What's not to love about a strata (a.k.a. bread pudding)? A huge positive with a strata is, it can be totally assembled the day before you plan to serve it. This makes a breakfast or brunch for several very easy. Add some fresh fruit, coffee, juice -- you're set!
Then... there are the ingredients. As long as you work within a certain ratio of milk to eggs for the custard filling (that will be absorbed into the chunks of sturdy bread) you can go crazy tweaking the rest. This recipe uses ham and spinach to nestle between the baguette layers, but cooked sausage and blanched broccoli would be a tasty substitution. The combinations can be endless, or you can stay true to this recipe. You won't go wrong there.
I made this Ham, Fontina, and Spinach Bread Pudding for breakfast at our friends' cabin; assembled it entirely at home, then wrapped it securely for the trip to the cabin. (One caveat... if you are planning to travel several hours with the strata, wait until you reach your destination to pour the custard mixture over the other ingredients. Trust me... it's just easier that way. I'm talking from experience).
There were also buttery croissants from a French Vietnamese bakery in St. Paul that we nibbled on while the strata baked.
It was one of the few mornings that it actually felt like winter, with a night-time low around zero. The hot-from-the-oven strata hit the spot!
> HAM, FONTINA, and SPINACH BREAD PUDDING <
MAKES 6 SERVINGS
• 1 large baguette (about 3/4 pound); I used my no-knead baguette recipe
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 pound cooked ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 4 large eggs
• 1 quart whole milk
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 6 cups spinach leaves
• 3/4 pound Fontina cheese, grated
1. Preheat broiler.
2. Diagonally cut baguette crosswise into 3/4-inch thick slices and brush both sides with butter. Toast on a baking sheet under the broiler until golden on each side. Remove bread and preheat oven to 350˚F.
3. Sauté onions in oil in a large nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden. Add ham and sauté until ham is lightly browned.
4. Whisk eggs in a large bowl and whisk in the milk, salt, nutmeg, and pepper to taste. Add toasted bread and toss gently. Transfer the saturated bread to a 3-quart casserole, slightly overlapping slices. Add any remaining egg mixture.
5. Tuck spinach and ham between slices. Sprinkle cheese over bread pudding, lifting slices of bread with a spatula to allow some of the cheese to fall between them. Bake on a rack centered in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until puffed and edges of the bread are golden and custard is set in the middle.
+ The bread pudding can be assembled 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Increase baking time to 1 hour and 10 minutes if bread pudding is cold when put in the oven. Cover the top with foil after 45 minutes to prevent over-browning.
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