It doesn't take much, I've discovered, to make a memorable breakfast casserole, but it does require a small investment in a few quality ingredients — like good bread and decadent cheese — and perhaps a willingness to overlook an obscene amount of eggs and cream. I've experimented over the years with cheddar, gouda, Parmesan, and gruyere, but I must say that brie has yielded the best recipe yet. A generous handful is sprinkled throughout in this recipe, and when melted, it creates a rich and gooey "sauce" for sautéed mushrooms and custard-soaked bread.
I am forever enamored and obsessed with the idea of breakfast casseroles. Their very existence represent happy times, bustling kitchens, and fond memories shared around the table. Of course their ease of preparation and ability to be made in advance are what make them so popular for entertaining, but I am more interested in exploring their infinite flavor combinations in my quest for brunch nirvana.
While this particular recipe is perfect for a crowd, I found it quite ideal for my family of two. We first enjoyed it warm from the oven, a hearty way to start our morning. I left the baking dish lingering on the island so we could nibble throughout the afternoon. We were headed to the mountains the following day so I warmed the leftovers before we hit the road and packed it up to enjoy in the car. (A heck of a lot better than fast food, I might add.)
Call it what you will — whether it's breakfast casserole, strata, or bread pudding where you're from — this perfect pairing will be a family favorite from here on out.
Brie & Mushroom Strata
Serves 8 (recipe can be easily halved)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1-2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mixed mushrooms, such a bella, cremini, or shitake, sliced
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon blanc
9 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound (16 ounces) cubed French bread, day old or toasted
1 (8-ounce) round of brie, rind removed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Generously butter an 11x7-inch (1 1/2 quart) baking dish and set aside.
In a large skillet or braiser, heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about 3 minutes, followed by the garlic, sautéing for another 30 seconds or so. Add the mushrooms, the leaves from the thyme sprigs, and a pinch of salt. Cook until mushrooms are golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour in the wine and increase heat to high. Cook, letting the wine bubbling vigorously, until all the liquid cooks out.
Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, Dijon, salt, and a pinch of black pepper in a large mixing bowl. Arrange half of the bread cubes to the bottom of the prepared baking dish, followed by half the mushrooms and half the cubed brie. Pour half of the egg mixture over the top. Arrange the remaining bread, followed by the mushrooms and brie, over the top. Pour the remaining egg mixture evenly over the bread and push down gently to make sure that every piece gets saturated. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake the strata for 60 minutes. Remove aluminum foil, add grated Parmesan and continue baking, uncovered, until puffed and golden, 15 to 25 minutes. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
To freeze: Wrap baking dish tightly with plastic wrap, followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Label with date and cooking instructions and freeze for later use. Remove from the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before cooking; bake according to instructions.
If not using stale bread, toast the cubes in a 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring partway through, until dry and slightly toasted.