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Cherry Strata

12 cups day-old Italian bread cubes (approx 1/2 inch cubes)
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half cream
1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan.
Place 8 cups of the bread cubes in prepared pan.
In mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar and extract until smooth. Stir in pecans and cherries (or cranberries). Spoon over bread and top with remaining bread cubes.
In mixing bowl, whisk eggs, cream, cinnamon and remaining sugar. Pour over bread.
Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes, or until browned. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Top individual servings with Cherry Syrup.
Makes 6 - 8 servings.

Cherry Syrup
1 can (approx. 14 0z.) sour or tart cherries, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/2 tsp. almond extract
Combine cherries, sugar and corn syrup in small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in extract. Serve warm over strata.


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