Because who wants to cook on Christmas or New Year’s morning?
Special holiday cooking and baking is usually a welcome endeavor. Except when it’s not, like on Christmas morning for example. I’d rather relax with my family and a cup of coffee instead of fussing about in the kitchen.
But we all gotta eat eventually. That’s where a little bit of planning for a make-ahead breakfast saves the day. There are countless options, some savory, some sweet and some that require more work than others. My favorite has to be the breakfast casserole. This very versatile dish can feed a crowd and assembling it the night before means minimal hands on time in the morning.
Once you’re familiar with the basic method for breakfast casserole, the possibilities of ingredients are nearly infinite, and you’ve got a hearty go-to breakfast for any morning—New Year’s Day, the day of a family camping trip, a kid sleepover party, or when overnight guests are visiting.
The most straightforward method I’ve found is simple yet so useful. Use one part cream and/or milk, one part eggs, one part cheese, one part add ins, and two parts bread. Layer all the solid ingredients in a casserole dish then pour the egg-milk liquid over them. Bake in the oven, and breakfast is served.
Well, it’s almost that simple.
Some things to consider to build a beautiful breakfast casserole:
Eggs and milk You can sub out some of the whole eggs for just yolks, which will result in a richer consistency that’s more like a custard. When choosing milk and/or cream, obviously the more cream you use the richer the end result will be, but with a higher caloric price tag.
The seasonings you add into the egg-milk mixture largely will inspire the overall flavor of the dish: fresh herbs, spices, Worcestershire, mustard, horseradish, or even hot sauce.
The bread When the casserole includes bread, you’re essentially making a strata or savory bread pudding. (You could omit the bread, if so desired, for a more quiche or egg-bake dish). And the type of bread will determine how hearty the outcome is. A lighter, airier bread will break down more than a heavier bread that can absorb more liquid as it bakes.
Cheese This is another strong flavor contributor so choose wisely. Be sure to include some type of cheese that melts well, such as Fontina, Asiago, Gouda, or mozzarella. If you include a stronger flavored cheese, like a blue, use a little less than you would a milder flavor cheese.
Add in vegetables To cook or not to cook? Some vegetables can go in raw (diced tomatoes or greens, for example), however water is not a friend of breakfast casserole. Onions, bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms contain quite a bit of water that will release into the dish during cooking. You’ll want to cook these in advance for just a few minutes. Saute them in a pan or roast them in the oven.
Add in meat Whether you choose classic breakfast meats such as bacon, sausage, ham, or go rogue with chicken, lamb, or beef, be certain it’s thoroughly cooked before adding it to the casserole. Due to the volume of liquid and temperature of the oven, the meat will not have enough time to cook in the dish itself.
What about potatoes? They certainly add to the heartiness of a breakfast casserole, but also add a layer of fussiness.
Thinly sliced raw potatoes on the bottom layer (generously grease the pan) will form a crust-like layer. For incorporating them into the body of the casserole, many recipes call for frozen potato products. Using fresh grated potatoes works if you extract as much water from them as possible, then par-cook them first. Salt the grated potatoes, then either set them in a colander for several minutes to drain out, or squeeze them out in a dish towel. Give them a quick cook in a sauté pan or in the oven.
But pre-made tater tots are as nostalgic as they are delicious. I’d consider them a special treat in our holiday morning casserole.
Breakfast casseroles can take up to an hour to cook through. (For best results, take the ready-to-bake casserole out of the fridge well before you pop it in the oven). Mini egg bakes in muffin tins are a great alternative and can cut the cooking time in half. Simply spray muffin tins with pan spray or coat with butter and fill three-quarters full.
Another great cooking option is the crock pot. Layer the ingredients right in the pot and turned it on low before heading to bed. In the morning you don’t even need to preheat the oven!
Savory Breakfast Casserole
8 eggs + 2 yolks
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup grated Asiago cheese
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
3 slices bacon, diced
½ cup green onion, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
½ cup roma tomato, diced small
½ cup kale, de-stemmed, chopped fine
4 English muffins, cut into large cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°. In a large sauté pan, cook bacon over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until approaching crispiness. Add the white parts of the green onion and cook until soft, approximately 2 minutes. Stir in kale and cook briefly just until kale is wilted and becomes bright green. Remove from heat and set aside.
Place cubed English muffins on a baking sheet and toast in the hot oven for approximately 5 minutes. Muffins should be firm but not crispy. Remove from oven, set aside.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, and cream. Gently fold in most of the cheeses (set a bit aside to top the casserole just before baking), tomatoes, salt, pepper and remaining green parts of the onion.
Coat a 9 x 13 casserole dish with butter or oil. Line the bottom with the toasted English muffin pieces, then add the bacon mixture, over the top pour in the egg mixture. Top with remaining cheese.
You now could cover this tightly with plastic or foil, and keep in the fridge until morning. Or bake immediately.
Cover dish with foil and bake in oven for 40 minutes. Check that the eggs have set up in the middle. Remove foil and continue cooking 10-12 more minutes.