Have yourself a merry little breakfast

It’s always about dinner. The roasted meats, potatoes, sprouts and cranberry sauce get all the glory whenever anyone mentions eating on Christmas Day. Sometimes the late night/Boxing Day sandwich might be gifted a cursory mention but, by and large, turkey and trimmings dominates Christmas food chat. The king of roasts piles the pressure onto the wise fool who elects to do the cooking. ‘All I wanted was a day like Nigella’s’ says Caroline Aherne’s masterful creation Denise Royle through panicked tears as she realises the turkey hasn’t yet defrosted and won’t even fit in the oven. It’s a sentiment and feeling of resignation I know she isn’t alone in experiencing.

So this year, I’m not even going to mention it.

Instead let’s talk about breakfast.

Christmas Day breakfast is the unsung hero of the festive season, and yet, it rarely gets the credit it deserves, forever destined to be overshadowed by sage and onion and chipolatas.

Firstly, it’s far easier to accommodate everyone’s wishes over the breakfast table. On Christmas Day, families can fracture over untold issues: when to open the presents, who allowed your twelve year-old cousin free access to the Prosecco or why there isn’t a vegan gravy to accompany the tofu and mushroom filo pastry crown. Breakfast is blissfully free of these flash points and, other than the possibility that there may be a few sore heads from Christmas Eve based indulgence, spirits are usually high and fuses generously long.

Secondly, putting together an ante meridiem feast is a far less labour-intensive affair than that which is expected as darkness begins to descend. There are certain expectations that the assembled family members will have when it comes to dinner, but these are totally absent for the first meal of the day. What’s more, requests and restrictions can be far more easily  accommodated: need a quick dairy free alternative? No problem: just poach the eggs instead of scrambling them. Eldest son has a sore head? Smile, hand him a bloody mary and he need not feel guilty that he doesn’t want to eat the fruits of your labours.

Thirdly, the options available to you are near infinite and there is plenty of scope for outrageous indulgence. Eggs are probably a must, but from that simple starting point you can delight everyone. Sausages and dry cured bacon for the traditionalist. Eggs royale with smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce for the decadently minded. French toast, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg for the sweet-toothed. Or freshly shaved truffles for anyone you wish to truly spoil.

Drinks options too, can offer a neat nod towards the luxurious end of the spectrum. Really good single estate coffee. A sweet juice, pressed from a few of those clementines sitting in their pretty wooden box. An outrageously expensive loose leaf from Fortnum & Mason. Savoury, spicey red snappers with a cooling stick of celery. Thick hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows. And, of course, Champagne. There really should be Champagne: the occasions when it is deemed appropriate to drink sparkling wine before eleven am are few and far between. Christmas is certainly one of them.

This flexible feast can take place at any time between 7am and midday and should last at least an hour, giving those who take a little more time to gain consciousness the appropriate window to join the party. Youngsters can be quieted with small gifts and chocolate selection boxes. Early risers can be placated with liquid refreshment and late comers need not feel they have ruined the event through tardiness, if they require a little more shut eye (having been in this position myself, several times, thanks to a birthday on Christmas Eve, I can attest to its importance).

If you do decide to pull out all the stops at breakfast you can certainly be forgiven for going easy later on in the day. Allow someone else to peel the potatoes, cross the sprouts and worry about the turkey, leaving you plenty of space to finish the Champagne and, at a push, make the carrot crush. Just follow Nigella’s recipe, rather than Denise’s.

[This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of Cambridge Edition - read the online version right here]

Alex Rushmer