`Breakfasts & Brunches' is another book of cooking recipes and advice for the amateur / home cook prepared by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Like those before it on `Cooking at Home', `Book of Soups', and `Gourmet Meals in Minutes', but unlike their more professional volumes such as `Baking and Pastry', this volume is very good for the home cook, but it has a few lapses here and there which make it less than perfect as a manual for teaching the very best cooking technique.
The first thing which surprises me about the book is the subtitle which proclaims that the volume contains `Over 175 New Recipes...'. If I am to buy just one book on cooking breakfast dishes, I don't want novelty; I want the very best standard recipes and techniques. On looking at the specific recipes, I find that there is novelty, but the book does cover the expected bases of breakfast cookery. I can only find one breakfast dish missing, and this is scrapple, which is pretty specialized to the Pennsylvania Dutch / Southeastern Pennsylvania / Greater Philadelphia area.
The primary chapters are:
Breakfast & Brunch Mise en Place - I find this chapter just a bit unnecessary or incomplete. It is unnecessary in that much of its contents are repeated in more detail in later chapters on various dishes. It is incomplete in that it gives pantry shelf-lives of a large variety of foodstuffs, but in a narrative form. It would have been much better to focus this chapter on neat, tabular information, and leave all the narrative to the detailed recipes. I also think the term `mise en place' is misused here. `Pantry Stocking' would have been a better name.
Breakfast & Brunch Drinks - Very nice collection of recipes and advice on making coffee, tea, chai, eggnog, cocktails and smoothies.
Muffins, Quick Breads & Coffee Cakes - Six muffin recipes, eight breakfast cake recipes, eight quickbreads (biscuits, scones, soda bread), plus funnel cake, lemon curd, and cornbread.
Sweet and Savory Breads & Pastries - The sticky stuff and recipes with yeast. A very nice variety of recipes which tend to be more complicated than the quickbreads, and the authors tell you when the recipe may be difficult.
Pancakes, Waffles, & Crepes. Of course, you expect this chapter. It includes several different flavors of pancakes; including blinis and many different fruit fillings for crepes. I am surprised that there is but one recipe for French toast, as this is a dish with many variations. I'm also surprised there is not more exposition on tips for making waffles.
Eggs. Another obvious category with all the usual suspects, such as fried eggs, scrambled eggs, egg and sausage sandwiches, omelets, frittatas, poached eggs, quiches, egg salads, and soft boiled eggs.
Grains & Legumes. Grits, polenta, and cold cereals, oh my! The usual characters include oatmeal, cream of wheat, kasha, rice, couscous, muesli, granola, bean salads and spreads.
Meats, Fish & Potatoes. This may seem like an odd combination with potatoes in the same chapter as meats, but both types of dishes often play second banana to the eggs, pancakes, and cereals. Ham, sausage, and breakfast steaks are here, with several chicken dishes, hash browns, O'Brien Potatoes, Potato pancakes, Lyonnaise Potatoes, Rosti potatoes, and corned beef hash.
Soups, Salads, & Small Bites. These items are more appropriate for brunch than for breakfast, especially as they are mostly cold soups and salads, plus `tea sandwiches' great for brunch buffets.
The appeal of this book depends a lot on how big your cookbook library is now. If you are just starting out, filling your shelves exclusively with CIA books would not be a bad idea, just as you could accomplish the same result by concentrating exclusively on `Martha Stewart Living', `Cooks Illustrated', or `Better Homes and Gardens' books. And, a CIA collection is likely to be more focused than what you get from magazine collections.
On the other hand, if you already have one or more `comprehensive' cookbooks such as the `Joy of Cooking' or `James Beard's American Cookery', and you are not into collecting cookbooks, this volume may be less useful. This is certainly less valuable if you have a breakfast cookbook such as Marian Cunningham's `The Breakfast Book' or `Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café' or even a good bread or biscuit book such as James Villas' `Biscuit Bliss'.
I would recommend this book even if you already owned all these titles IF this book were more highly focused on breakfast dishes, with more variety within egg and cereal dishes and less attention to soups, sandwiches, and drinks. I also found some odd lapses in this book. The most unusual is their treatment of scrambled eggs and omelets. To a person, every authority I read on the subject says these are two different dishes, yet this book from an authoritative source simply says that an omelet is scrambled eggs left to solidify in a circle rather than smushed up into mounds of eggy goodness. I also find sections on several other central recipes such as granola and French toast to be much too simple. Nothing is said about the details of how long one should soak the bread in the batter for French toast. Nothing is also said about baking your granola mix. On the other hand, the biscuit recipe is half again more complicated than you need for simple buttermilk biscuits. My favorite Nick Malgieri biscuit can be done in half the time.
This is a good book which has lots of useful recipes, but you may not need it unless you happen to do a lot of breakfast and brunch entertaining, and don't have a good source for basic recipes. Contrary to the CIA source, it is NOT an authoritative text on how to do important breakfast dishes.