“My favorites are very simple with few ingredients. I make this cheese dish very plain and everyone loves it. Maybe add a little ham.” (wise words from my big sister)
Cheese bread pudding (also known as cheese strata) is one of those incredible useful, simple dishes handy to know when time is short. Basically it is just old fashioned bread pudding, but cheesy/salty instead of sweet. When I was growing up this was a stable of women’s magazines, every cookery writer (and home cook) offering her own version.
The great benefit of this dish is that, like a sweet bread pudding, you can make it ahead of time (the night before, in the morning before leaving the house, or just a couple of hours before supper), then bake it while you are putting together a salad to serve with it.
It can be very simple (like my sister’s – and very good it is too) or dressed up in single or triple layers - with a variety of (or mixed) cheeses, with spinach/chard, with sausage/ham/bacon, with tomato, etc. etc.
My trusty 1965 “Fanny Farmer” lists “Cheese Shipleigh” with an egg, cream and cheese sauce poured over bread strips and baked; Jean Harlowe’s 1989 “Bread & Cracker Cookbook” cheese strata pours an egg, roux and cheese sauce over sliced bread, before baking; “James Beard’s American Cookery,” 1972, mixes buttered bread cubes into the egg, milk and cheese mixture, then bakes them all together.
Nigella Lawson, in her “Christmas” book, takes a more contemporary approach, calling her triple cheese and onion strata “a cross between a toasted cheese sandwich and baked French toast.” Martha Stewart’s website offers more than a dozen variations – some really luxurious, like the onion, speck and fontina strata.
My sister’s simple cheese pudding came originally from a lovely book called “Ladies Who Lunch, Easy, Elegant Recipes” by Ann Reed and Marilyn Pfaltz, published in 1972. Their recipe calls for slices of French bread, butter, eggs, grated swiss cheese, milk and crumbled, crisp bacon.
However, this past week, faced with leftover baked ham and aged cheddar from the holidays, I put together my own variation as follows:
ALL YOU NEED: serves 2 (plus a quick pre-film leftovers supper for 2 the following night)
8” (20cm) round baking dish
4 slices good white bread
about 3-4 tbsp butter
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated aged cheddar
1 cup milk
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
Butter baking dish
Butter slices of bread on one side, and lay in a single layer in buttered baking dish.
In a separate bowl, combine beaten eggs, milk, salt, pepper, optional cayenne pepper and grated cheese and pour over bread.
Cover with cling film or foil and place in fridge at least 2 (and up to 24) hours before baking.
Bake in 400F/200c oven for about 20 minutes, or until top is puffy and browned.
Note: at this point I added 4 slices of leftover baked ham, sprinkled with more grated cheddar, and put the dish back in the over for 5 minutes, to heat the ham and melt the cheese.
AND THE FOLLOWING NIGHT:
We were off to the cinema nearby for a 6:15 start, so the leftover pudding went into the microwave for 4 minutes on high – a perfect pre-film snack!