On Christmas morning, the first present is glazed orange rolls

4:51 p.m Friday, May 22, 2015 Food

I blame my family's obsession with Christmas breakfast on my grandmother's orange glazed rolls.

The sticky sweet croissant-shaped rolls are not only her signature holiday baked good, they are also her favorite gift to give. Thankfully, she's still healthy enough to make dozens of them to give to friends, family, neighbors and members of her church, and she always makes sure to have a pan ready for our family's treasured holiday meal: Christmas breakfast.

Rather than repeat Thanksgiving dinner or try to come up with some equally elaborate and labor-intensive meal, my mom focused instead on breakfast, which is now as much a part of the Christmas holiday as the gift exchange itself.

It must have been a conscious or subconscious effort to stretch out that warm fuzzy feeling of family togetherness that Christmas morning inspires, plus, we just really like an excuse to eat copious amounts of bacon, the best coffee they could find and, of course, GaGa's orange glazed rolls.

It was the only meal of the year that my mom served cheese grits, and she usually made some kind of quiche or breakfast casserole the day before, when we were all hurry-up-and-waiting for Christmas to arrive. (Egg casseroles are better if you make them a day ahead of time, anyway. The flavors can meld and the bread has a chance to soak up the raw egg and milk mixture. If you're making a quiche, make and bake it a day ahead and then chill it. You can reheat it at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or serve at room temperature.)

Another holiday classic is my mom's cheese ball, a mass of cream cheese, a shelf-stable Kraft cheese called Old English and finely chopped onions rolled in pecans. I can't think of a year when we've actually finished one of these behemoths at a holiday party, but I've finally figured out a new way to eat it: Place spoonfuls onto baguette slices and then toast the slices in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese.

It seems like cheese and butter find their way into just about every dish on my family's Christmas breakfast table, and in an effort to have at least something relatively healthful on the table, consider adding extra vegetables in the quiche or casserole or simply roasting a batch of bright green Brussels sprouts to serve on the side. (Yes, you can prep those ahead of time by washing, cutting in half and refrigerating a pound of Brussels sprouts. Toss with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and roast alongside the casserole.)

Bacon isn't exactly a diet food and it certainly is time-consuming to fry in a pan. One way to make it slightly healthier and more hands off to cook is to bake it in the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top. Lay strips of bacon on the rack and bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes until it's nice and crispy. Most of the fat drips into the pan, and you can place to bacon on paper towels to blot even more of the fat.

Because breakfast is usually composed of relatively simple dishes, the better the ingredients, the better the meal. Splurge on the best butter you can find and a big package of thick-cut bacon. Christmas falls on a Sunday, which means you can hit the Saturday farmers markets to buy local eggs, coffee, freshly baked bread and other ingredients you'll need. Texas citrus is at its peak this time of year, so look for oranges and grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley for freshly squeezed juice that someone can make while the casseroles or other dishes are baking or reheating.

To make Christmas breakfast even more special, incorporate elements of the meal into the gift exchange. You can wrap up a nice bottle of Champagne or Prosecco for mimosas, a few pounds of high-quality coffee or fancy jam. (Bailey's Irish Cream or Kahlúa look nice under the tree with ribbons tied around their necks, too.)

Or you can go whole hog and give a giant flat-top griddle to the pancake-maker in the family and break it in with blueberry flapjacks. I'm giving my husband a toaster this year, and you can bet your burnt broiler toast that we'll be using it as soon as he unwraps it.

And finally, the best gift you can give the cook is the gift of not doing the dishes. Plan ahead: If you know that Dad is going to take the reins and make breakfast, empty the dishwasher after you've left cookies and milk out for Santa so it's easier to fill when breakfast is over and everyone heads off for a Christmas Day nap.

View full experience