May 16, 2009

Strawberry Strata

The idea for this almost came to me in a dream. That is, the moment I thought of it, I couldn't figure out why I hadn't been making it for years - a complete no-brainer. It also seemed to be the perfect thing to make for breakfast in on a weekend when we had a houseguest who is vegetarian, and therefore unlikely to be receptive to my usual, sausage-laden stratas. Also, strawberries are just coming in to season, like some sort of strange culinary convergence.

The rules for strata are quite simple: it's a cross between french toast and bread pudding, and involves layers of lightly buttered bread, sandwiched with good things, and drowned in a royale made of 1/3 cup milk per egg, plus seasonings of your choice. You can see a basic, savory recipe here. The math is pretty consistent, if you need to serve more than the four people indicated there. Scale up as necessary.

However, for this slightly sweet, meat-free version, I had to throw out the playbook as far as the "good things" part went. The two layers of bread, okay, the egg/milk royale formula was okay, but how to replace the meats, cheeses, and vegetables for a fruit version? I eventually decided to spread the bread with softened cream cheese instead of butter, and that, plus slices strawberries, a mere sprinkling of sugar, and some cinnamon and ground cardamom, made up the middle layer. To prevent the strawberries from cooking to mush on the top, I reserved the sliced strawberries for the topping in a bowl in the fridge until ready to serve (macerating in a tiny amount of sugar). On the top of the strata, I dotted more pieces of cream cheese and gave another quick pass with the sugar spoon (my version was barely sweet, since I was very restrained in the amount of sugar that I used - less than a tablespoon all told - but your mileage may vary) and another hit of the spices.

I also added some vanilla extract to the royale, along with a tiny pinch of salt to coax all the flavours together. The royale was poured over the layers of strata the night before, and it rested in the fridge until morning. An hour and ten minutes later (the wetness of the strawberries required additional cooking time), out it came. For luxury's sake (and we did have company, after all) I topped the slices of strata with a big spoonful of Liberté's Méditerranée Coconut yoghurt, and then added the macerated strawberry slices. Creamy, silky goodness.

Next time, I'm going with sliced peaches, and mascarpone, with a shot of rum in the royale.

We had this on Mother's Day, according to the calendar. If my mother were still alive, I would totally make this for her.