BAKED FRENCH TOAST WITH CREME FRAICHE AND LAVENDER-STRAWBERRIES
This is a decadant combination of flavors. I like my french toast with a touch of vanilla to the custard. I adore floral flavors in sweets (jasmine, rose, lavender), but if that reminds you of a department-store perfume counter, the berries are delectable on their own.
1 loaf sweet Italian bread
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean extract (optional)
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
3 pounds strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 Tbs. lavendar (optional)
Butter a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Cut twelve 1-inch-thick diagonal slices from bread. Generously butter one side of each slice and arrange slices buttered sides up in one layer in buttered dish, squeezing them slightly to fit if necessary. Whisk together eggs, milk, salt, and vanilla (if using) in a bowl until well combined, then pour evenly over bread. Refrigerate, covered, until bread has absorbed all of custard, at least 1 hour. Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 425° F. Bring soaked bread to room temperature. Sprinkle bread with sugar. Bake until golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Mash 1/3 cup sugar and lemon peel in small bowl to blend well. Set lemon sugar aside. Bring 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, honey, and lavendar (if using) to boil in heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Strain syrup into a bowl. Place berries in a separate bowl. Pour warm syrup over berries; stir to coat.
Ladle berries and syrup onto plated French toasts. Spoon generous dollops of crème fraîche over berries, sprinkle with lemon sugar, and serve immediately.