Breakfast for a crowd has never been easier thanks to this incredibly easy to assemble, make-ahead ham and cheese breakfast casserole that some may call a soufflé or a strata, but we just call delicious.
This recipe has been on the blog since the beginning, because it’s one of my very favorites. But just like everything worth keeping around, it was time for it to get a refresh and update.
My family isn’t steeped too deeply in legendary traditions. As kids, we didn’t go to the same summer vacation spot year after year nor did we play the perennial party games at the annual family reunion.
But we did always gather together on Thanksgiving and Christmas. And that’s why it’s my favorite time of the year. Memories of grandmas and grandpa, all the aunts and uncles and cousins too, together to eat, share, arm wrestle—and beat—my boy cousins and watch TBS’s 24 hour A Christmas Story marathon.
Each and every Christmas morning of of my 29 ‘plus’ years, I’ve had this ham and cheese breakfast casserole we assemble the night before and then bake on Christmas morn in all of its gooey, cheesy, ground ham you’ll breakfast ingredient lovers union.
And this casserole is special, because this casserole never makes another appearance at any other time of the year than on Christmas morning. We simply don’t ever want it to lose it’s special shining sparkle.
My mom originally found the recipe in the Ogden Junior League Cookbook under the section “Beautiful Brunches”—a rag tag binder copy of recipes that I still have—and would make it only on Christmas morning, for all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to covet and savor.
Once the family arrived, slipping off snow shoes and swapping stories of what Santa brought, we’d pull the bubbling casseroles from the oven, and serve buffet style with blueberry muffins and Angela’s Frosty Cranberry Mold, and the occasional serving of my Mom’s famous fudge.
Now that us kids have all gotten older, and are having kids of our own, we’ve all dispersed and no longer get together as a group on Christmas morning. But now, 45 years later, the tradition still lives on, with my sister, cousins and extended family and now even friends and readers sharing Breakfast Casserole with their own families.
How to Make Christmas Ham and Cheese Casserole
While this recipe is so incredibly basic in method and ingredients, after 45 years of making it, there are definitely a few secrets we’ve learned along the way.
First, like most any strata, you’ll want to set aside time to prepare this casserole the night before you bake it so the egg mixture is absorbed into the bread, and nooks and crannies of the layers of ham and cheese. We toss the filled casserole in the fridge to rest overnight, ready to be popped in the oven the next morning as we lounge in our PJs and take turns opening presents.
Next, be sure to use a ham that hasn’t had extra water added to it. You’ll know if it has if the first ingredient is water in the list. My mom turned me onto the Hormel Cure 81 hams. They’re one of the few hams that doesn’t have extra water added in and it’s the one I use every year. You’ll want to grind the ham in the food processor or ask your butcher to grind it for you. Ground ham rather than chopped or diced, is the key to the flavors all melding together.
For the cheesy goodness, I shred a medium cheddar to get a good, nippy cheddar bite. You’ll want that cheddar flavor to shine.
Next, comes the precision of layering the ingredients. Now, I’ve done this so many different ways, and then when it doesn’t turn out as good as my mom’s she always asks why I’m messing with perfection? So because her way tastes the best, here is her layering strategy:
Tear the bread into small-ish pieces of about 1 inch or so, and layer like puzzle pieces in the bottom of the pan. Then, I’ll sometimes go straight to layering all of the ham and then all of the cheese, or sometimes I’ll do half of the cheese and then all of the ham and then the rest of the cheese and then top it with rest of the bread pieces. It’s just depending on my mood, and all tastes delicious either way.
Don’t pack the bread pieces too tightly together or the egg won’t have anywhere to run and seep into the bread pieces. Plus, I’ve found showing off a few shaggy edges on top make for a much prettier presentation. You may have to press down a bit to get it all to fit, just fit the bread snugly against the edges of the casserole dish and you’ll be set.
The final secret comes when it’s time to mix in the mustard. You don’t want to dump the dry mustard into the whole egg and milk mixture or it will never mix in smoothly. Instead, add 1/4 cup or so of the egg and milk mixture to a different small bowl and mix the mustard in it first, then add to the larger amount. No chunks of mustard to surprise you here.
Each and every year I can never remember whether to bake the casserole with the foil on or off. It’s the one thing I always for get to write down :)
You’ll see in the video below I baked it with the foil on but after baking it a few more times again, the final word is to bake the casserole WITHOUT the foil. But, if the top begins to brown too much to your liking, loosely tent a piece of foil over it to shield from the direct heat.
Check out the video of how I make it below.
Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 loaf sliced white bread
- 2 pounds no-water added ham finely ground in a food processor or by your butcher
- 1 pound medium cheddar cheese grated
- 8 eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
Prepare a 9 X 13 pan with softened butter. Tear the bread slices into 1-inch pieces of bread and cover the bottom of the pan with half of the loaf, fitting the pieces tightly together like puzzle pieces.
There are two ways you can do the next layering step: Layer the ground ham over the bread and then top with the cheese. Tear the rest of the bread slices into pieces and nestle them together over the ground ham but don't pack too tightly, but just so they fit together.
In a 1 quart measuring cup, whisk the eggs and milk until smooth. In a small bowl, take 1 tablespoon of the egg and milk mixture and use a fork to mix the dry mustard into it until smooth. Add the mustard mixture into the quart measuring cup and mix well so that all of the mustard is incorporated. Add the chopped parsley and whisk.
Starting at one end of the casserole, slowly pour the egg mixture over the the bread, evenly distributing the wet ingredients and making sure to get into the edges too. Cover with non-stick aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the foil and bake at 325° F for 50-60 minutes or until the eggs are set and bubbling. If the bread starts looking too brown, loosely tent the foil over the top of the casserole and continue to cook until the egg is set. Remove the casseroled from oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving.
makes 9 X 13 casserole pan
allow time for casserole to sit in refrigerator overnight
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