I’m pretty sure that stuffing is almost universally everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving side. Isn’t it obvious as to why? You take some bread, add in flavorful aromatics and completely customizable, decadent fixings (sausage! oysters! pancetta!), moisten the whole thing, and bake it until it’s soft inside and crisp on top. I mean really, what’s not to love?
I’m also pretty sure that this is the reason bread pudding is such a beloved dish. Sweet or savory, it has all the textural elements that make stuffing so great. Last weekend, Joe and I decided to make a big brunch at home and I was in the mood for something savory, comforting, and — I’ll be honest here — carb-y. I had never made him a savory breakfast bread pudding, so after a quick trip to the store, I whipped one up with chicken sausage, mushrooms, leeks, spinach, and gruyere.
The end result? Something endlessly satisfying. But also — I realized it was a perfect recipe to share this week, as you can use this same technique with leftover Thanksgiving ingredients, especially stuffing! The process is simple: mix all cooked ingredients together in a baking dish, then pour an egg custard over the top and bake. As to what you put in your savory pudding, the sky is really the limit! You can dice leftover bread, then add cooked diced sweet potato, bacon or sausage, as well as sautéed aromatics used from a stuffing or other side dish. Flavor it with herbs — rosemary, sage, thyme, whatever you have — and top it with a cheese (surely you have some leftover from a Thanksgiving cheese board?). It’s great because you can bake a single dish for a large crowd, then serve it with a simple green or fruit salad. Ta-da, post-Thanksgiving breakfast is served!
Below is my recipe for the savory bread pudding I made for us last weekend, as well as some ideas for various combinations you can try on your own. Read on for more!
A quick note: When trying out this recipe, I used an entire loaf of bread. I personally love the crispy parts of a bread pudding, so I made mine a little drier, resulting in a more bread-heavy end dish. Joe said he would prefer it even more moist and egg-y (or custard-y) next time. So if you want a softer, more breakfast casserole-type dish, you can reduce the amount of bread listed below by half or a quarter. Alternatively, if you want to go ahead and use up an entire loaf of bread, simply add more eggs to the custard. I think 4 more should do the trick. The bottom line is, this really isn’t going to be bad anyway you slice it or dice it, it’s really just a preference of how soft and pudding-like you want the final dish to be!
Savory Breakfast Bread Pudding
For the croutons
1 loaf/boule of pain au levain (or substitute a country style loaf of white bread that has not been pre-sliced)
3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
— kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder
For the “filling”
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 links fresh chicken sausage, casing removed (I used a mild Italian sausage)
10-13 cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced
1 leek, root and ends trimmed, cleaned, and sliced into thin half rounds
1/2 medium yellow onion, medium diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs of thyme
1.5 cups of baby spinach
— kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the custard
8-12 extra large eggs (use 10-12 eggs if you want a softer, more custard-like pudding at the finish; 8 eggs if you like a crisper, more stuffing-like dish)
1 cup whole milk
— kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the garnish
3/4 cup grated gruyere
— freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
What to do:
Preheat your oven to 350°.
Using a serrated knife, cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Transfer all the cubes to a baking sheet, spread them out evenly, then drizzle with 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Season well with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the croutons are just crisp and slightly golden. Transfer the crisped croutons to a large mixing bowl, and set aside. Leave the oven on!
While the bread is baking, you can make the filling. In a large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat, until shimmering. Crumble in the chicken sausage, and stir occasionally, until the meat is cooked through and browned. Transfer to a small plate or bowl. In the saute pan, add another tablespoon of olive oil, then add in the mushrooms, leeks, onion, garlic and thyme. Season well with salt and pepper. Cook until the leeks and onions are soft and translucent, then add the sausage back into the pan. Add in the spinach as well. Stir to combine — the heat from the ingredients should wilt the spinach. Remove from heat, and add to the bowl with the croutons. Fold the filling into the croutons, until the mixture is very well combined and the filling is evenly distributed.
In a separate medium sized bowl, whisk together the eggs and the milk until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
Drizzle a bit of olive oil into a 13×9-inch baking dish (or similar size — I used a 14″ oval roaster). Using your hands or a paper towel, spread the oil around the bottom and sides of the dish, until it is well oiled. Transfer the breading mixture to the baking dish, then spread out evenly. Pour the custard over the breading evenly, being sure to fill any nooks and crannies with it. Top with the grated gruyere.
Place the baking dish on a large sheet pan (just in case there are any spills!), and bake at 350° for 40-60 minutes, or until the pudding is puffed and the croutons on top crisped. We have a convection oven, so for us, the entire thing only needed to bake for about 35 minutes.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle chopped parsley over the top. Serve with a simple green salad, fruit, bacon, or whatever other breakfast sides you’d like!
Some other ideas and techniques:
If you have leftover stuffing that already has aromatics and flavorings in it, you can simply mix this with a custard and bake. Note that it will work best if your stuffing has defined pieces of bread/croutons in it and is a bit dry. Obviously if it’s already pretty soft, adding eggs to it will yield a very soft, custard-like end product, which will still taste good but the texture might be a little mushy (this is where it’s very dependent on your family’s stuffing recipe!). One idea is to make extra of the aromatics you put in your stuffing and pre-cook them, so the morning after, all you have to do is mix with fresh croutons and the custard, then bake.
This dish is also a good fridge clean-out dish. Have some leftover kale? Chop it up and throw it in! Leftover bacon from Wednesday’s pre-Thanksgiving breakfast? You can add that in too. Play around with the aromatics if you wish — instead of leeks, use more onion or shallot, or even add in minced celery. Eggs are actually delicious with sweet potatoes, so try those too! Top the dish with cheddar, or parmesan instead of gruyere. The only rule is that all the ingredients should be cooked when you combine with the bread and eggs (so no adding in raw sausage or raw sweet potato).
At the end of the day, what I love about recipes like this is it can feed a crowd, make use of leftovers, and it’s kind of hard to screw up. Just make sure everything is well seasoned and that your breading is moist enough when everything goes into the oven, and you can’t lose.
Cheers and enjoy!