Holiday Brunch Bread Pudding. (Noel Barnhurst / December 12, 2013)

A savory bread pudding is perfect for holiday breakfast, brunch or lunch. Since it must be prepared well before baking, it really is a cook's best friend. The holidays are usually packed with activities and commitments, and a dish like is the secret to being a relaxed host. Don't forget to start this a day ahead to dry out the bread cubes.

This dish is a holiday tradition around our house. Friends and family stop by for a big square of this savory luscious pudding on Christmas day. Served in soufflé dishes, individual ramekins or a shallow baking dish, it is difficult to resist because of their old-fashioned quality.

Feel free to put your own signature on it by adding cooked bacon or sausage, prosciutto, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes or other cooked vegetables.

I prefer to use egg bread such as challah for its rich flavor, which is accentuated by the egg cheese custard. I usually buy the bread days ahead so there is plenty of time for it to dry out. Make sure to dry it out so that the bread can absorb the custard. You can do this by putting it out on the counter overnight or in a 250 F oven for half an hour.

A fresh fruit salad is a lovely accompaniment. Cooked breakfast meats also make a nice addition for the meat lovers at your table. Start with sparkling wine laced with blood orange juice and a touch of pomegranate juice and let the fun begin. Happy holidays!

Holiday Brunch Bread Pudding

Serves 6-8.

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 leeks, light green and white part only, cleaned and finely chopped

3/4 pounds cremini mushrooms, sliced

Salt and pepper

1 (14-ounce) egg bread, crusts removed, cut into cubes, dried out for at least a day

2 cups torn spinach leaves

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

4 eggs

3 1/2 cups milk

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

2 teaspoons country style Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté for about 5 minutes or until softened and lightly browned. Add the mushrooms and cook about 5 more minutes, turning to cook evenly. Add salt and pepper, and set aside.

2. Place one-half of the bread mixture in a greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Spoon over the mushroom leek mixture and torn spinach leaves evenly. Sprinkle on 1 cup of the cheddar cheese. Place the remaining bread on top.

3. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, parsley, mustard, the remaining 1 cup of cheddar cheese, and salt and pepper. Whisk to blend well. Carefully pour the custard over the bread evenly. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan cheese. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate overnight.

4. When ready to bake: Remove the pudding from the refrigerator an hour before. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until slightly puffed, set and browned on the top. Let rest for a few minutes and then cut into pieces and serve. This can be served slightly warmed or even at room temperature.

Advance Preparation: This must be made ahead through step 3, covered and refrigerated the night before serving. Remove the pudding from the refrigerator an hour before baking.

(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Holidays," and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at http://www.seriouslysimple.com.)

(c) 2013, DIANE ROSSEN WORTHINGTON. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC