Isabel Reis Laessig spends her days preparing and comparing dinners for her website, sundaysuppermovement.com. But on Christmas Eve, her focus is on the next morning, preparing a breakfast casserole for the gift-giving aftermath.
“Our Christmas Day tradition is always this delicious sausage breakfast casserole made with crescent rolls and candied bacon,” said the Dunedin businesswoman, mother and grandmother. “I make everything the night before and bake it in the morning while everyone is opening up their gifts.”
That’s the gift of the breakfast casserole: It sits in the refrigerator overnight and bakes in minutes for a bow-worthy presentation and taste. And it can feed a crowd.
Whether sweet or savory, the basis for breakfast casseroles, aka strata, is eggs, bread and milk or cream. From there, it’s a chef’s choice and a buttered, 9-by-13-inch casserole dish.
My family members prefer a sweet casserole when they retreat to the kitchen after boring through Santa’s bounty. Our favorite has become a Baked Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole with just enough egg to make it seem somewhat nutritious.
Laessig said casseroles are especially useful for mornings like Christmas when home cooks might also be preparing a spread for a family dinner later in the day.
Casseroles are a free-for-all of ingredients. It’s easy to be creative and to include whatever meats, cheeses, vegetables or herbs your family prefers.
Janet Keeler, a former food editor and a current editor at The Penny Hoarder, prepares a creme brulee French toast casserole with an aroma that draws family members to the table even before they tear into gifts.
These bread pudding-like creations are easily paired with a side salad if it’s brunch hour, or herbed biscuits if your family members are early risers.
Laessig’s Christmas Day casserole includes breakfast sausage, Colby Jack and mozzarella cheeses and heavy whipping cream. The crescent rolls soak up all the ingredients. She adds candied bacon for a little twist of sweetness.
“It is an amazing combination of flavors, and my kids look forward to this special treat every year,” she said. “As a busy mom with four children and significant others, a grandchild and my parents, casseroles are the perfect solution for the holidays and get-togethers.”
I use challah bread for an extra-sweet touch to my morning casserole. The large chunks of bread add a hearty texture to the dish.
Experimenting with different options is part of the allure of casseroles. Laessig said her popular recipe for Mexican Street Corn, for example, was the inspiration for her Mexican Street Corn Casserole that is “crazy popular.”
“Casseroles are no longer our grandmother’s casseroles,” she said. So grab a mimosa and spoon some of these options onto your Christmas morning breakfast plate.
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Amazing Sausage Breakfast Casserole
1 pound breakfast sausage (not sausage links)
6 large eggs
1 cup heavy whipping cream or half-and-half
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 cup Colby Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup mozzarella, shredded
16 ounces refrigerated crescent rolls
1 to 2 green onions thinly sliced (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. Set aside. Brown sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat until browned all the way through, about 6 to 8 minutes. Be sure to break up the sausage as it cooks. Remove from heat and strain off grease. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, salt, pepper, onion powder and paprika until fully incorporated. Add cheese and stir to combine. Set aside.
Open crescent rolls and roll according to package directions. Arrange 15 rolls in prepared baking dish in three rows with 5 rolls in each row.
Add sausage to the baking dish, spreading it evenly over the pressed rolls. Pour the egg mixture over the rolls and sausage. Refrigerate overnight. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Carefully remove from the oven. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Sprinkle top with green onions, if desired. Serve warm.
This crescent roll breakfast casserole is great with a little hot sauce on it.
You can also substitute bacon or ham for the sausage in this casserole.
Make it Philly cheesesteak-style by adding shaved ribeye.
Go Tex-Mex with salsa in place of the sausage, and substitute Mexican cheese.
You can add candied bacon to the recipe or sprinkle it on top after baking.
Baked Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole
1 (12- to 14-ounce) loaf French bread, sourdough bread or challah
8 ounces brick-style cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 large eggs
2 ¼ cups whole milk
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cubed
Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with butter or nonstick cooking spray. Slice, then cut, bread into cubes, about 1 inch in size. Spread half the cubes into the prepared baking pan. Using a hand or stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth. Beat in confectioners’ sugar and ¼ teaspoon of the vanilla extract until combined. Drop random spoonfuls of cream cheese mixture on top of the bread. Layer remaining bread cubes on top of cream cheese. Set aside.
Whisk eggs, milk, cinnamon, brown sugar and remaining vanilla together until no brown sugar lumps remain. Pour over bread. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and remove pan from the refrigerator.
Prepare the crumb topping by whisking brown sugar, flour and cinnamon together in a medium bowl. Cut in cold butter with a pastry blender or two forks. Sprinkle the topping over the soaked bread.
Bake uncovered for 45 to 55 minutes or until golden brown on top.
Notes: Day-old bread is best. I used a loaf of challah bread that was 3 days old.
I recommend using full-fat cream cheese. I also use slightly less cream cheese than required because that’s what my family members prefer. I often top the finished casserole with fresh fruit and a little dusting of confectioners’ sugar.
Creme Brulee French Toast
Janet Keeler says: “My biggest tip is to make it in a lighter pan because you have to flip it holding on to the pan and the tray. The syrup is at the bottom and you want it at the top for presentation. Plus, it’s hot! I never let anyone in the kitchen when I do this in case it’s a disaster.”
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 loaf challah bread
5 large eggs
1 ½ cups half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
¼ teaspoon salt
Berries, for garnish
In a small heavy saucepan, melt butter with brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring until smooth. Pour into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Cut 1-inch-thick slices from center of bread, reserving ends for another use, and trim crusts. Arrange bread slices in one layer in baking dish, squeezing them slightly to fit.
In a bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, vanilla, Grand Marnier and salt until combined well and pour evenly over bread. Chill bread mixture, covered, at least 8 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bring bread dish to room temperature. Bake bread mixture, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed and edges are pale golden, 35 to 40 minutes. To serve, invert on a large platter, dust with powdered sugar and garnish with strawberries or blueberries.
Veggie-Loaded Breakfast Casserole
2 tablespoons oil
8 to 10 mushrooms, sliced
½ red onion, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 bell peppers, diced
2 cups packed baby spinach, roughly chopped
20 ounces shredded potatoes, thawed
⅓ cup half-and-half or milk
¼ cup hot sauce (more or less to taste)
Salt and pepper
1 cup shredded cheese
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add mushrooms and saute for 4 minutes or until they start to brown. Add a small pinch of salt along with the onions and garlic and let cook for 2 minutes. Remove to a plate. Add second tablespoon oil, if needed, and saute peppers for 1 minute. Add in baby spinach and allow it to wilt, remove from heat, then set aside.
Generously spray a 9- by-12-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Lay the shredded potatoes in the bottom of the dish and press to make sure they are spread out evenly. Add veggies (both mushrooms and pepper mixtures) over potatoes, then set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, hot sauce and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over prepared veggies. Sprinkle cheese over top and another small pinch of salt and pepper.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight and allow it to come to room temperature for 20 minutes before baking.
Bake the casserole at 375 degrees, uncovered, until cheese melts and the top is golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Allow the casserole to cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Note: Half-and-half can be replaced with any nondairy milk such as almond, soy, cashew, etc.
Recommended cheeses are cheddar (mild or sharp), mozzarella, pepper jack or Swiss.