The Overnight Christmas Breakfast I Make Every Single Year
At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. And we decided to start sharing some of our absolute favorites with you. Here’s a peek into what we’re cooking and eating in our own kitchens.
A strata is my idea of the perfect breakfast or brunch food. It’s a sweet dish (bread pudding) turned savory: You get the hearty satisfaction of custard-soaked bread and loads of gooey cheese, but the best ones have some greens or veggies worked in too. My all-time favorite version is this spinach and Gruyère version from Cook’s Illustrated. My family has made it every single year for Christmas morning for as long as I can remember.
The Perfect Christmas Morning Breakfast
The first thing you should know about this recipe is that it’s incredibly practical. It requires a bit of assembly upfront — layering everything into a casserole dish — but in my family, we do that the night before, so come Christmas morning, we just have to pop it in the oven. And that’s the beauty of this recipe: It’s so nice to be able to relax in our pajamas, open presents, and indulge in a warm and comforting brunch without any of us sweating it out in the kitchen.
(But also, we never want to wait until Christmas to eat it, so we’ve started making it for Thanksgiving breakfast, too — and really any time we’re all together as a family. It’s just as good for dinner as it is for brunch.)
Also worth noting? It’s easy to make. Some may note that Cook’s Illustrated has a reputation for being fussy. But this strata is an exception. It’s as simple as it sounds, and every step has purpose. You’re building layers of flavor and texture as you go, and in the end it’s worth every second spent.
Now, onto the life-changing experience of eating this strata. As it bakes, the center puffs up (so much so that it delights me every time), the cheese bubbles and browns, and the edges crisp. With each bite, you get crunch, creaminess, and cheesiness, with just enough spinach to balance it all out. It immensely satisfies everyone in my family — and we’re a mix of sweet and savory breakfast orderers, so that’s saying something. It never fails to be the best thing on the table, and I can relax knowing it will deliver every time.
What to Know If You Make It
Throughly dry out the slices of Italian bread. This will let them absorb more of the egg custard. (This is the same technique used in our favorite French toast recipe).
Use frozen spinach instead of fresh to make things easier. It’ll save you the step of wilting down piles upon piles of the fresh stuff — and means you can make this dish year-round. (Just don’t skip the sautéing. It’s crucial because it cooks out excess liquid, which prevents the strata from becoming soggy.)
Use wine to add acidity and cut richness. The final step before assembly? Reducing 1/2 cup white wine. Cook’s Illustrated calls for Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite type of wine. (Make like me and pour yourself a glass as you finish up the recipe!)
Generously butter the casserole dish. I repeat: generously. (You don’t want this thing to stick!). Then layer bread, spinach mixture, Gruyère, repeat. You’ll then pour the liquid mixture over the bread, wrap the dish, weigh it down, and refrigerate overnight. This is part of the genius of this recipe: adding weights (you can use boxes of sugar or a large bag of rice) ensures the egg mixture soaks into every nook and cranny of the bread, ultimately resulting in the most deliciously fluffy and custardy texture. You’ll bake it off the next day.
More Strata Recipes
Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Gruyère
- 8 to 10
(1/2-inch-thick) slices French or Italian bread
- 5 tablespoons
unsalted butter, softened
large shallots, minced
- 10 ounces
frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup
- 6 ounces
Gruyère cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
- 1 3/4 cups
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 225°F. Arrange bread in single layer on baking sheet and bake until dry and crisp, about 40 minutes, flipping slices halfway through baking. When cooled, spread 1 side of slices with 2 tablespoons butter; set aside.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add spinach, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach is warmed through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl; set aside. Add wine to skillet, increase heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced to 1/4 cup, 2 to 3 minutes; set aside.
Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Arrange half of bread slices, buttered side up, in single layer in dish. Sprinkle half of spinach mixture and 1/2 cup Gruyère evenly over bread slices. Repeat layering with remaining bread slices, remaining spinach mixture, and 1/2 cup Gruyère. Whisk eggs in medium bowl until combined, then whisk in half-and-half, reduced wine, and 1 teaspoon salt and season with pepper. Pour egg mixture evenly over bread layers. Wrap dish tightly in plastic wrap, pressing plastic flush to surface of strata. Weigh down strata and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
Heat oven to 325°F. Remove dish from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. Remove weights and plastic and sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup Gruyère evenly over top of strata. Bake until edges and center are barely puffed and edges have pulled away slightly from sides of dish, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool on wire rack for 5 minutes. Serve.
Weighing down the strata: Two 1-pound boxes of brown or powdered sugar, laid side by side over the plastic wrap-covered surface and then topped with a heavy cast-iron skillet, make ideal weights for this strata. A 1-gallon zipper-lock bag filled with about 2 pounds of sugar or rice also works well.
Drying the bread: Instead of toasting the bread in the oven in step 1, you can leave the bread slices out overnight to dry.
Doubling the recipe: To double this recipe, use a 13 by 9-inch baking dish greased with 11/2 tablespoons of butter and increase the baking time to 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Ingredient substitutions: Feel free to substitute any good melting cheese, such as Havarti, sharp cheddar, or Colby, for the Gruyère. Use a medium-dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc.
Reprinted with permission from Cooks Illustrated.