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The Big Book of Breakfast: Holiday Strata

Strata is a savory bread pudding, consisting of layers of bread, cheese, and other ingredients, topped with an egg and milk custard mixture that soaks into the bread. It's a great dish for brunch because it requires an overnight stay in the refrigerator. Assemble it a day ahead of time, and the next morning all you need to do is bake it. This is a tasty version from The Big Book of Breakfast .

Strata recipes often suggest that the cook put weights on top of the dish as it rests in the refrigerator, to ensure that the bread is completely saturated. The Big Book of Breakfast doesn't suggest that step in any of its strata recipes, but I find that strata really does have a better texture if it's been weighted. Use a couple of 1-pound boxes of powdered sugar or brown sugar, or a few 1-quart cartons of chicken stock or soy milk. Place the plastic wrap flush with the surface of the casserole and then arrange the boxes or cartons on top so that the bread is squished into the custard mixture. It works, I promise.

I made this recipe with chicken sausage, and it was delicious. Pork or turkey links would work well also. I used the lesser amount and thought it was plenty of sausage; the original recipe calls for 20 oz. of links, but I believe that's too much. If you want a lot of sausage, use 16 oz. Any more than that is overkill.

Whole milk is tasty, and half-half even tastier. Don't use leaner milk; the casserole needs the richness that the milkfat provides.

To dry out the bread, you can either let it sit out for a day before assembling the strata, or you can bake it at 250 degrees for about 30 minutes. Don't use fresh bread, which will be too soft-textured.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 to 50 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

1 1/2 Tbsp butter
6 oz. button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
8 slices day-old sourdough bread, crusts trimmed, buttered, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
12 to 16 oz. link sausage, cooked, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
4 large eggs
2 cups whole milk or half-and-half
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp dry mustard

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add mushrooms and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

Place half of the bread in a lightly sprayed or oiled 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Add sausage, mushrooms, half of the cheese, and remaining bread.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and mustard. Pour over the bread mixture and top with remaining cheese. Cover with plastic wrap flush with the surface, and weight the strata down with small cartons or boxes. Refrigerate overnight.

Let the dish sit out at room temperature for about 30 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake, uncovered, until set and bubbly, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.



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