Monday, November 15, 2010

If you bake the world’s most sinfully delicious dish

If you invite a bread fanatic to a Panera event, she will come. She will be thrilled to watch head baker Tom Gumpel make something called an Asiago Strata—a bread-pudding-like casserole. This particular concoction will involve, OMG, Asiago bread and shredded Asiago cheese. She will demonstrate amazing feats of restraint by not burying her face in it once it emerges from the oven, because it smells that good. Then she will taste it and she will think it’s maybe the best thing she’s ever tasted. They will also make a Chocolate Pecan Babka, and that’s delicious too, but that strata! Crazy! 

She will learn all sorts of interesting things at the event, stuff like years ago people used to be paid in salt for work (where the word "salary" comes from), that you should never refrigerate bread, that whole grain bread tastes especially great with pesto and tomato. But she is in a strata coma. Even though she does not often cook, all she will be thinking is I’ve gotta make a strata.

She will finally get around to making it one Friday. The people at her local Panera, including Barry the manager, will be very nice; they will even slice the Asiago bread in a machine, though the recipe says to do it yourself but hey, she is all for shortcuts. She will also get pre-shredded Asiago cheese. Yay, shortcuts.

She will not recall whether or not she has a pepper grinder at home because nobody in her family ever requests pepper on their food, mostly they just eat it as fast as they can shovel it in. She will go on an archaelogical dig in her kitchen and find a grinder buried in the depth of the cabinets, along with other kitchen gadgets she forgot she owned. She will wonder why she didn't register for more useful stuff, like a bread baker named Tom Gumpel.

As she cooks, she will be tempted to devour the Asiago bread but it will miraculously make it into the strata, layered in the pan, sprinkled with cheese and doused in a custard of milk, cream, eggs, pepper and salt. She will also cleverly tuck broccoli florets in there so her eagle-eyed children will not notice them.

The strata will take a good 45 minutes to bake, and even then, she will not be sure it is done so she will cook it for 10 minutes more for good measure. It will magically emerge from the casserole dish onto the platter, and suddenly she will feel like Julia Child. So what if it is maybe a little lopsided.

Her little boy will arrive home from school and spot the strata on the counter. “EYE!” he will say, because that’s his word for “pie” and he loves pie and if he wants to consider it pie, so be it. Her little girl will eyeball it and decide she is very hungry. At dinner, she will have two pieces; her brother will have four. Her husband will say, between mouthfuls, “WOW.”

And then, she will ask him to clean up.

And then, she will share the recipe.

Asiago Strata
Serves: 6-8 people 
Assembly time: 10-15 minutes 
Bake time: 35-45 minutes

2 tablespoons sweetened/salted butter (soft) 
1-1/2 cup milk 
1 cup cream 
3 whole eggs
Pinch of salt 
Pinch of cracked black pepper 
1 loaf (18 ounces) Asiago bread 
1 cup Asiago cheese, shredded (or other cheese shredded)


Pre-heat oven to 325◦F. Brush the sides and bottom of 8” baking dish or casserole dish with softened butter. 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, salt and pepper and set aside.

Cut the Asiago bread across the loaf in thin, even slices, approximately 1⁄4 “thick. Start assembly of the strata by placing bread slices on the bottom of the dish until bottom is completely covered. Sprinkle shredded Asiago cheese as necessary on the bread slices to cover completely. Cover with another layer of bread slices and sprinkle cheese on top, again covering bread slices completely.

Continue to build the strata for as many layers as dish allows, then pour custard mixture over top of strata. Cover the strata and refrigerate for 15 minutes, allowing the bread slices to soak in custard mixture. 

Place the strata pan on a cookie sheet to catch any dripping of the custard. Set the strata in the center of the pre-heated oven and allow to bake for approximately 35- 45 minutes. The custard should gain a rich dark color and rise slightly from the pan (it will settle after removal from the oven). Carefully remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes before unmolding.

Carefully invert the strata by placing a 10” plate over the top of the pan and slowly flip the plate and pan over together. Place on the counter and allow the strata to fall from the pan onto the plate. If the strata does not release from the pan, cut around the sides of the pan and try to invert again.

Serve hot or warm as an accompaniment with meat and vegetables to fill out the meal.


  1. That sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I am drooling like Homer Simpson now! Cannot wait to make that (with the broccoli included)!

    Also, inquiring minds want to know: *why* should you never put bread in the fridge? Because I have been a life-long putter-in-the-fridger.

  3. Tom says, "Refrigerating bread ruins the starch, and it'll get that day-old feeling faster." If the bread came in a paper bag, repackage it in a plastic bag, it helps the bread retain its moisture.

  4. Does that no fridge bread rule apply to good bread?

    Cuz we don't buy good bread here. I'm thinking we're OK.


    That Looks so delicious!

  5. You are so talented, Ellen. I think you could write about dirt and somehow make a magical and clever post. I'm always in awe of your writing!!!!!!!

  6. Yummmmm. This also doesn't cook mom thanks you.

  7. I have made that recipe and it is yummy. Cute canister set, by the way.

  8. Wow, two of my favorite things! Bread AND cheese! YUM!

  9. I take it you got the original loaf of asiago bread from Panera?

  10. Drool-worthy. Totally. I'm hungry now...but thanks for sharing! =)

  11. wow, I am so glad your family enjoyed it! Thanks for the recipe!

  12. I can't wait to try this. Looks amazing!

  13. I've gotta try this! In the UK it's called Cheese Pudding. My friend makes it with left over cheese sandwiches.

    My favourite is bread and butter pudding which is the same, minus cheese, salt and pepper, but plus sugar, nutmeg, raisens and mixed peel/marmelade.

  14. Yes, I used Panera's Asiago bread (a longtime favorite), but any cheese bread will work.

    Claire: That pudding sounds amazing!

    Felicia: Bread and cheese are food groups, to me.

    Kate: I will try writing about dirt sometime, let me know what you think. :)

  15. Ellen, I made this the day you posted it and am making it again today! I'm addicted. It is so yummy out of the oven and warmed up the next day...that is if you have any left. Thank you for posting new comfort food!


Thanks for sharing!

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