Especially for Mom

Mini Pecan Schnecken Photo by Dan Kacvinski

We all have memories of how Mom made us feel special and loved beyond compare. This month, it’s time to return the favor.

If your mom, or the mother in your life, likes breakfast in bed, then by all means surprise her before she gets up on Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 13) with a tray filled with her favorite breakfast dishes.

If she likes french toast, she is going to love my Best French Toast recipe. Thick slices of bread are drenched in a flavored egg mixture and sautéed in butter until crisp and golden outside and luxuriously soft inside. They are served with homemade preserves and a dusting of powdered sugar.
For blintzes, I’ve included two fillings to choose from. The classic hoop cheese or farmer’s cheese version can be served with bowls of sour cream and preserves. The Italian-style ricotta and spinach filling is served with her favorite marinara sauce.
A favorite of mine is the Smoked Salmon and Caviar Omelet, unabashedly conceived with decadence in mind. We serve it in my home with toasted bagels, and — for the perfect festive touch — champagne, especially for this special day.
I often use an old Swedish-style skillet with shallow wells when making whole-wheat pancakes. When the butter bubbles and the batter is poured in, these mini pancakes become crispy around the edges. Serve with maple syrup and/or preserves.
For something different this year, try fresh homemade ricotta cheese topped with honey. The recipe is from my new cookbook, “Italy Cooks,” and it takes minutes to make, about as long as it takes to bring milk to a boil.
When I lived on a ranch in Topanga Canyon and invited guests for Sunday brunch almost every week, I got the idea for Mini Pecan Schnecken, or German sticky buns. These take some time to prepare, but can be done in steps over one or two days. They keep well in the freezer, if wrapped properly, and taste freshly baked when reheated before serving. They can also be made into larger pecan rolls, but I prefer making the smaller variety in mini-muffin pans.

4 thick slices (1 1/2 to 2 inches) challah
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Powdered sugar and preserves of choice for toppings
Cut each slice of bread in half into a triangular shape.
Blend eggs, 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, milk and orange zest in a large bowl. Place each slice of bread into the egg mixture and let soak on both sides until the bread absorbs the egg mixture.

Heat butter over medium-high heat in a large nonstick skillet and fry bread until golden brown on both sides and egg mixture is cooked, about 5 minutes. Arrange on heated serving plates, sprinkle with additional powdered sugar, and top with a spoonful of preserves.

Makes 2 servings.

Hoop Cheese Filling or Ricotta-
Spinach Filling (recipes follow)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
Unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sour cream and preserves
for toppings, or marinara sauce
Prepare the filling of your choice, cover with plastic wrap, and chill.
Beat eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add milk, 1 tablespoon melted butter, sugar, flour and salt, and blend well. Pass through a fine strainer to remove any lumps that form.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in an 8-inch skillet or crepe pan over medium heat. When butter begins to bubble, pour in about 2 tablespoons of batter to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer. Rotate the pan quickly to spread batter as thin as possible. Cook on one side until the edges begin to brown, about 1 minute. Turn onto a tea towel and transfer to a platter. Repeat with the remaining batter and stack blintzes with waxed paper between each. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to fill.

Fill the browned side of each blintz with the prepared filling, and fold, tucking ends in.

In a nonstick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons butter. Cook blintzes on both sides until lightly browned, 2 or 3 minutes on each side. Carefully transfer blintzes with a metal spatula to serving plates. Serve with bowls of sour cream and preserves or with marinara sauce.

Makes about 2 dozen.

2 pounds hoop cheese
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl until blended. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill until ready to assemble the blintzes.
Makes about 3 cups.

1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 pound spinach, steamed,
drained and chopped
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black
pepper to taste
Place ricotta cheese in a strainer for 30 minutes to drain water. In a large bowl, mix drained ricotta with remaining ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill until ready to assemble the blintzes.

Makes about 3 cups.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
3 slices smoked salmon (lox), cut
into pieces
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Salt and freshly ground black
pepper to taste
1 jar (3 ounces) salmon caviar
Heat butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and sauté green onions, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add smoked salmon and sauté 1 minute. Pour eggs into the onion mixture and cook until they begin to set around the edges. Gently stir the egg mixture with a spoon, starting from the edge, until it is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon onto heated plates and top with caviar.

Makes 2 servings.

1/2 cup unbleached
all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
Unsalted butter
Blend both flours, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl, using a wire whisk or an electric mixer. Beat egg, milk and 2 tablespoons melted butter in a small bowl. Add to flour mixture, and stir until moistened.

Preheat a skillet or griddle to 425 F. Add additional butter, melt until bubbly, and brush to evenly coat surface, adding more if needed. Pour in batter (about 1/3 cup for an 8-inch pancake or 2 tablespoons for a 2-inch pancake). When bottom is browned and bubbles form on top, about 1 1/2 minutes, turn pancakes with a metal spatula and cook until bottom is golden brown, about 1/2 minute. Repeat procedure until all the batter is used, keeping cooked pancakes warm in the oven.

Makes about 2 dozen 2-inch or 8 8-inch pancakes.

1/2 gallon whole milk
1 cup cream
2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons lemon juice
Honey for topping
Heat the milk, cream and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until it is about to boil. Add the lemon juice, stir once, and remove from the heat when mixture begins to curdle. Let curds rest for a minute or two. Using a slotted spoon, skim the ricotta curds from the whey and place them in a colander or wire sieve lined with cheesecloth. Drain for 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a drizzle of honey.

Makes about 1 pound.

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110-115 F)
2 cups unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
3 1/2 cups flour
Cooking oil
2 to 3 cups pecan halves, toasted
Brown Sugar Glaze (recipe follows)
Pecan Filling (recipe follows)
Dissolve the yeast with a pinch of sugar in the warm water. Let it stand until foamy, 2 to 3 minutes.

Cream 1 cup softened butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Add 1/3 cup sugar and beat until fluffy. Blend in the salt, eggs, sour cream and yeast mixture. Continue beating until the batter is smooth. Add the flour, about 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Brush the top of the dough with 2 tablespoons oil, and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Refrigerate overnight. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and let it rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

Brush muffin pans with oil and place 2 pecan halves, flat sides up, in each well. Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of the Brown Sugar Glaze over the pecans in each well. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Divide the dough into 6 parts; roll out each part on a lightly floured board into a rectangle (4 inches wide, 12 inches long, 1/2 inch thick). Brush with 1 cup melted butter, and sprinkle generously with the Pecan Filling. Roll up the dough lengthwise, jellyroll fashion, and place it seam side down. Cut into 1-inch-thick slices. Place a slice inside each prepared well (cut side up). Cover and let rise in a warm place about 45 minutes.
Place a large sheet of foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any glaze that may flow over the sides of the pan. Bake the schnecken for about 12 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven, turn out onto a platter immediately, lift the muffin tin off slowly, and allow the glaze to flow down over the rolls.
NOTE: If preparing in advance, wrap the cooled rolls in aluminum foil, sealing well. Place them in plastic bags, and freeze.
Makes about 6 dozen.

3/4 cup unsalted butter
or margarine
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1/4 cup water
Combine the butter, brown sugar and water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside.

1 cup golden or dark seedless
raisins, plumped
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups pecans, toasted
and coarsely chopped
Combine the raisins, sugar, cinnamon and pecans in a bowl, and mix well. Cover and set aside.

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