New This Month

Christmas Brunch at Martha's

  • Photos by John Kernick

A little of this, a little of that ... Martha's Christmas brunch buffet includes plan-ahead recipes, specialty foods, and plenty of fresh, seasonal citrus fruits.

A Warm Winter Welcome

For Martha, a Christmas brunch means inviting lots of loved ones over to eat, drink, sing carols, and enjoy the wintry landscape of her farm, which is like a Currier & Ives print sprung to life. Over the years, her guest list has grown to 200, but her strategy -- a buffet of small bites, prepared food from favorite purveyors, a splurge item or two -- works just as easily for a much smaller gathering.

Martha's Christmas Brunch Buffet Menu

The Brunch Strategy

This is how Martha manages her to-do list in the weeks leading up to her annual brunch. Whether you want to serve up her entire menu or simply cherry-pick a few enticing dishes, follow her timing cues.

In Advance

• Preorder ham for delivery a week before the brunch.

• Preorder oysters for delivery a day before the brunch. The moment the oysters arrive, pack them on ice and store in the refrigerator until ready to open and serve.

• Preorder smoked fishes for delivery two days before the brunch.

• Preorder panettone, stollen, and candies for delivery the week of the brunch.

• Shop for all nonperishables and alcohol. Make and freeze crepes.

One Week Before

• Confirm delivery dates for all preordered items.

• Make chocolate ganache.

• Make poppy-seed cookie dough and lemon curd.

• Mix honey mustard for ham.

• Buy all perishables except herbs, mushrooms, brioche, bagels, and croissants.

Four Days Before

• Begin soaking ham, being sure to change water every 12 hours.

• Buy herbs, mushrooms, and brioche.

Two Days Before

• Make dill cream cheese for plain crepes.

• Make mushroom filling for buckwheat crepes.

• Make creamed spinach and brioche croutons.

• Slice and bake poppy-seed cookies.

• Bake mini chocolate cakes.

• Make Bloody Mary mix.

• Make blood-orange punch base.

• Transfer crepes to the refrigerator to thaw until ready to serve.

The Day Before

• Segment citrus fruits.

• Strain blood-orange punch base.

• Make garnish skewers for Bloody Marys.

• Set up buffet platters, dishes, and silverware, as well as drink-bar glassware, chilling tubs, and cocktail napkins.

• Buy bagels and croissants, if serving.


The Night Before

• Make mignonette for oysters.

• Bake ham.

• Poach eggs.

The Day of, Before Guests Arrive

• Finish ham.

• Bake biscuits.

• Set out jams, honey mustard, biscuits, and bagels and croissants, if serving.

• Arrange citrus salad on a platter and refrigerate until ready to serve.

• Arrange smoked-fish platters and refrigerate until ready to serve.

• Fill and fold buckwheat crepes.

• Put mixers for drink bar on ice.

• Decorate cakes with ganache and curls.

• Top cookies with curd and meringue, torch, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

• Set out panettone, stollen, and candies on dessert buffet.

Martha Talks Christmas Entertaining

Lucinda Scala Quinn, our executive food director, sits down with Martha to find out how she hosts 200 people for Christmas brunch ... and how her massage therapist ended up cooking several hundred crepes at the party.

Lucinda: So many people think of Christmas dinner as the big meal. Why do you do a brunch?

Martha: Well, my joke is that the earlier you have a party, the earlier everyone goes home. [laughs] But really, I like the idea that with a brunch, it’s more inclusive. Neighbors and friends stop by, and children can accompany their parents. I have a true open house, in that guests can go wherever they want on the farm. And the place really looks its best in daytime -- the pretty landscape, the views, the trees.

What’s your inspiration for the menu?

Even though I’ve gotten a lot of practice -- I’ve been having a holiday brunch for more than 20 years -- when I plan the menu, my mind still starts racing, like, What should I serve? Because every year it’s subtly different.

Are there things you always serve, no matter what?

One of the nicest Christmas parties I ever went to was at my friends’ little apartment on 37th Street in New York City. We ate oysters and salted ham and biscuits, then walked to Carnegie Hall to sing the Messiah. And I feel like those are two things I always want to have: oysters and ham. I know they’re splurges -- but people always remember how many oysters they ate. I serve fresh oysters from Norwalk, Connecticut, but you could also do crab claws in the West, or shrimp.

Both those things do seem like they could be expensive for people just starting out, or difficult. What if I don’t know how to open the oysters? Do you recommend having the fishmonger do that in advance?

I actually don't. You can learn how to open them, or find someone who knows how to open them and ask them to help you at the party.

So how do you recommend deploying family members as helpers?

In everyone's group of family and friends, there are people who can do certain things. That might be your mother -- for years, my mom made beautiful mini stuffed cabbages for my Christmas party, and I think people came specifically for them. Now my masseuse Svetlana is from Russia, and she makes the best buckwheat Russian crepes I've ever tasted. She's kind enough to make hundreds of them for the party. We eat them with wild mushrooms, but there’s a whole variety of fillings you could do. Just be careful with the assignments: Don't let your brother help with the shrimp cocktail -- or go anywhere near it -- because he loves it so much. [laughs] This happened one year: I had to ask my brother to go in the other room because he had eaten most of the jumbo shrimp!

I want to talk about the ham. Please convince me of the merits of this quirky ham recipe. Why do you love it?

It's the best way to cook a salty country ham. I know it needs to be soaked for a few days, and when you cook it, you leave it in the oven overnight; you can't open the oven door -- not everyone in my house believed me about that. But it's a no-work thing. It's easy because it's not very hands-on, and, wow, it's so fabulous!

I know at the farm, you have plenty of room to serve all your guests. What if people don't have as much space?

I set up the bar and the oysters out on the porch -- it gets people outside, but it's also chilly enough to keep the drinks cold. And you can always save room on a table by arranging food on stacked cake stands. I do this with smoked sable, sturgeon, and salmon from Russ & Daughters.

That's a way to make hosting an open house more manageable, too -- offering specialty foods.

Oh, absolutely. A party like this is a time to order from your favorite purveyors. And so many great places ship anywhere.

And for the food you're cooking, you do a fair amount of it in advance so you can actually enjoy the party and your guests.

Yes. You can even do the poached eggs the day ahead and then keep them in ice-cold water.

The fruit platter is very straightforward, but I think it's one of your signatures -- it’s beautiful but not really very complicated.

I love anything fresh-citrus -- I have the blood-orange punch at the bar. The fruit platter is just different types of oranges and grapefruits. The beauty of this is really in how well the sections are supremed, and that takes practice. But I just want everything fresh, fresh, fresh.