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 the basic, savoury recipe in the comments section below. 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.


Danielle said...

Wow what a great brunch dish!! Ive never seen a strata with strawberries! mmm

Dawna said...

Savoury version:

Breakfast / Brunch Strata

This is ultimately a formula based on a the proportion of milk to egg, which is then poured over bread. It is ultimately, something of a baked, stuffed French toast casserole, and can be varied quite infinitely depending on the type of cheese, veggies, or meat that you have on hand. The recipe has been around for a long time, often called such ridiculous names as "Wife Saver" or "Easy Christmas Casserole" - probably due to the fact that all the work is done the night before. An hour before you want to serve it, pop it into a pre-heated oven, and then head for the shower, or pour yourself a coffee. For a special, yet no-stress morning meal - such as Christmas morning - it fits the bill perfectly, but it can be jazzed up enough to be served as part of a smart brunch.

Serves 4
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (plus overnight in the fridge)

4 eggs, beaten
1 1/3 cups 1% milk
pinch powdered mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, to taste
1 dash Tabasco pepper sauce
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
2 - 3 cups grated cheese (your choice)
Bread - enough to cover an 8 inch square pan in two layers
butter, for the bread
2 - 3 cups of filling

Filling ideas
Sauté any combination of the following:

Bell Peppers
caramelized fennel slices
finely diced ham
sliced sausage

Spritz an 8" square baking dish (Pyrex is good) with canola oil, or butter very lightly.
Cut the crusts from the bread and discard or set aside to make breadcrumbs for some other dish. Lightly butter one side of the bread (about ten slices, depending on the size and shape of your loaf - but you can cut and butter as you go), and fit one layer of bread slices into the pan, buttered side up. Add 1 1/2 cups of filling and 1 cup of cheese, sprinkling evenly over the surface of the bread. Fit the next layer of bread slices into the pan, buttered side down. Top with remaining filling and cheese, and sprinkle with fresh herbs, if you like.

In a blender, food processor, or bowl with whisk, blend the eggs and milk until smooth. Add a pinch of powdered mustard seed, a shot or two of Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, a shot of Worcestershire sauce, a half-teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Blend, process, or whisk until smooth. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the layers of bread and filling. It will not cover the bread - this is correct. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and gently press down on the strata to remove air pockets. Refrigerate until ready to use - 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Remove plastic wrap from the strata, and place the dish on the centre rack in the oven, uncovered. Bake for 50 - 60 minutes, or until puffed, golden brown, and sizzling. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before cutting into large squares and serving.