In marrying the best of two meals for a decadent spread, cooks can get carried away.

In marrying the best of two meals for a decadent spread, cooks can get carried away.

A delicious — and stress-free — brunch can't be everything to everyone, experts say. Striking the right balance ensures a flavor to satisfy every palate and an enjoyable meal for the host or hostess. An Ashland cooking class on Sunday demonstrates how.

"What we focus on is showing people how to make a really elaborate and fancy meal stress-free," says instructor Graham Sheldon, who owns Ashland Creek Inn.

Whether he's cooking for 18 to 24 inn guests or his own family, Sheldon plans his brunch around dishes that can be prepared the night before and then baked or finished shortly before serving. His secret weapon is a homemade pastry, easily within the abilities of a home cook and sure to wow a crowd, he says.

"You don't have to be a pastry chef to create something that tastes amazing," Sheldon says.

A sweet pastry or other bread-based offering is one of two essential components to a brunch, which should include five total dishes, says Allyson Holt, owner of the gourmet emporium Allyson's Kitchen, the site of Sunday's class. The other must-have is a savory casserole, such as a strata, frittata or hash that contains eggs, she says.

The time of day dictates other dishes — more breakfast items if brunch is early, salads if it's a later hour, she says. Serving buffet style is the obvious choice over a plated meal, she adds. And unlike meat-centric suppers, ingredients like bread, eggs and potatoes are relatively inexpensive, Holt says.

"It's an easier form of entertaining than holding an elaborate dinner party."

Sheldon recommends selecting new recipes well in advance and trying them out a couple of times in a no-pressure setting. An hour before guests arrive is not the time for salvaging a failing dish, he says.

"That's a guaranteed recipe for heart failure."

When a brunch does come together seamlessly, Sheldon and Holt say, there's no denying its appeal. This is the second such class Allyson's has hosted this year, and the recipes are among the most popular, Holt says.

"It gives everybody that really relaxing time."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.