Every year, I sort of forget just how much I love strawberries.  In the colder months, whenever I want them, I typically opt for the frozen section, where the fruit is often picked and flash-frozen when it is ripe and in season; whereas that found in the produce department is small, mealy, flavorless, and expensive.  But, about the beginning of May, the new, fresh berries start making their appearance, and each time I have that first dark red, juicy berry of the year, I remember just how delicious they truly are.  This recipe combines two other favorites of mine, French toast and strawberry shortcake, but is easier to make than either of them.  It also includes a separate strawberry sauce that easily lends itself to just about anything you want to pour it over—ice cream, waffles, bagels…  Whether you make it Saturday night for Sunday breakfast or on a weeknight to have throughout the week, I promise this dish will remind you just how much you’ve missed these ruby gems of summer.

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the French toast:

  • 1 loaf good-quality white bread, like French or Italian, cut into 1-inch(ish) cubes
  • 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, cut into 1/2-inch(ish) cubes
  • 2 lbs. fresh strawberries, sliced
  • 2 c. half & half (I used fat-free)
  • 12 large eggs
  • 1-2 t. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
  • 2 T. brown sugar
  • 1/8 t. cinnamon

For the sauce:

  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 1 lb. fresh strawberries

Spray the bottom and sides of a 9×13 glass baking dish with non-stick spray (or use butter). Spread out half of the bread cubes into the pan and top with the cream cheese cubes and then the sliced strawberries. Lastly, add the remaining bread cubes and set aside.

Next, in a large bowl whisk together the eggs, half & half, vanilla, syrup, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Be sure it is thoroughly combined and then carefully pour it over the bread and fruit, being sure to cover each piece.  Cover with plastic wrap and weigh it down with some beans, a couple books, a bag of flour… whatever you have, just be sure the weight is distributed evenly over the top.  Refrigerate overnight or for 8 hours.

When you’re ready to bake it, remove it from the fridge and take off the weights about 30 minutes beforehand.  Preheat the oven to 350 and cover the dish with aluminum foil.  Baked covered for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for 30 more minutes.  Remove it from the oven and let it sit on the counter for at least 10 minutes to set a little.

And now for the sauce: use whole berries for a chunkier sauce, or, for a smoother sauce, use sliced berries.  To make it, combine the sugar, water, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and add the strawberries.  Reduce to a high simmer and cook for about 10 minutes.  Use a potato masher to mash the berries to your desired consistency.  Keep in a canning jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

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