You can use any style of bread or even a mixture of many different varieties to make a cocotte (casserole). Ours is a breakfast cocotte filled with spicy sausage, smoked ham, sautéed mushrooms, and shallots tossed with bread cubes in a delicious egg custard and then topped with breadcrumbs before baking. It is a good idea to freeze the ends of bread that don’t get used for that “rainy day” when a breakfast cocotte is just the thing to warm hearts and tummies. A cocotte is also terrific for easy entertaining, as it has to be made the night before it is to be served, allowing the host to spend very little time in the kitchen while the brunch gathering is going on. La Farm customers often buy our savory bread pudding and then reheat it to serve for an easy Sunday morning brunch along with sparkling mimosas.
Serves 10 to 12
1 loaf La Farm Bread, slightly stale, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 Baguette, slightly stale, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 pounds total)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 pound pork breakfast sausage, crumbled
8 ounces button mushrooms, quartered
6 shallots or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup dry white wine
½ pound smoked ham, finely diced
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated Comte or Gruyere cheese (see Note, below)
12 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Note: I suggest you go the extra distance to find Comté, a deeply flavored cheese that, in France, has its own appellation and is produced under strict guidelines. It is the most produced of all French AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) cheeses. It is a hard, creamy yellow cheese with a fat content of about 45 percent. French Gruyère is actually Comté that has not met the rigorous standards of Comté and is not the same as the highly regarded Swiss Gruyère, which would be my preference if you can’t find Comté.
Lightly coat a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish with nonstick vegetable spray.
Combine the sourdough and baguette cubes in a large mixing bowl, tossing to blend well. Place half of the bread cubes in the prepared baking dish. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the sausage and fry, stirring frequently, until nicely browned, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage crumbles to a double layer of paper towels to drain, leaving the fat in the pan.
Keeping the pan on medium heat, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes. Add the shallots and fry, stirring frequently, for 2 additional minutes. Stir in the garlic and fry for 1 additional minute.
Add the wine and cook, stirring to deglaze the pan, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Sprinkle half of the ham over the bread cubes in the baking dish, followed by half of the sausage. Spoon half of the mushroom mixture over the sausage and then sprinkle with half of the mozzarella. Cover with the remaining bread cubes and then repeat the layering of ham, sausage, mushrooms, and mozzarella. Cover the top with the Comté cheese. Set aside.
Combine the eggs and cream in a large mixing bowl, whisking to blend well. Season with salt and pepper and then pour over the top of the casserole. Cover the pan with foil.
Transfer to the refrigerator and allow the bread to absorb the flavors and the liquid for at least 4 hours or up to 12 hours.
Remove the cocotte from the refrigerator 1 hour before baking and set aside, still covered, to come to room temperature. It’s important to bring the casserole to room temperature before baking or the bottom will burn before it is cooked through.
About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375°F.
Place the casserole on a baking sheet in the preheated oven. (The sheet will catch any liquid that bubbles over the top.) Bake for 1 hour. Then, uncover and bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 15 minutes more.
Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
From A Passion for Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker by Lionel Vatinet. Copyright © 2013. Published by Little Brown & Co.