Baking and breaking bread with Mom

If you can't pamper your mother with breakfast in bed, make the morning meal with her and start a new ritual.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

When I was younger, I would come home from school every Mother's Day with some little art or craft - the ubiquitous handmade gift. And like most good mothers, mine still has remnants of these presents tucked away - there may even be one or two out on display. Happily hidden, for example, is the disfigured gray "jewelry box" that I carefully sculpted out of clay one year and bejeweled with maroon and green ceramic tiles.

"Sometimes it was indecipherable what they were," my mom said the other day, as we reminisced about her collection of Mother's Day creations. "But I always liked them anyway."

More recognizable, although probably just as messy, was our special Mother's Day breakfast. Because I was too small to be left alone in the kitchen, it was more of a collaborative effort than a feast to be enjoyed in bed.

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As I got older, we continued our tradition of cooking together the second Sunday in May.

My mother and I have always shared a sweet tooth. And even though neither of us is terribly sophisticated in the kitchen, together we would cook what we called a popover, although it more closely resembled a settled soufflé. Baked in a skillet, we generously sprinkled our "popovers" with powdered sugar and lemon juice. Sometimes we'd chase breakfast with homemade fudge or brownies.

My college friend Julia Boorstin and her mother, Sharon, a food writer, also made a tradition of cooking together on Mother's Day - most likely with more aplomb than my mom and I could muster. Their annual ritual would begin with a search for ingredients at the local farmer's market in Beverly Hills, Calif. There, they would scour the stalls for fresh strawberries, just coming into season, and prepare their version of a spring sundae made with meringues covered in ice cream and topped with sugared strawberries.

"Meringues are fun because you create something out of nothing," explains Julia, marveling at the "mysterious process" by which egg whites and a little sugar are turned into a confection.

Seasoned "foodies," the sprightly pair wouldn't shy away from preparing - or eating - any recipe. Many of their favorites, from the simple to the gourmet, are in "Let Us Eat Cake: Adventures in Food and Friendship," (Regan Books, 336 pp., $13.95), Sharon's culinary memoir, in which Julia is prominently featured.

They are intuitive cooks. Sharon taught Julia to be flexible in the kitchen - to avoid becoming "so wrapped up in the letter of the recipe that you're not willing to experiment a little bit."

But whether you cook alongside Mom, with the help of another adult, or solo, the tradition of preparing a special Mother's Day breakfast good enough to linger over at home is worth starting.

You needn't labor over eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and caviar. Keep it simple. Why not try a basket brimming with homemade breakfast breads such as coffeecake, scones, or muffins?

For inspiration, take a look at Cheryl and Bill Jamison's latest cookbook: "A Real American Breakfast" (William Morrow, 454 pp., $34.95). The award-winning duo includes a chapter called "The Breadbasket," with recipes for an array of muffins, scones, biscuits, and savory popovers. Several enticing riffs on coffeecake fill the following chapter.

The Jamisons lament the loss of breakfast, a casualty of too little time - or at least the collective perception of there being too little time. Their book sets out to debunk this myth.

"A lot of Americans have forgotten that they can even boil water to make coffee," says Mr. Jamison.

"We really just wanted to give people a sense of what breakfast used to be and what it could be again," adds Mrs. Jamison. "We can slow down occasionally and really have a celebratory breakfast with friends or family."

What better occasion than Mother's Day?

Ginger Cream Scones

2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, well chilled and cut into small bits
3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream, well chilled, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons for brushing
1/2 cup chopped candied crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a cookie sheet.

In a food processor, whir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and ground ginger. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and pulse the mixture just until it resembles coarse meal. Pour in the cream and pulse the mixture just until combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and scatter the crystallized ginger over it. Gently pat out the dough and fold it back over itself about a half-dozen times, until smooth. (A dough scraper helps with this.) Use a light hand and don't overmix. Divide the dough in half and pat it out again into two 3/4-inch-thick disks. Cut each disk into 6 plump pie-shaped wedges.

Transfer the scones to the prepared cookie sheet and brush with cream. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until light brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 scones.

Croquignoles

This tasty fried-bread specialty is the French cousin of Cajun-style beignets.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled briefly
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Vegetable shortening or vegetable oil for deep-frying
Confectioners' sugar

Stir the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon together in a large bowl. In a second large bowl, whisk the eggs with the granulated sugar until the sugar dissolves and the eggs are frothy and a light lemon yellow. Add the butter, milk, and vanilla and continue to whisk for a full minute. Switch to a sturdy spoon and mix in the flour mixture, about 1 cup at a time. The dough will be somewhat stiff.

Flour a work surface lightly, then pat out the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle and let it rest for 15 minutes. Roll the dough out into a large 1/8-inch-thick square, then trim off any ragged edges. Using a pastry cutter or sharp knife, slice the dough into diamond (or triangle) shapes.

Fill a large, deep skillet or saucepan with oil several inches deep, bringing it to 375 degrees F. Transfer several dough diamonds to the oil. After sinking briefly, the breads will rise to the surface. Fry them for about 1 minute, until puffed, crisp, and golden brown on both sides. Remove with tongs and drain. Repeat with the remaining dough. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve immediately.

Serves 4 or more.

- recipes from 'A Real American Breakfast'

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