One word: strata

Casseroles are supposed to make life easier. Mix some great ingredients in a one-stop-shop of meals, often using up leftovers, and you have a super simple dinner that comes together in a flash. So, why aren't we thinking the same about breakfast?

In part, because while a dinner casserole can be tossed together ahead of time, even cooked ahead and re-heated, breakfast casseroles often feel like they need to be made in the morning, which is the opposite of convenient. What we need is an adaptable, easy, make ahead recipe with all the flexibility of a dinner casserole, and none of the morning fussing.

Meet the world’s best breakfast casserole

Enter your new best breakfast friend, the make-ahead strata. Essentially a breakfast bread pudding, a breakfast strata can be sweet or savory, simple or complicated, all fresh ingredients or a way to use up leftovers. And the best part is that you can assemble it up to two days in advance! Your new breakfast hero.

Credit: iko636/Getty Images

iko636/Getty Images

Start your strata with breads

Strata means layers, and those layers include a combination of something bready, fillings, and an egg-based custard. For that something bready, it could be any carb you have lying around or taking up room in your freezer. Have a chunk of your homemade sourdough loaf slightly past its prime? Ideal. But even slices of fluffy white sandwich bread, breakfast pastries, leftover dinner rolls, or frozen waffles will work! Use what you have on hand. And if you are feeling experimental, you can even sub out bread for a different starch like leftover pasta, tater tots, or cooked rice.

How to layer your strata

Now it is time to play. You need some add-ins, and they can be almost anything. Yes, you can layer in last night's tikka masala or shred up that last pork chop or leftover hot dog or burger. Have some past-their prime vegetables in the fridge? They just found a home. Any cheese you like is going to be terrific in this, ditto your favorite herbs. You can even make a sweet version with cinnamon raisin bread or leftover croissants, layer with dollops of cottage cheese or ricotta and chopped fresh or dried fruit, a swirl of jam, a sprinkle of warm spices, and add a bit of sugar and vanilla and a healthy plop of sour cream to the custard.

How to make the custard extra delicious

Speaking of the custard, I like using whole milk or 2%, but it will work fine with skim. Season with salt and pepper if you are going savory, or some warmer spices if going sweet. Add in a tablespoon of something extra—spicy Creole mustard or harissa if you're feeling spicy—or maple syrup or honey if you are going sweet. Just a bit of bonus punch.

How to make Breakfast Strata

This is the world's easiest ratio recipe and process! Here are your ratios for one 9x13 casserole dish:

8 cups torn up or cubed breadstuffs tossed with 2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil

3 cups total filling items

8 eggs

2 cups milk

Layer half the bread followed by half the filling items in a well-greased casserole dish, season with salt and pepper if appropriate, repeat. Mix the eggs with the milk and season well, adding any bonus item you like. Pour slowly over the strata and press the top to help soak the bread. Refrigerate 4-48 hours, then bake uncovered for 45-55 minutes till golden brown and cooked through.