Make-ahead Christmas Breakfast

by Elizabeth Skipper | December 10th, 2014 | Ask the Chef

quiche (400x400)I like serving a hearty breakfast on Christmas morning, but I don’t like having to take time out of presents to get some food ready. I was thinking about making an overnight egg dish. We have a few picky eaters, so I don’t want a lot of veggies in it, but ham would work. Any suggestions?

Right off the top of my head, quiche, a frittata, and stratas come to mind. All have eggs, can be prepared ahead, and usually appeal to a wide audience. I have some other ideas, too, although you mention a few picky eaters, so it’s probably best to not venture too far afield. You’ll also want something that holds well, because a dish that demands to be eaten as soon as it’s ready defeats the purpose of flexibility with regard to present opening.

Quiches can be made the usual way, or even easier, crustless. The proportions of egg to milk and cream which I use for a standard 9” pie plate are 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, and 1cup heavy cream. You can also use 2 cups of light cream instead of the milk/cream mixture. Butter the pie plate – please use a ceramic or glass one, as metal will get too hot for the eggs and they’ll tend to curdle – and add a layer of sautéed chopped onions, ham (I prefer minced, as diced ham doesn’t cut well when you  slice the quiche), and some grated cheese like cheddar or gruyere if you like. Mix up the custard ingredients, and season with salt, pepper, a little nutmeg if you want to be traditional, or a pinch of cayenne for a more American taste. The cayenne is particularly good with cheddar cheese.

To make this ahead, prepare the dish with the filling ingredients and the custard, and refrigerate them separately. In the morning, take the components out of the refrigerator half an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 325º, pour the custard over the filling, and bake. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until lightly browned and just set. The quiche should have a few minutes to settle, or rest, before serving.

I don’t know how many you’re feeding, but plan on one quiche to serve four to six, depending on ages and appetites. For a larger quiche that will serve a couple more people, use a 10” pie plate, 8 eggs, 2 cups cream, and additional filling. Bake 40 to 50 minutes.

A frittata can be made in the much the same way, although a frittata is an egg dish as opposed to a custard. Most are made on the stovetop, or a combination of stovetop and oven, although I sometimes make them solely in the oven. Prepare the pie plates as above, using a greater proportion of onions and ham, and refrigerate. In the morning, beat together 8 eggs, season with salt and pepper, and pour over the filling. The quintessential frittata is made with onions and sliced potatoes; I think some cooked sliced potatoes, if you’re willing to put in a little extra effort, would be a delicious addition, and not too much for picky eaters. Depending on how full the plate is in this case, you may only need 6 eggs. Season with salt and pepper only. Bake at 325º about 25-35 minutes, until lightly browned and beginning to puff up.

Stratas (the word means “layer”) are the easiest to size up, and can be completely assembled beforehand. In fact, they’re the better for it. A 9” x 13” pan will easily feed between six and twelve people, again depending on ages and appetites (and, of course, what else is on the menu.) And the sky’s the limit with regard to what ingredients you choose to layer – the kinds of bread, meat, veggies, cheese, savory or sweet… you can use bread slices, neatly cut cubes, or bread torn into chunks. Here’s how to proceed:

Butter the 9” x 13” baking dish. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of bread, using as much of a 1-lb. loaf as you can. If you’re using something other than sandwich bread (and I hope you are – the better the bread, the better your strata will be), just weigh out a pound. Or guesstimate – this is a flexible dish! Bread which is a little dried out is perfect. It will soak up the custard better. You may or may not have a little bread leftover; don’t worry about it. Add a layer of chopped or diced ham. Cheese is optional, but recommended; use about ¾ of a pound, shredded or cubed. Shredded cheese will incorporate into the strata, while cubed or diced cheese won’t melt as fully and will leave nice strands of gooey deliciousness behind. Or use a mix; put the cubes in with the cheese and ham, and the shredded cheese on top of the custard.

The custard ratio is 8 eggs to 2 cups milk. Blend together and season with salt and pepper. Other seasonings could be cayenne or even Tabasco sauce if you want to spice things up a little. Pour over the bread, etc. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If the bread is a little dry, I highly recommend placing a cutting board or dish over the plastic wrap, and weighting it down with a couple of canned goods. This will ensure the bread doesn’t float and will soak up the custard.

In the morning, again remove the strata from the refrigerator half an hour before baking. Preheat the oven to 350º, and bake the strata for 30-40 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned. Allow to settle for 5-10 minutes before serving.

To round out the menu, have some bread, rolls, or croissants to accompany quiches or frittatas, some sliced fruit or fruit salad, juice, and hot beverages. Then relax and enjoy the fun with the gift opening.

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