Cooking | Magazine

Recipes: An easy, and impressive, Mother’s Day brunch menu

Get creative with sherry-soaked French toast, stove-top chocolate cake, and a salad with candied pecans.

 Sherry-Soaked French Toast  (Torrijas).
Connie Miller of CB Creatives
Sherry-soaked french toast (torrijas).

These recipes are part of a new partnership between Christopher Kimball and the cooks at Milk Street and the Globe Magazine’s Cooking column.

Whipping up brunch for mom on Mother’s Day can be a challenge, especially if the other members of the family don’t exactly know their way around the kitchen. We make it easy with three recipes that are fun, easy, and sure to impress. We start with a Spanish take on French toast that uses sherry for complex flavor, and pair it with a refreshing apple and fennel salad that’s topped with candied pecans. And for dessert, we top it off with a stove-top chocolate cake that skips the oven entirely.

Sherry-Soaked French Toast (Torrijas)

Makes 4 servings

This is our take on torrijas, Spain’s version of French toast. Cinnamon and citrus are typical flavorings, but for complexity, we also added dry sherry, which infused the bread with a subtle nuttiness and caramel undertones. Challah isn’t typical for torrijas, but we liked its eggy richness and tender crumb. Torrijasare especially good warm from the oven, when the outsides are delicately crisp and the insides are soft and custardy, but they’re also great at room temperature. Unlike regular French toast, the bread for torrijasis sweetened throughout, so skip syrup for serving — the best accompaniment is berries or a fresh fruit compote. You’ll need a thermometer to gauge the temperature of the oil for frying.

Don’t use stale challah. Stale bread will soak up too much of the sherry mixture.


4        1-inch-thick slices challah bread, halved on the diagonal

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1         cup dry sherry

1         cup powdered sugar

2        teaspoons grated orange zest, divided, plus ¼ cup orange juice

¼      cup white sugar


¼      teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8       teaspoon ground cloves

4        large eggs

½      cup all-purpose flour

½      cup grape-seed or other neutral oil


Heat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle position. In a large baking dish, arrange the challah in a single layer. In a medium bowl, whisk the sherry, powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon of the zest, and the orange juice. Pour the mixture over the bread; do not wash the bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes, then flip each piece of bread. Let stand until the bread absorbs most of the liquid, another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small, shallow bowl, stir together the remaining 1 teaspoon zest, the white sugar, cinnamon, and cloves. In the same bowl used for the sherry mixture, whisk together the eggs, flour, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar-spice mixture. One at a time, remove the soaked bread slices from the baking dish and dunk them in the egg mixture, coating on both sides, then return them to the baking dish.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium, heat the oil to 350 degrees. Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. When the oil is ready, place half of the slices in the pan and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute. Using a thin metal spatula, flip each piece and cook until the second sides are golden brown, about 1 minute longer. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining slices of bread. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake until the centers are cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Using tongs, dip each slice into the remaining sugar-spice mixture, turning to coat, then transfer to a serving plate. Serve warm.

Apple and Fennel Salad With Candied Pecans

Makes 4 servings

Apple and Fennel Salad With Candied Pecans
Connie Miller of CB Creatives
Apple and fennel salad with candied pecans.

This robust salad is modeled on one from Alon Shaya’s cookbook, Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel.We prefer to make our own candied pecans because they taste better than store-bought; they can be made a day or two in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature. If you don’t have or can’t find Aleppo pepper, substitute ½ teaspoon sweet paprika mixed with ƒ teaspoon cayenne pepper for the spiced nuts, then sprinkle the finished salad with an additional pinch or two of sweet paprika. To season the dressing, Shaya uses pink peppercorns, which have a subtle pepperiness and sweet, floral flavor that complement the other ingredients. If you can’t track them down, we found that 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed, works nicely instead.

Don’t toss the salad until you’re ready to serve; this ensures that the ingredients retain their individual textures.

1         large egg white

1         cup pecan halves

2        tablespoons white sugar

½      teaspoon Aleppo pepper, plus more to serve

Kosher salt

¼      cup extra-virgin olive oil

3        tablespoons cider vinegar

1         tablespoon honey

1         tablespoon pink peppercorns or fennel seeds, lightly crushed

1         medium fennel bulb, trimmed, fronds reserved for garnish (optional)

2        medium crisp apples, such as Gala or Granny Smith

4        scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Heat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white until foamy. Add the pecans and fold until evenly coated. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pecans to a small bowl; discard the remaining egg white. Add the sugar, Aleppo pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt; toss to coat. Spread in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. Let cool completely on the baking sheet, then break up any clumps.

While the nuts bake and cool, in a large bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, pink peppercorns, and 1 teaspoon salt. Halve the fennel bulb lengthwise, then cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Add the fennel to the dressing and toss to coat; let stand for up to 30 minutes.

When ready to serve, halve and core the apples, then thinly slice each half crosswise. Add to the fennel along with the scallions and pecans, and toss to combine. Taste and season with salt. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with additional Aleppo pepper and fennel fronds, if using.

Stove-Top Chocolate Cake

Makes 8 servings

Stove-Top Chocolate Cake
Connie Miller of CB Creatives
Stove-top chocolate cake.

Steaming a traditional chocolate cake batter produced a light, moist cake and let us avoid using the oven. We used a foil coil set in a Dutch oven to elevate the cake above the water that steams it. Brown sugar and espresso powder gave the cake complexity, while sour cream added richness and a welcome tang. We liked the cake dusted with powdered sugar or topped with whipped cream. If your Dutch oven has a self-basting lid — dimples or spikes on the underside — lay a sheet of parchment or foil over the top of the pot before putting the lid in place to prevent water from dripping onto the surface.

Don’t open the Dutch oven too often while steaming, but do ensure that the water is at a very gentle simmer. You should see steam emerging from the pot. If the heat is too high, the water will boil away before the cake is cooked.

1         cup (142 grams) all-purpose flour

1/3     cup (29 grams) cocoa powder

1         teaspoon baking soda

½      teaspoon kosher salt

1         cup packed (198 grams) light brown sugar

2        large eggs

1         teaspoon instant espresso powder

½      cup sour cream

6        tablespoons (¾ stick) salted butter, melted

1½    teaspoons vanilla extract

Cut an 18-inch length of foil and gently scrunch together to form a snake about 1 inch thick. Shape into a circle and set in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Add enough water to reach three-quarters up the coil. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray, line the bottom with kitchen parchment, then coat the parchment. Place the prepared pan on top of the coil.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda into a medium bowl, then whisk in the salt. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until slightly lightened, about 30 seconds. Whisk in ½ cup water, the espresso powder, sour cream, butter, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and whisk gently until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Cover and heat on high until the water boils. Reduce heat to low and steam, covered, until the cake is just firm to the touch at the center, about 23 minutes.

Turn off the heat and remove the lid. Let the cake sit in the Dutch oven until the pan is cool enough to handle. Transfer the pan to a wire rack, then run a paring knife around the edges. Let the cake cool completely, then invert onto a plate and remove the parchment. Invert again onto another plate.

Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to Send comments to