Challah French Toast with Strawberries


For the strawberries:
3 pints strawberries (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 medium orange
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
For the French toast:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
Vegetable oil
1 (1-pound) loaf of challah or brioche, cut widthwise into 12 (1-inch-thick) slices
Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)


For the strawberries:

Hull and slice the strawberries 1/4 inch thick and place in a medium bowl. Finely zest the orange (you should have about 1 tablespoon). Add half of the zest to the bowl of strawberries. Set the other half aside for the French toast.

Slice 1/4 inch off the top and bottom of the orange and set it flat on a work surface.Using a paring knife, follow the curve of the orange and slice off any remaining peel and white pith.Working over the bowl of strawberries, slice between the membranes to release the segments or supremes.Squeeze the juice from the membranes, and discard the membrane and peels. 

Add the sugar to the bowl and stir to combine. Let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved and the strawberries have released some of their juices, at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour. Meanwhile, prepare the French toast.

For the French toast:

Heat the oven to 200°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Place a baking sheet in the oven.
Place the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and reserved orange zest in a shallow dish (a 13-by-9-inch baking dish works well) and whisk until the eggs are broken up and evenly incorporated and the sugar has dissolved.

Coat the bottom of a large cast iron or nonstick frying pan with a thin layer of oil and heat over medium heat until shimmering, about 3 minutes.

Dip a few slices of the bread in the milk mixture, turn to coat, and let the excess drip off. Lay the soaked bread in a single layer in the pan and cook until browned on the bottom, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Flip and cook the second side until browned, about 2 minutes. Place the cooked French toast on the heated baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining bread slices. Serve with the strawberry topping (stir before serving) and dust with powdered sugar, if using.

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