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A few weeks ago I was watching Food Network on a Sunday morning and I saw one of the chefs make french toast and stuff it with a creamy, decadent chocolate mascarpone mixture.  If I’d had the ingredients on hand, there’s a good chance I would have whipped it up immediately it looked so good!  I see recipes on tv all the time that I want to try, but usually I forget about them after a few days.  Not this one though, it stuck with me.   

I love all french toast, but this is definitely my favorite variation to date.  When I got started, I was a bit worried that the texture might be a problem – eggy bread stuffed with a creamy mixture and bathed in an egg/milk mixture?  The probability for some sogginess seemed high.  That didn’t end up being the case at all, though; the bread was tender, but not soggy.  I’ve always been a big fan of chocolate and strawberries together, and the addition of mascarpone here adds the perfect level of creaminess.  The dish is rich, and while I’d gladly eat it for breakfast, I think it might be an even bigger hit at brunch, maybe for Mother’s Day?         

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I’d originally planned to buy a loaf of challah at the store to make this bread, but when I couldn’t find it at the first two stores I visited, I decided it’d be easier to make my own rather than keep driving around town searching.  I was really, really happy with the recipe I used – it was easy and the bread was delicious.  I’m planning to share it later this week so if you can hold out a few days, you can make your own bread and then use the leftovers for this french toast.  You definitely don’t have to use challah but I would stick with something thick and substantial – brioche would probably be nice, and since it’s such a rich, buttery bread it is going to up the decadence factor of this dish even more :)

Chocolate Mascarpone Stuffed French Toast with Strawberry Topping
filling from Anne Thornton via FoodNetwork.com, french toast from Annie’s Eats (via The Best New Recipe), 
topping from Martha Stewart

Strawberry Topping
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar (use less if your berries are very sweet)
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine the berries, sugar and lemon juice in a medium bowl then cover and let macerate at room temperature for 1 hour.

Filling
1/2 cup mascarpone, at room temperature
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon sugar
1 oz semisweet chocolate

Add the chocolate to a small microwave-safe bowl and heat in 30 second bursts on 50% power, stirring in between, until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool. Combine the mascarpone, heavy cream, orange zest and sugar in a small bowl. Add the cooled chocolate and stir to incorporate.

French Toast
4 slices day-old challah bread, each about 3/4-inch thick
1 large egg
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Take one slice of bread and turn it so the bottom edge is facing up at you.  Cut a pocket with a sharp knife, leaving the edges and top of the bread intact.  Repeat with each slice of bread, then fill each pocket with about 1/4 of the filling mixture.  (You could probably stretch the filling for 5 or 6 pieces of bread if you wanted.)

Set a large skillet over medium heat.  In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk the egg and milk together.  Whisk in the melted butter and vanilla then the flour and salt, mixing until smooth.  One at a time, add the filled slices of bread to the mixture and soak for about 30 seconds per side.  Let the excess drip off, then transfer to a plate.  Repeat for all slices of bread.

Spray the heated pan with nonstick cooking spray (you could also use butter if you want).  Add the bread to the pan in a single layer and cook until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes per side.  Repeat with the remaining slices of bread.  Serve with powdered sugar and strawberry topping.