Jan Roberts-Dominguez photo                                You can make endless variations of shirred eggs, including this classic recipe with mushrooms and bacon added.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez photo You can make endless variations of shirred eggs, including this classic recipe with mushrooms and bacon added.

Shirred eggs: A simple yet elegant baked breakfast

“I don’t know what you feel like, but I highly recommend the shirred eggs!”

A friend of mine recommended the baked eggs a few weeks ago, while we were perusing the breakfast menu at Sam’s Station, a popular early morning eatery here in Corvallis, Oregon.

Ever since, my mind has been on this classic egg recipe that begins with a charming flat-bottomed dish, or shirrer, and ends as a creamy-cheesy-eggy and oh-so-comforting indulgence.

Shirred eggs are nothing new. But it’s surprising that something so simple yet elegant dropped from so many cooks’ radar until recent times. Julia Child especially loved their sophistication factor, and if you check back through 19th and early 20th century cookbooks and restaurant menus, you will see that they had a higher profile in the kitchen.

(In my copy of “The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book,” published in 1919, Chef Victor Hirtzler’s breakfast and luncheon menus exhibited a host of shirred egg variations.)

It’s mainly because they were so easy, versatile and wonderful. Indeed, by baking eggs in individual serving-size dishes with a bit of cream and cheese until the whites are set and the yolks still moist and golden, you’ve got a dish that can wow a roomful of guests.

To make shirred eggs, you will need individual-sized baking dishes such as ramekin, custard, cassoulet or souffle about 6-10 inches in diameter. The smaller the dish, the more limited you are in how many other ingredients you can add beyond two eggs, cream and shredded cheese.

The folks at Sam’s Station have been making some winning combinations for quite a while. Here are some of the restaurant’s popular shirred egg dishes. They all include two eggs.

The Eastern Oregon is baked with corn kernels, crispy bacon, chiles, cream and feta

The Western Oregon is baked with spinach, steamed broccoli, tomatoes, sharp white cheddar, cream and a cajun seasoning

The Vegetable is baked with steamed cauliflower and broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, green onions, parsley, cream and mild cheddar.

The English is baked with crispy bacon, spinach, tomatoes, cream and sharp white cheddar.

The Oregon is baked with smoked salmon, spinach, fresh chives, cream and Swiss cheese.

Classic shirred eggs

Something magical happens when you bake eggs with cream. They turn into a dense, silky custard, becoming much more than the sum of the parts.

4 teaspoons butter

½ cup heavy whipping cream

8 eggs

4 teaspoons minced chives

4 heaping tablespoons grated cheddar, Jack or Parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray each of 4 ramekins, custard cups or cassoulets with non-stick cooking spray.

Into each dish, place 1 teaspoon of butter in the bottom, add 2 tablespoons whipping cream, then gently crack 2 eggs into the dish, coaxing the yolks toward the center, using a spoon if necessary. Note: To do this without risking a broken yolk, crack the eggs one at a time into another dish and then gently slide it into the ramekin.

Once all 4 dishes are assembled, sprinkle the eggs with salt and pepper, then top each one with a teaspoon of chives and 1 tablespoon of cheese.

Bake until set around the edges and still jiggly in the yolks. (They will continue to cook once removed from the oven, so it’s easy to overcook them.) Let sit 2 to 3 minutes to set. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Shirred eggs with mushrooms and bacon

This is a simple variation that adds sauteed mushrooms and crispy bacon to classic shirred eggs. Divide the mushrooms and bacon among the four dishes when adding the cream.

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 pound sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup chopped onions

1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce

4 slices of bacon

In a medium skillet, melt the butter. Add in sliced mushrooms and chopped onions and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their juices and the juices have evaporated almost completely. Add Worcestershire sauce and continue cooking and stirring until the mushrooms are nicely browned. Meanwhile, fry the bacon until crispy; drain on paper towels and then break each slice into bite-sized pieces.

Follow the Classic Shirred Egg recipe above.

Shirred eggs with duxelles

If you love mushrooms but have never tried duxelles, you are in for a major treat. This is one of my favorite shirred egg recipes because you can make the mushroom mixture ahead of time.

½ pound fresh mushrooms

½ cup heavy cream, divided

4 tablespoons butter, divided

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

Salt and ground white pepper to taste

8 eggs

4 heaping tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

French bread or buttered toast

To prepare the duxelles, coarsely chop the mushrooms then place them in a food processor, along with 1/4cup of the heavy cream and chop very finely, using the pulse switch. Heat one tablespoon of the butter in a saucepan saute the shallots for about one minute over medium-high heat, just until they shallots are softened.

Add the mushroom mixture, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer. The mushrooms will release their liquid and become a bit soupy. Continue cooking until the mixture has thickened and the liquid has evaporated, which will take another 10 minutes or so. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.

The duxelles may be prepared up to several days ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using in the recipe. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To assemble the dish, lightly grease 4 dishes with the remaining 3 tablespoons of softened butter. Sprinkle the bottoms lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon an equal portion of the duxelles into the bottom of each dish, reserving some to place on top of each egg.

Into each ramekin, custard cup or cassoulet, break 2 eggs, then drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the heavy cream, and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan. (Note: The dish may be assembled ahead and refrigerated up to 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator 20 minutes before baking.)

Bake about 12 to 13 minutes, or until the whites are completely set and the yolks are just beginning to set but still very runny. (They continue cooking once removed from oven, so it’s better to undercook a bit). Let sit 2 to 3 minutes to set and then serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Before serving, garnish each dish with a dollop of the remaining duxelles.

Shirred eggs with mushrooms and Swiss chard

Here’s a completely meatless approach that brings color and texture to your shirred eggs.

1 tablespoon butter, plus more to grease the ramekins

1 cup thinly sliced white or cremini mushrooms

1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 large Swiss chard leaves, stems removed and leaves shredded

1/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock

½ cup heavy cream

8 large eggs

4 heaping tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375. Lightly butter four 8-to 10-ounce ramekins, custard cups or cassoulet dishes.

In a medium skillet, melt the 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the mushrooms and onions and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their juices and the juices have evaporated almost completely. Add the Worcestershire sauce and continue cooking and stirring until the mushrooms are nicely browned.

Add the chard leaves and stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the chard has wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.

To assemble, divide the vegetable mixture between the ramekins/cups/cassoulet. Add 2 tablespoons of heavy cream to each container, then add 2 eggs to each container, gently nudging the yolks so they are positioned toward the center. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper, then sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese.

Bake about 12 to 13 minutes, or until the whites are completely set and the yolks are just beginning to set but still very runny. (They continue cooking once removed from oven, so it’s better to undercook a bit). Let sit 2 to 3 minutes to set and then serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Shirred eggs with spinach, bacon and paprika

Eggs baked in individual ramekins are an easy, cheery breakfast. You can vary the doneness of the eggs by adjusting the baking time; begin checking them after 10 minutes for soft-set eggs with runny yolks. Thick-sliced sourdough toast makes a perfect accompaniment.

4 ounces (about 11/3 cups) baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

8 slices bacon, cooked until crispy; drained and broken into bite-sized pieces

8 large eggs

½ cup heavy cream

4 heaping tablespoons shredded Swiss cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Paprika, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat the insides of four 8- to 10-ounce ramekins, custard cups or cassoulet dishes.

Place about 1/3 cup of the spinach leaves in each dish. Arrange some of the bacon pieces around the sides of each dish, and then break 2 eggs over the spinach. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the heavy cream into each dish, then add 1 tablespoon of Swiss cheese in each. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper and a pinch of paprika.

Bake about 12 to 13 minutes, or until the whites are completely set and the yolks are just beginning to set but still very runny. (They continue cooking once removed from oven, so it’s better to undercook a bit). Let sit 2 to 3 minutes to set and then serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

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