of your friends want to go to the farmers market before brunch, have them pick up some flowers, fresh greens or citrus. If other friends aren’t getting out of bed until noon, don’t get antsy if they aren’t there by the time the quiche cools. Room temperature quiche is fine. It’s the act of spending time together that makes brunch worthwhile, not having every detail perfect.

If Wilson is attending a brunch, she likes to bring something for the meal or the host — not just a loaf of bread or flowers, but bread and butter or flowers already in a vase. A bottle of bubbly is great, for instance, but not quite as nice as a bottle of bubbly with freshly squeezed juice to go with it.

Making a bowl of punch is way more fun that mixing cocktails for every guest. “It shouldn’t be stressful,” she says. “I try to set us up for success by making a big recipe for a crowd or making recipes you can prep the night before, like overnight beignets,” one of the recipes in the book.

Wilson made an interesting observation about why brunch seems to be so popular right now. “We want to slow down, but we don’t want to put down our phones about it,” she says. Brunch happens to be one of the most photogenic meals, in part because of the good light during the day but also because of those bright orange eggs that pop on Instagram.

Wilson says that if you’re going to take the time to cook on a weekend day, you might as well saute some extra vegetables or roast a little extra protein for leftovers in the coming week.

But without a doubt, the most important thing to remember is that nobody should feel rushed, including the cook. “There’s no sense in trying to squeeze (brunch) into an hour or two,” she says. “Give people a time range to come in and don’t be so rigid about everything.”

Very Crispy Hash Browns

We’ve all suffered through enough dreadfully soggy, overly greasy, crime-against-potatoes hash browns. No more. We’ve got to rage against the soggy potato. I’m going to teach you some tricks for thoroughly crisp, golden-brown, buttery hash browns. Perfect potatoes don’t happen by accident.

First, some tips:

  • Pick firm, starchy potatoes for crisp, golden hash browns. Peeled russet potatoes are best.
  • Putting the grated potatoes in cool water keeps them from browning, which happens when they are exposed to air. It will also help to remove some of the starch (you’ll see the water get cloudy). Once the potatoes are soaked, rinse them.
  • Squeezing the potatoes dry is very important. Opt for a clean linen (not terry cloth) towel, and squeeze the shredded potatoes in two batches. Squeeze really hard!
  • Since the potatoes cook at such a high heat, it’s important to use a fat that won’t burn. The milk solids in butter have a tendency to brown (which is delicious) and quickly burn (which is not as delicious). Clarified butter is the perfect solution, either homemade or store-bought in the form of ghee. Also, a large nonstick skillet is necessary.
  • Once the potatoes are in the pan, it’s just a matter of time and patience. Let them cook undisturbed initially, and don’t rush the process.

— Joy Wilson

3 large or 4 medium russet potatoes, peeled

3/4 to 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

6 tablespoons clarified butter

Hot sauce and sour cream, for serving

Fill a large bowl halfway full with cool water. Using the coarse side of a box grater, grate the potatoes. As the grated potato piles up, scoop the potato shreds into the bowl of water. Using your hand, swirl the potatoes around in the water for about 1 minute. The water will become cloudy as some of the starch is released from the potatoes.

Drain the potatoes and rinse under cool water for 2 minutes, stirring and moving the potatoes around with your hand as they’re rinsing. Scoop half of the potatoes into a clean kitchen towel. Gather the edges of the towel and twist to tighten, squeezing out the water from the potatoes. Squeeze well and then squeeze again. Transfer the potatoes to a medium bowl. Repeat with the remaining grated potatoes.

To the potatoes, add the salt, pepper and paprika. Using your hands, toss well.

In a large nonstick skillet set over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the clarified butter. Add half of the seasoned potatoes to the pan, press into a single thin layer, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. Check that the potatoes are golden brown, then break into four rough pieces and flip the pieces over.

Add 1 more tablespoon of clarified butter as the other side cooks. Cook for 2 minutes, until golden brown. Reduce the heat to medium and occasionally toss and stir the potatoes until they are cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.

Add 2 more tablespoons of clarified butter and cook the remaining potatoes, adding the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter as necessary. Serve warm with hot sauce and sour cream. Serves 4 to 6.

— From “Joy the Baker Over Easy: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Leisurely Days” by Joy Wilson (Clarkson Potter, $27.50)

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