I’m probably one of the worst WORST decision makers in the world. I wish I could just walk around with a personal assistant who would make decisions for me when I didn’t feel like making them. Even though I’m not really an astrology person, I like to blame my poor decision-making skills on the fact that I’m a Libra. And I really only do that because my high school guidance counselor asked me if I was a Libra during one of our college decision discussions. In fact, I look back on my college decision and am pretty sure I chose UNH because my mom said she liked the drive better than the drive to UCONN. Done and done.
I’m only really telling you all this because I keep thinking about what my all-time favorite breakfast is and I cannot decide. What would I do if someone put a platter of Eggs Benedict in front of me and a plate with a Croque Madame on it? Well, I’d totally eat them both. But if both options were on a menu and I had to decide what I wanted brought out to me? I’m just not sure I can answer that question. Luckily for me, it’s rare that a restaurant offers both; at least in my experience. And now that I’ve made Croque Madame for the first time ever, I can make both of my breakfast favorites at home. Which I guess just means I have to make that ever so important brunch decision way more often. #sendhelp
I could talk about the Croque Madame at The Colonnade’s Brasserie Jo foreverrr. But when it came to searching out the perfect recipe, I went straight for Thomas Keller. Because I had the Bouchon version in Vegas and seriously fell in love. Plus, I’m totally intimidated by almost everything else in my Bouchon cookbook and this sounded like one thing I could actually handle.
The key to the perfect Croque Madame? I’m going with the bread… Keller recommends brioche, but I think challah is just as nice. And making sure the ham and cheese doesn’t extend over the edges of the bread. Seriously.
Also, making an egg that is perfectly cooked. Overdone yolk? Uh-uh; throw it away and start over.
Then there’s the mornay sauce. Have you ever made one? This was my first, but it’s a pretty basic sauce involving all kinds of deliciousness like heavy cream, milk, butter, and flour. Oh, and cheese… specifically emmentaler cheese.
Try to save it for the Croque Madame instead of sticking a straw in it. That would be weird. But also kind of awesome. I wouldn’t judge you at all.
Omg. omg. omg. This is the true definition of the words “I can’t even.” At least, I think? I’m going with that.
This is multiple layers of ham and cheese, sandwiched together with thick buttery bread. Plus an egg, plus mornay sauce and a nice sprinkling of parsley. I highly recommend cutting this in half to make it a tiny bit more manageable.
Would Thomas Keller think it was weird if I sent him a thank you note? Or like an Edible Arrangement? I feel like I need to do something for a) creating this glorious recipe and b) teaching me how to make it at home.
So, how does it taste? I don’t even know if you need me to tell you that. But I can tell you this is not like any grilled cheese you’ve ever had. Or even any grilled ham and cheese with an egg on top you’ve ever had. I give a lot of credit to the bread and to the mornay sauce.
The only thing this was missing? Well, it totally should have been served with frites. It’s almost a shame it wasn’t. But I’m taking baby steps with Thomas Keller and this was just step 1. Step 200 will be cracking open my French Laundry cookbook and attempting to make something from there.
OK, now I need a good excuse to make this again because Croque Madame is really not something you should be whipping up every weekend. Or is it??
Would you choose Croque Madame or Eggs Benedict?
- 8½-inch-thick slices brioche or challah bread
- 8 oz. thinly-sliced ham
- 8 slices swiss cheese
- 3 T unsalted butter
- 4 large eggs
- 1 C mornay sauce (recipe below)
- Black pepper
- 2 t chopped parsley
- Mornay Sauce:
- 3 T unsalted butter
- ½ C diced yellow onion
- Kosher salt
- 3 T all-purpose flour
- 2 C milk
- 1 C heavy cream
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 black peppercorns
- 3 whole cloves
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Pinch of freshly ground white pepper (or substitute black)
- ⅓ C emmentaler cheese (or comté)
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
- Place bread slices on cutting board or prep surface. Divide ham among them, being sure to trim it so it doesn't extend over the edges of the bread.
- Place cheese over ham, being sure it doesn't extend over the edges of the bread either.
- Heat griddle (or two oven-proof nonstick pans) over medium heat and add 2 T butter.
- Once butter has melted, place the bread cheese side up and cook for 1-2 minutes, until bottoms are golden brown.
- Transfer pans to the oven for 2-3 minutes, in order to melt the cheese.
- Melt the remaining 1 T butter in a separate large ovenproof skillet and fry the eggs. Cook until bottoms are set and then place skillet in the oven to set top of whites, about 1 minute.
- Once cheese on bread is melted, remove from oven and put two slices together to make sandwiches.
- Place sandwiches on separate plates, top with eggs, and pour ¼ C mornay sauce over the white of each egg, leaving the yellow uncovered.
- Sprinkle black pepper over each egg and garnish with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.
- Mornay Sauce:
- Melt butter in a medium-sized heavy saucepan over medium heat.
- Add onion and a pinch of salt and cook slowly for 2-3 minutes, until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally.
- Sprinkle in flour and cook for about 3 minutes. Be sure to stir constantly, so roux doesn't burn.
- While continuing to whisk constantly, add milk and cream and whisk until fully incorporated.
- Bring to a simmer and add bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves, while continuing to whisk.
- While keeping a gentle simmer, cook for about 30 minutes, whisking occasionally and being sure to reach corners of the pan.
- Remove pan from heat and season with salt, a pinch of nutmeg and pinch of pepper.
- Strain sauce and whisk in the cheese until it melts.
- If not using immediately, press plastic wrap against the surface of the sauce and refrigerate for up to a week. If necessary, sauce can be thinned with a little heavy cream.