Stratas are great for entertaining – they’re easy to put together and you do the assembly the day before you need it. The next morning, an hour before your guests arrive, pop it in the oven and it’s hot and ready when they get there.
Stratas are also great because they’re very flexible — you can make them sweet or savoury. This is a sweet version (though not too sweet), flavoured with cherries, chocolate and almond. But you can use all sorts of fruits, nuts and spices, like apples, pecans and cinnamon. (Savoury versions would eliminate the sugar and extracts and can be flavoured with things like shredded cheese, sauteed mushrooms, leeks, green onions, fresh herbs and many other things.)
I like to use challah in stratas, preferably a couple of days after it’s been baked (slightly drier bread will absorb the custard better). But you can use other breads like sourdough, croissants, brioche, white or whole wheat. Have fun and be creative!
Cherry, Chocolate and Almond Strara
Layers of challah sprinkled with cherries, chocolate and almonds soaked in custard and baked. Great for brunch because you put it together the day before and just bake it off the morning you need it.
- 1 bag frozen, pitted cherries (400 grams/14 oz.) – thawed and drained
- 1 challah, cut into large cubes (approximately 8 cups of cubes)
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (227 grams/8 oz.)
- 8 large eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar (114 grams/4 oz.)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 1/2 cups 2% milk
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 tsp. almond extract
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds (44 grams/1 1/2 oz.)
- Butter or spray a deep baking dish (I use a dish that’s 8″x12″x2″.) Add half of the bread to the dish, speading it out evenly. Sprinkle half of the cherries and half of the chocolate chips evenly over the bread. Repeat with the rest of the bread, cherries and chocolate chips.
- Add the eggs and sugar to a mixing bowl and whisk together until well-mixed. Whisk in the salt, milk, whipping cream, vanilla and almond extracts. Whisk together until all of the ingredients are combined well.
- Slowly pour the egg mixture into the baking dish, and gently push the bread down. Not all of the bread will be submerged in the custard mixture, but I like to make sure it’s all had the mixture poured over it or its been dipped into it, even briefly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or at least 8 hours.)
- Half an hour before you’re ready to bake, take the strata out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature while the oven heats to 350°F / 175°C.
- Remove the plastic wrap, sprinkle the sliced almonds on top and bake the strata for 1 hour or until the strata has puffed up and is golden brown.
- Serve immediately.