Serves a Crowd

Fennel & Pear Strata

September 20, 2011
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

I love strata. I love that it can be pretty much whatever you want it to be. I don't love the overnight rest. Sometimes - no, make that usually - the idea of planning breakfast before I've even gone to bed the night before is just beyond me. However, I discovered that if I use stale croissants as opposed to the stale bread required by most strata recipes (the grocery store variety are fine here), they're so tender that given a rest of an hour, you can have both the idea and the breakfast/brunch on the same day. They form a tender crust which cradles the other ingredients. Life doesn't get much better than that in my house.

The sweetness of the pears pairs beautifully with the savory-sweet crunch of the fennel and the creamy/tartness of the cheese(s). A sprinkle of sea salt over the pears before they caramelize in the oven is the finishing touch.

This doubles nicely, but please be aware that in a larger baking dish, the bake time will be longer by probably 10-15 minutes. —boulangere

Test Kitchen Notes

Like boulangere, I love strata, too. The flavors in this one called out to me -- fresh pears, crunchy fennel, melty Cambozola, a touch of rosemary -- like a classy cheese-and-fruit plate baked into a creamy, rich custard. But the clincher for me was boulangere's discovery that using croissants, rather than bread, does away with the need for an overnight rest. Woo-hoo! No need to plan ahead, or (ahem) clear a space in my fridge. I peeled my bosc pears, as I find their skin to be somewhat leathery this late in the season. And the cooking time on my strata, baked in an enameled cast iron gratin dish, was closer to an hour than 35 minutes. But these were minor adjustments for a strata with taste that sends it soaring to the, um, stratosphere! —cookbookchick

  • Serves 4 to 6
  • Melted butter, 2 to 3 ounces depending upon the size of your baking dish
  • 2 stale croissants, halved through the middle into 2 thin layers
  • 8 ounces wedge of Cambozola, rind trimmed (the cheese melts much better that way)
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, thinly sliced (reserve some fronds for garnish)
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 pears of your choice - I like Bosc for their artful shape and color
  • 6 large eggs
  • 12 ounces table cream, 18% fat (or use half heavy cream and half whole milk)
  • Sea or kosher salt
  • 4 ounces crème fraîche
  • Mimosas
In This Recipe
  1. Melt the butter. Brush it into the inside of a casserole dish large enough to accommodate all ingredients in single layers of each. My favorite is an 8 x 10 warm brown Emile Henry that I brought back from Paris on the last big trip my husband and I took together several years ago.
  2. Arrange the croissant halves in the casserole. It's fine if they overlap a bit here and there.
  3. If you are not familiar with Cambozola, you are leading a sheltered life. It looks like Camembert with veins of Gorgonzola shot through it. If you can't find it, use 6 ounces of either brie or Camembert along with 2 ounces of good crumbled bleu cheese, such as Maytag. Trim the rind off the cheese. It's not that I find it objectionable, but the cheese will be so much more tender without it. Slice it in 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange them over the croissants. If using bleu cheese, scatter the crumbles over the previous cheese.
  4. Trim the fennel bulb and slice it very thinly, less than 1/4 inch. A mandoline is your best friend here. Scatter the curls over the Brie. Season with some sea or kosher salt and pepper. Sprinkle 3/4 of the minced rosemary over the top. Reserve the remainder for garnish.
  5. Hooray! You don't need to peel the pears! Pear skin is very tender. Stand them on end and vertically slice off 1/4-inch thick pieces. Arrange them over the fennel in a single layer. Season with some sea or kosher salt.
  6. Whisk together the eggs and cream. Pour over the contents of the casserole. Cover casserole dish with plastic and set on a baking sheet, you know, just in case. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour so that the croissants can soak up some of the custard and become all, well, custardy. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  7. At the end of the rest period, remove the plastic and bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is nicely puffed and golden brown. When you tap your finger on it, it should feel springy and tender, but not squishy. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Cut into squares. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche on each, along with a sprinkle of minced rosemary.
  8. Make some mimosas and enjoy a lovely brunch.

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