There’s so much to love about this Christmas Morning Strata! The crunchy, golden top. The soft, fluffy interior. And lots of bacon, spinach, roasted peppers and CHEESE. It’s a delicious, make-ahead breakfast casserole that your family is going to love!
Give Yourself The Gift of Being Present
You know that feeling… a full house, a colorful tangle of wrapping paper and ribbons on the floor, the happy chaos that goes along with it all? On Christmas morning I want to hang out with my people in comfy jammies, sipping a cup of coffee and soaking up as much family time as possible. I want time to take it all in. Count my blessings. Relax and just BE in the moment.
Can you relate?
Of course all of those blessings need to be fed! And, being the holidays, you want to serve something special. So, while most of the time I savor my kitchen therapy, I tend to feel a little differently about it on the holidays. I’m more interested in being present with my family and friends than being in another room focused on putting a meal together. That’s why I love all things that can be done ahead of time! And this breakfast strata is the perfect make-ahead breakfast!
What IS a Strata?
Stratas are basically a savory bread pudding. Bread is layered with eggs, milk, cheese and a variety of add-ins. Everything can be assembled the night before, so that in the morning all you need to do is pop it in the oven and wait. In about an hour you’ll be cutting through it’s golden, crunchy top to reveal the deliciously soft, fluffy, cheesy interior.
The beauty of this casserole is how flexible it is- you can use pretty much any size or shape pan and your flavor options are endless!
Choosing Your Add-Ins
Everyone has different likes and dislikes and that can be a challenge when deciding what to make AND trying to please everyone. In my household we have those who LOVE vegetables (the more the better please!), those who have limited veggie-acceptance and those (you know who you are) who will (with a scrunched up nose and look of utter disgust) take the tiniest, nearly microscopic taste IF parental figures insist. What we all agree on, however, is bacon and cheese.
You know your audience and you can easily customize this casserole to please them all. Merry Christmas 🙂
There are so many flavor possibilities when making strata and, really, that’s the beauty of it. You can plan something specific beforehand or rummage through your refrigerator gathering up those odds and ends for a little strata improv. Up to you!
For this post I wanted a strata that looked Christmasy so I used red and green add-ins: spinach, bacon and roasted peppers and a combination of cheddar and mozzarella cheese. The spinach and peppers go over well even with the non-veggie lovers in our house. And who doesn’t love bacon and cheese??
If you’re serving more “open” palates one of my very favorite red and green combos is blanched asparagus, Divina roasted tomatoes and prosciutto with provolone and crumbled goat cheese. Quartered marinated artichoke hearts in place of the asparagus is also SO good here!
Other great additions could be: sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, bite size pieces of blanched broccoli, crumbled, cooked sausage, cubed ham…I could go on, but you get the idea. Get creative and make it your own!
Prep Your Ingredients
Whatever you choose to flavor your strata you’ll want to keep a few things in mind:
- Cut everything into bite size pieces. This makes it easier to have everything evenly dispersed AND it’s easier to serve and to eat.
- Use at least one variety of cheese that’s creamy and melts really well. Monterey jack, mozzarella, provolone, gruyere are all excellent. Goat cheese, feta, cheddar and swiss are also wonderful when paired with a more creamy cheese.
- Any items that will be cooked before being added (bacon, sausage, mushrooms, asparagus, etc) need to be cool when you add them. So make sure to plan accordingly.
- You’ll want to slightly dry out the bread. Do this by spreading the cubes on a baking sheet and placing in a 250°f oven for about 10-15 minutes. You’re not trying to toast them, just dry them out a bit.
How To Scale Your Strata
Are you serving a crowd on Christmas morning or will your breakfast be a little more intimate? There’s a simple way to scale your strata to whatever size you need. Here’s how to do it:
Let’s Start With The Bread
Bread is the base of strata, so we’re going to start with that. You want to use a nice, firm bread. I like sourdough or a round country french boule. Some people like to trim the crust off, I prefer the texture when it’s left on. It’s up to you.
Choose your casserole dish and then cut enough of your bread (into 1″ cubes) to fill the dish without going above the top. Now measure the bread. I had 10 cups in my deep 11″ square dish. You might use a 9×13 or an 8×8 or maybe your favorite round quiche dish. You can use whatever you like once you know how much bread it holds 🙂
Next, Milk and Eggs
Next, we’ll decide how much milk and eggs to use. Whatever your bread measured, you’ll use half of that volume for the liquid. Since I had 10 cups of bread, I’ll use 5 cups of liquid total. So that’s 2 1/2 cups of eggs and 2 1/2 cups of milk.
Eggs can vary in size so instead of counting them, crack them into your measuring cup until you have the right amount. For me that was 11 eggs.
Whisk the eggs and then add your milk along with some salt, pepper, cayenne and dijon mustard until it’s smooth.
How Much Cheese and Add-ins?
Divide your bread measurement by 4. That’s how much cheese to use, so in this case it’s 2 1/2 cups total (although I won’t judge if you use a little more).
I use the same amount for any additional ingredients. 2 1/2 cups total. You don’t have to use the whole amount here.
How To Assemble your Christmas Morning Breakfast Strata
Once you have everything prepped and measured it’s time to put it together.
You can mix everything right in your casserole dish but I prefer to do it in a large mixing bowl first and then spread it in my casserole. Again, it’s up to you.
Combine the bread and cheese, tossing to combine evenly. Make sure to hold 1/2 cup of the cheese back so that you can sprinkle it over the top at the end.
Next, sprinkle your add-ins over top and fold gently with your hands, making sure everything is evenly distributed. Put this mixture into your buttered casserole dish and spread it out evenly.
Pour the egg/milk mixture evenly over the top and then use your hands to gently press everything down into the liquid. You can use a piece of plastic wrap over the dish if it’s helpful. You want to get the liquid up into all of the bread so don’t be afraid to press it down. After you’ve pressed it you WILL have bread sticking out about the liquid, this is ok as long as the liquid is coming at least 3/4 of the way up.
Remove plastic if you used it and sprinkle remaining cheese over top. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
How To Bake Your Strata
In the morning, after the strata has had an overnight soak, take it out of the fridge and let it stand on the counter for an hour before you put it in the oven. This is important so don’t skip it. You need it to warm up a bit so that the center cooks enough to set and the top gets golden without getting overdone. In our house I take it out as soon as I wake up and about 45 minutes later I preheat the oven.
When you’re ready place it, covered, in a 350°f oven for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake it uncovered for another 30 to 45 minutes. The time will vary based on the size and depth of your dish.
Is It Done Yet?
The strata is done when the top is golden and puffs up slightly and the center is “set” when you push on it. Take it out of the oven when it looks ready and press the center. Do you see liquid? If so it’s not done, give it a few more minutes and check again. If it’s soft but feels set and you don’t see liquid, it’s done. You can also poke it with a digital thermometer if you really want to be sure- it should be 160°f.
Let It Rest
Once your strata is done there’s one more important step before you can dig in. LET IT REST for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting it. This gives it time to firm up so that it slices neatly and, honestly, it’s way too hot to eat right now anyway.
Set the table. Make more coffee. Pour the juice. Give your dog a treat.
Look at those golden edges and that soft, yummy interior! It’s so good!
If you’re wondering what else you can serve with strata I like to pass a big bowl of melon and berries. The bright, cold, fresh taste of fruit is a nice balance to the cheesy “bready-ness” of the strata.
I hope you love this make-ahead, comfort food breakfast as much as we do. And I hope it helps you to savor all of the “presence” around your tree this year!
- 10 cups bread cut into 1" cubes
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk (can also use all or part half and half)
- 2 1/2 cups eggs (10-12 depending on size)
- 2 teaspoons Diamond kosher salt (use less if using another kind of salt)
- cracked pepper (about 10 cranks)
- 2 Tablespoons dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 1/4 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese
- 1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup roasted peppers, patted dry and diced
- 10 ounce frozen spinach, thawed an squeezed really well *
- 8 slices cooked thick bacon
Prepare strata the night before
- Spread bread cubes out on a large baking sheet and place in a 250°f oven for 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely. You don't want to completely dry our or brown the bread, you're just wanting the cubes to be slightly crusty on the outside.
- Cook bacon, drain, chop and set aside.
- Shred cheese, chop add-ins and set aside
- Whisk eggs and milk together. Add salt, pepper, dijon mustard and cayenne and combine well.
- In a large bowl combine the cooled bread cubes with all but 1/2 cup of the cheese (you'll want to reserve some for sprinkling over the top). Scatter the red peppers, spinach and bacon over and gently combine so that everything is evenly distributed.
- Spread bread mixture into a greased or buttered 9x13 or equivalent casserole dish (see notes) and gently pat down so it's all even.
- Pour milk/egg mixture over. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and press with your hands to make sure all of the bread cubes are coated with the egg mixture. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight*
- Remove the strata from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for one hour before baking. Preheat your oven to 350°f
- Place strata in preheated oven and bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 30 to 45 minutes or until the center doesn't jiggle and feels set when pressed in the center. This may take a little less or a little longer depending on your oven and the depth of your strata. If you see liquid when you press the center it needs more time. To be extra sure it's ready use an instant read digital thermometer pushed into the center, it should read 160 when it's done.
- Let the strata set for 10-15 minutes before slicing.
- I like the convenience of frozen spinach for this, but if you want to use fresh you can. Cook it first just to wilt. Whichever kind you're using make sure to squeeze it dry because if you don't your strata could end up soupy.
- Other add-ins could be: drained, jarred artichoke hearts, green onions, cubed ham, cooked sausage, sundried or roasted tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, blanched asparagus. Make sure any cooked add-ins are cool before you add them.
To use a different size pan:
- You can scale this recipe to any size pan you want to use. Cube enough bread to fill the desired dish without going over the top and then measure the bread. That's your base number. Use half of that amount for the combined milk/eggs. 1/4 of that amount for the cheese. And up to 1/4 of that amount for any add-ins. For example:
- 10 cups bread + 5 cups liquid (2 1/2 cups each eggs and milk) + 2 1/2 cups cheese + up to 2 1/2 cups add-ins
(Read the post for more detail)
I love to see what you’re cooking so please reach out here in the comments or tag me @breathingandcooking on FB or instagram and let me know how this turns out for you!