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Mini Croissant Kentucky Hot Brown Casserole

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This Kentucky Hot Brown Casserole has buttery, flaky mini croissants mingling with savory turkey and bacon, sweet cherry tomatoes, and ooey-gooey, bourbon-infused creamy cheese sauce that’ll have you licking your plate clean!

A casserole topped with melted cheese, bacon bits and halved cherry tomatoes.
This recipe is part of the cozy mystery cooking club series.

Mini Croissant Hot Brown Casserole Awesomeness

Yep. I said it. It’s pretty awesome. Taste tasters agree. And, by taste tasters I mean my family who went back for seconds and thirds…if that’s any indication!

This Hot Brown casserole recipe is my take on the mini Hot Brown sandwich served up at the Bean Hive Coffee Shop, the fictional eatery in our latest Cozy Mystery Cooking Club selection, Mocha and Murder by Tonya Kappes.

The story is laced with sweet desserts and coffee confections, but I just couldn’t resist going the savory route…as I often do.

This comfort food casserole is perfect for brunch, but I doubt anyone would mind if you served it up for lunch or dinner either!

What is a Kentucky Hot Brown?

The story starts way back in the 1920s at the historic Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Guests who spent the evening dancing [and imbibing on contraband spirits] needed a little late night sustenance. 

Chef Fred Schmidt is credited with inventing this iconic open-faced turkey sandwich to serve hotel guests and named it for the hotel. It consists of turkey slices, bacon, and tomatoes layered on toasted bread slices, all smothered in a creamy Mornay sauce. It’s then broiled until golden brown and bubbly. They’re still serving traditional Hot Browns today.

A Kentucky hot brown casserole topped with melted cheese, bacon bits and halved cherry tomatoes.

Gather Your Ingredients for Hot Brown Casserole

In addition to kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper and cooking spray, you’ll need:

  • Bacon — I like a low-sodium variety. You’ll cut these into small strips, called lardons.
  • Mini croissants — find these in your grocer’s bakery department.
  • Deli turkey — again, I opt for a low-sodium variety. The thickness of the slices is up to you.
  • Cherry tomatoes — fresh, sweet, ripe tomatoes are a nice offset to all that richness.
  • Unsalted butter — used to create a roux that will thicken the sauce.
  • All purpose flour — combined with the butter to make the roux.
  • Bourbon — just a little to give the scent of bourbon to the sauce. The alcohol will cook off.
  • Milk — the liquid base to your sauce. I use 2%; whole milk is great, too.
  • Nutmeg — this gives the sauce a little warmth.
  • Gruyere cheese — one of my favorite melting cheeses and is what turns a béchamel into a mornay sauce.
  • Fresh thyme — for a subtle herbal note.
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How To Make Kentucky Hot Brown Casserole

  1. Make crispy bacon strips — cook the lardons in a skillet over medium heat until crispy. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Reserve one tablespoon of the bacon fat.
  2. Layer the base ingredients — Arrange halved mini croissants in a single layer in a 13- x 9-inch casserole dish spritzed with cooking spray. Add a layer of turkey, then distribute the tomatoes.
  3. Make the mornay sauce — melt butter with reserved bacon fat in the skillet. Whisk in flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Whisk in the bourbon, then immediately follow that with the milk. Cook until it begins to thicken; remove it from the heat and stir in the nutmeg and cheese until melted. 
  4. Broil the casserole — Pour sauce over the ingredients in the baking dish and broil for 3 minutes. Sprinkle with bacon and additional shredded cheese, then broil for another 2 minutes until golden and bubbly.

Sprinkle fresh thyme leaves over the casserole before serving it!

Helpful Recipe Tips

Start the bacon in a cold skillet.

Place the lardons in a cold skillet, then place it on the burner. This allows the fat to slowly render out and create crispy, not soggy, bacon.

Reserving bacon fat.

Once you transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain, measure out 1 tablespoon of bacon fat to a small bowl and set aside. You can transfer the remaining fat to a container to dispose of later, or strain the fat through a fine mesh strainer or coffee filter into an airtight container to store in the fridge. You can use the bacon fat for other cooking uses.

Use warm milk to make the sauce.

Warm or hot milk will help prevent lumps and create a smooth sauce. It will also thicken quicker. Simply warm it in the microwave for a minute or two or in a small saucepan on your cooktop.

Grate the cheese at home.

Pre-grated cheese is convenient, but I always recommend grating cheese yourself on a box grater…especially if you intend to melt it! Pre-shredded cheeses contain anti-caking agents that can mess with the quality or consistency of sauces.

Storing + warming leftovers.

Transfer leftovers into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Warm in the microwave or 350°F oven until heated through.

A serving spoon nestled into a Kentucky hot brown casserole topped with melted cheese, bacon bits and halved cherry tomatoes.

Substitutions 

Make this hot brown casserole your way with these swaps!

  • Bacon — pancetta or guanaciale, both cured Italian pork products. 
  • Mini croissants — bake refrigerated croissant dough (from the tube), use slices of toast cut into triangles, toasted bread cubes, or Texas toast.
  • Deli turkeyleftover turkey breast cut into slices (what a great way to use up that leftover Thanksgiving turkey). Or, try it with honey roasted or country ham. 
  • Cherry tomatoes — any ripe, sweet sliced tomatoes would be excellent.
  • Gruyere cheese — substitute with white cheddar cheese, or use in combination with parmesan cheese.

What to Sip With Hot Brown Casserole

When it comes to drink pairings, you’ll want something that complements the richness of the dish and is refreshing. Here are a few options that can work:

  • Mint Julep — A classic Southern cocktail, the Mint Julep’s cool, minty flavors can balance the richness of the Hot Brown. The bourbon base also adds a delightful warmth that pairs nicely with these hearty ingredients.
  • Iced TeaSweetened or unsweetened, this is a versatile and refreshing choice. A chilly glass of tea can help cut through the creamy Mornay sauce.
  • Sparkling Water — sparkling water with a splash of citrus or a hint of cucumber can provide a light and effervescent contrast.
  • Craft Beer — A well-chosen craft beer, such as a pale ale, IPA, or even a light lager, can offer a balanced bitterness.
  • White Wine — A crisp and slightly acidic white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc, can provide a refreshing contrast.
  • Bourbon — If you’re looking for a stronger pairing, sipping on a quality bourbon (Kentucky, of course) will compliment the mornay sauce while adding some extra indulgence.
  • Lemonade — A tangy and slightly sweet glass of lemonade can cut through the richness of the hot brown, offering a delightful contrast.
A forkful of Kentucky hot brown casserole with a serving on a plate in the background.

When to Make Kentucky Hot Brown Casserole

Make this for an indulgent brunch and serve alongside your favorite eggs, fruit and crisp green salad! Are you a fan of the Kentucky Derby (or just like to use it for an excuse to entertain)? Then you gotta make this as part of your party spread!

More Casserole Recipes to Please Your Palate!

A casserole topped with melted cheese, bacon bits and halved cherry tomatoes.

Mini Croissant Kentucky Hot Brown Casserole

Linda Feller
This Mini Croissant Hot Brown Casserole has buttery, flaky mini croissants mingling with savory turkey and bacon, sweet cherry tomatoes, and ooey-gooey, bourbon-infused creamy cheese sauce that'll have you licking your plate clean!
Prep time.10 minutes
Cook time.25 minutes
Total time.35 minutes
Course.Breakfast, Main Course
Cuisine.American
Number of servings.8
Calories per serving.373 kcal

Ingredients

  • cooking spray
  • 8 slices bacon (lower-sodium), cut into lardons (1/4" matchsticks)
  • 8 mini croissants, sliced in half
  • 8 ounce deli turkey (lower-sodium), sliced as thick as you like
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoon bourbon
  • cups milk (2% or whole), warmed
  • 1 dash nutmeg
  • 6 ounce gruyere cheese, shredded, divided
  • kosher salt + fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Instructions

  • Place an oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the broiler.
  • Place the bacon lardons in a cool skillet and set over medium heat (note 1). Cook the bacon until crisp, stirring occasionally for even cooking. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel drain. Remove all but 1 tbsp of the bacon fat from the skillet. Set it aside.
  • Spritz a 9 by 13-in casserole with cooking spray. Arrange the halved mini croissants across the bottom of the dish. Arrange the turkey over the croissants in puddles, but so it covers the bread. Sprinkle the halved tomatoes evenly over the turkey.
  • Add the butter to the skillet with the bacon fat and place it over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Next, whisk in bourbon, then follow immediately with the warm milk and continue stirring until the sauce is smooth and creamy and begins to thicken (note 2). Take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the nutmeg and 4 oz of gruyere until completely melted. Season to taste with kosher salt + black pepper.
  • Pour the sauce evenly over assembled ingredients in the casserole dish. Broil the casserole for 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the bacon and remaining 2 oz of gruyere. Broil for another 2 minutes.
  • Garnish with fresh thyme before serving.

Notes

  1. Place the lardons in a cold skillet, then place it on the burner. This allows the fat to slowly render out and create crispy, not soggy, bacon.
  2. Warm or hot milk will help prevent lumps and create a smooth sauce. It will also thicken quicker. Simply warm it in the microwave for a minute or two or in a small saucepan on your cooktop.
  3. Transfer leftovers into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Warm in the microwave or 350°F oven until heated through.
See the full post for additional tips and substitutions.

Nutrition

Calories: 373kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 74mg | Sodium: 785mg | Potassium: 260mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 431IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 289mg | Iron: 1mg
Keywords.oven, stove top
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