Strata, a layered casserole, is an invention of the 20th century. The dish became mainstream in the ’80s after being featured in the famous Silver Palate Cookbook. Stratas are the brunch dish of choice for a busy morning meal. They are made ahead of time, and baked right from the oven, an easy choice for Christmas morning. Just google “strata recipes” and you will be faced with many, many varieties. Savory and sweet alike. All you need to do is start with the base ingredients of bread and eggs, and the sky is the limit! My recipe features cranberry, cheddar and walnuts, inspired from cranberry walnut bread. To read more about how to make this dish click this link: Make Ahead Strata for Christmas Morning.
Cranberry Cheddar Strata with Walnuts and Canadian Bacon
2 cups fresh cranberries, about 8 oz
¼ cup sugar
10 cups Italian bread, 1 big loaf, 1½ – 2” cubes
3 cups lightly packed, hand-shredded aged cheddar, about 7 oz
10 eggs, about 2 ½ cups
2½ cups milk, I used 2%
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon fine ground black pepper
½ cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
Canadian bacon, 1-2 slices per person
Canadian or Vermont maple syrup
1. Place the cranberries, sugar and ¼ cup of water in a small saute pan. Try to have them lay flat, but not too spread out. An 8 or 10” pan works best. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until they just burst, but still have their shape. Remove and place on a dish to cool.
2. While the cranberries cook and cool, cut up the bread and shred the cheddar. I used a nice 3-year aged cheddar. Consider using a block and shredding by hand, versus the pre-shredded bag version. It will take you less than 2 minutes to shred it yourself, and taste infinitely better.
3. In a large mixing bowl, or glass bowl with a spout, beat the eggs with a whisk. Add the milk, salt and pepper and whisk to combine thoroughly. Set aside.
4. Butter a 9 x 13” baking dish and place the bread in first. Then sprinkle the cheese over and lift the bread a little to tuck the cheese around evenly. Then place the cranberries evenly around, nestling them in between the bread cubes.
5. Give the egg-milk mix one last whisk and carefully pour over the entire dish. Try to hit all the top bread cubes of possible. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the ‘fridge over night.
6. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and bake the strata for 30-40 minutes. (Check after 30 minutes.) In the last 5 minutes of baking top with the toasted walnuts and place back in the oven to finish cooking. The bottom should look moist, but set, and the top brown and crisp.
7. While the strata rests, for about 5 minutes, pan fry the Canadian bacon. Serve warm with a good maple syrup. (Resist the urge to use the fake sugary substitutes!)