Breakfast casserole dishes, also called stratas, are culinary wonders, especially in the winter. They’re layered with ingredients, require little prep work and are time savers. They are also a set-it-and-forget-it type of dish.
Most feed a lot of people, so they’re perfect for serving a group. The casserole is assembled the night before, refrigerated and then popped in the oven in the morning.
Breakfast casseroles are everything you might eat at breakfast cooked together in one dish. Eggs get mixed with a liquid (milk or cream) to make a custardlike base. Cooked meats like ham, bacon or sausage are added. Most recipes call for shredded cheese. You can add vegetables such as onions and peppers. And, of course, there’s the bread base made from dry (never soft) bread.
Though there are no hard-and-fast rules for these types of casseroles, here are some basic guidelines.
Bread: Use plain sandwich bread, sweet challah, leftover rolls, croutons or anything you have on hand. Cut bread into cubes or leave in slices. Figure a good 6 cups of bread cubes if you’re using a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Make sure the bread is several days old and dry. If necessary, dry it in a 300-degree oven for 30 minutes.
Cheese and add-ins: Use shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, fontina or fontinella. Cheese blends such as Italian or Mexican also work well, or you can use some Parmesan or Gruyere. The amount of cheese you include, according to epicurious.com, is about half the amount of bread you used. If you used 4 cups of bread cubes, use 2 cups of cheese. Add-ins include cooked sausage and bacon, sautéed ham and vegetables like peppers, onions, spinach and kale.
Eggs and milk: Epicurious.com recommends using equal parts eggs and milk. These, along with the bread, help bind the casserole together. The combination of eggs and milk should equal or come close to the amount of bread you use. If you use 4 cups of cubed bread, use 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of egg, then add in seasonings, herbs or ingredients such as hot sauce and Dijon mustard.
Assemble: Butter a baking dish and scatter or layer the bread in the dish. Scatter cooked meat and vegetables over the bread. Sprinkle with all but about ½ cup of the cheese. Pour the milk-egg mixture over the bread. Press down slightly on the mixture so all the bread gets some moisture. It’s OK if some bread is exposed at the top. Sprinkle with reserved cheese. Cover with foil and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
Bake: Remove casserole from refrigerator, keep covered with foil and bake in a preheated 350- to 375-degree oven about 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and continue baking until casserole is puffed and lightly brown and the center is set and doesn’t jiggle. Or bake according to the recipe. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.