Makes 6 sandwiches (6 servings)
These sweet sandwiches are a bit too substantial for dessert after a full meal, but just right for a hearty snack. The combination of melted dark chocolate and crispy bread makes it a late-night favorite at my home. Try the jam variation for brunch. Be sure to plan ahead to allow time for the dish to stand before baking.
Six diagonally cut 1-inch-thick slices of French bread 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, broken into large chunks 3 eggs 1 cup milk 3 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon ¼ teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter Confectioners' sugar and 6 strawberry fans for garnish.
To assemble the sandwiches, horizontally cut through each slice of bread with a serrated knife to within ¼ inch of the bottom crust, forming a pocket. Stuff each pocket with chocolate chunks, then press the slices closed. Arrange the filled bread slices in a 9- by 9-inch buttered baking dish.
Whisk the eggs lightly in a medium bowl; then whisk in the milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour this mixture over the bread; let it soak in for about 10 minutes. Turn the sandwiches over. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. The egg mixture will be totally absorbed into the bread.
When you are ready to bake the dish for serving, preheat the oven to 425° F. Remove the dish from the refrigerator and allow it to warm slightly before baking. Melt the butter; pour it over the sandwiches. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the sandwiches are golden brown and set.
To serve, transfer the warm sandwiches to individual plates. Dust them with confectioners' sugar that is stirred through a fine strainer; top each with a strawberry fan and serve immediately.
The assembled sandwiches must be refrigerated for at least 2 hours or overnight; bake just before serving.
Cut the bread into twelve diagonally cut ½-inch-thick slices. Spread 6 of the slices with about 2 teaspoons of jam (I like strawberry, raspberry, or apricot); close the sandwiches. For the 1 cup milk, substitute ¾ cup milk plus ¼ cup fruit-flavored liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Triple Sec.
Paulette Mitchell, a culinary instructor, television personality, spokesperson, freelance food writer, and the award-winning author of 13 cookbooks, is known internationally for her quick-to-prepare recipes with gourmet flair. Paulette's most recently published cookbook is "The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet: Creative Cuisine Made Fast and Fresh." She is also the author of "A Beautiful Bowl of Soup" and "The Spirited Vegetarian," which was voted "Best Book in the World on Cooking with Wine" at the 2005 Gourmand World Media Awards. Paulette says that international travel is her favorite source of culinary inspiration.