Our latest Scrumptious Sunday took a decidedly French twist when we decided that our next experiment would be Croques. It was my absolute favourite breakfast/brunch, but you just know it’s yummy enough to eat any time of the day. There is a restaurant in Amsterdam (one of our favourites) that makes the best Croque Monsieur I have ever had the privilege to devour (stuffing my face would be a more accurate description). Seriously, if you find yourself in Amsterdam, make sure to drop by De Ysbreeker and have a Croque Monsieur. The rest of their food is excellent too, and you can get anything from a muffin, croissant, full on breakfasts, sandwiches and even soups and things… Another recommendation to have there is an Uitsmijter. Go ahead. Click on the link. Get ready to drool. I’m getting distracted again. Let’s get back on track. Here’s a look at the Croque Monsieur I had at De Ysbreeker.
You can find a Croque Monsieur or Madame at most cafés in France too, but oddly enough – I enjoyed my Amsterdam one more than the couple I had in Paris. The basic formula for a Croque is some good, thickly sliced, fresh, almost sweet white bread, some ham, some cheese (more than one type FYI) and a Béchamel so good it tastes like it could have dripped straight from heaven onto your bread. It’s warm, and salty from the ham, and sweet from the bread, and savoury from the cheeses and oh so gooey from that Béchamel. The difference between a Croque Monsieur and a Croque Madame is an egg. That simple. The Monsieur is sans egg, the Madame, well, you can guess I’m sure, has the egg. So predictable. Ironically, whenever the beau didn’t have an Uitsmijter, he would have a Croque Madame. We had a couple of Har-di-har-har moments with some waiters in Paris… “One Monsieur for ze Madame, one Madame for ze Monsieur..” Har-har-har. I know you’re rolling your eyes at me. That’s okay. We know the level of corny I can reach is astronomical. Enough chit chat though, let’s get to it. We used a Barefoot Contessa recipe. As much as the beau disdains watching Ina’s show (he’s fine with all the other food programs I watch, just not HERS), I adore her.
We found that the most efficient way was to start with the Béchamel. Once that’s done, you can let it stand since it will be warmed up in the oven again anyway. Also – grate your cheese before you start assembly. Get everything in order so that it goes smoothly. The less stress in the kitchen, the better time you’ll have. So here’s the recipe (from here):
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon Maldon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 cups Gruyere, grated (We used a strong Cheddar – Gruyere is ridiculously expensive in South Africa)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
8 slices white sandwich bread
Dijon mustard (I used some of my homemade mustard – I’ll share the recipe next week when I cook up a new batch)
4 slices ham (anything should do fine – we used Cooked Ham), sliced but not paper thin
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius/ 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere/Cheddar, and the Parmesan and set aside.
To toast the bread, place the slices on baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.
Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere/Cheddar. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere/Cheddar, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.
To make this into a Madame, fry an egg when the sandwiches are ready to be broiled, and when they come out, just slide the egg on top. Easy-peasy, right? I will say this though: next time I’d want to try it with the Gruyere. They were really good the way we made them, and you shouldn’t even for one second doubt whether to make this if you don’t have Gruyere. They were delicious with the cheddar. And melty. And really satisfying. The perfect end to a Sunday. I just think that the Gruyere would add more of a sharp and savoury note, and give it that final touch of authenticity. Here are our results:
Give it a try… You won’t be sorry. I promise.