Ham & cheese: turn up the heat!

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Yes, that’s confectioners’ sugar dusted atop a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

With jelly on the side.

What’s gives?

Just one of America’s most popular sandwiches (ham and cheese) turned into one of Disneyland’s most popular sandwiches – the Monte Cristo: ham, cheese, and turkey, dipped in egg batter, fried, dusted with sugar, and served with currant jelly.

The Monte Cristo is, in turn, a variation of one of France’s most popular sandwiches, their upscale version of ham & cheese:

 

The Croque Monsieur: Jambon de Paris and Gruyère, with a creamy béchamel sauce on top.

And the perfect bread to hold those gourmet fillings? France’s signature sandwich bread:

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Pain de mie.

There’s nothing like pain de mie – the standard white-flour version, or 100% whole wheat – for a soft-bread sandwich. With its fine grain, razor-thin crust, and super sliceability, pain de mie is perfect for everything from PB & J to tuna salad to grilled cheese.

Another version, honey-oat pain de mie, is a perfect fit for both the Monte and the Croque. The slight sweetness of the honey and oats is a delicious foil for both the salty ham, and the mellow nuttiness of the cheese.

Now, neither of these sandwiches is something you’d want to enjoy on a regular basis; low-cal, they’re not. But for a dose of pure American indulgence – plus a soupçon of absolutely eye-rolling French culinary bliss – try the Monte Cristo and Croque Monsieur.

Let’s make the Croque Monsieur first. There are all kinds of recipes out there; after all, this sandwich has been a denizen of restaurant menus all over Europe and America since the early 1900s.

After much enjoyable browsing online, I chose to riff on one from Daniel Boulud, whose Michelin 3-star restaurant, Daniel, is a New York City landmark.

Why? Because Chef Boulud bakes (rather than fries) his sandwiches, which seemed a good option to me – no standing over a hot stove.

Let’s make four sandwiches. Chef Boulud advises drying the bread out a bit first, so I laid eight slices of pain de mie on a baking sheet, and baked them for 10 minutes in a 350°F oven.

Next: the béchamel sauce topping, which has to cool before you use it.

Béchamel is a simple white sauce of flour, butter, and milk.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter, and stir in 2 tablespoons flour (King Arthur, of course). Whisk in 1 cup milk, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a small pinch of grated nutmeg. Fellow test kitchen baker Susan Reid suggests adding a bay leaf, too.

Cook, stirring, until the sauce simmers and thickens. Remove the bay leaf, transfer the sauce to a bowl, and let it cool to room temperature. Speed the process by placing the sauce in the fridge, if you like.

When the béchamel has thickened, spread it atop the bread – all eight slices. You’ll now have eight slices of sauce-topped bread.

Tip: Make sure to cover all of the bread with sauce, including the corners. Do what I say, not what I did!

Place ham atop four of the slices; use 2 ounces ham on each.

Grate 8 ounces cheese: Gruyère (traditional) or Jarlsberg (less expensive).

Sprinkle grated cheese atop all eight slices of bread: the four with the ham, and the four without.

Top the sauce/ham/cheese slices with the sauce/cheese slices. So, starting from the bottom up, you have bread, sauce, ham, cheese, bread, sauce, cheese.

Do you see why this sandwich is an occasional indulgence?

Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet.

Bake the Croques in a preheated 350°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese on top is melted and beginning to brown.

For best browning, run them under the broiler briefly.

See those burned corners? That’s why you need to spread the sauce all the way to the edges – lesson learned.

Yes, it’s messy; a definite knife-and-fork hot sandwich.

But the layers of ham, melted cheese, creamy sauce, and bread are the definition of comfort food, French-style.

Want to see Chef Boulud making these sandwiches? Let’s go to the video.

And comfort food, American style?

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The Monte Cristo, found not just in Disneyland, but on the menu at neighborhood eateries across America.

Los Angeles’ Brown Derby restaurant introduced this sandwich to southern California in 1949. But it was Anaheim’s Disneyland that popularized it, back in the ’60s; to this day it remains a favorite in the theme park’s Café Orleans and Blue Bayou restaurants.

This is a triple decker sandwich, so for two sandwiches, start with six slices of bread. Butter two of them, on both sides; these will be the middle layer of bread.

OK, pay attention, class: Here’s how to construct a Monte Cristo, from the bottom up:

Bread; 1 or 2 of slices of deli ham; 1 or 2 slices of deli turkey; buttered sliced of bread; 1 or 2 slices of Swiss cheese.

And another slice of bread on top.

Next: the egg bath.

Whisk together 3 tablespoons milk or half & half, and 1 large egg. Does this remind you of French toast? Yup, same thing, minus the sugar/vanilla/nutmeg.

Dip each sandwich in the bath – first one side, then the other.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-low heat in a skillet or on a griddle.

When the butter foams, place the sandwiches in the pan. Cook until their bottoms are browned. Turn them over; if they’ve absorbed all the butter, add another tablespoon to the pan, letting it melt and foam before frying the other side of the sandwiches, until golden brown.

Remove from the pan, and place on a plate. Dust with confectioners’ sugar (yes, really); and serve with currant jelly (traditional), strawberry jam, or your favorite jelly, jam, or preserve.

You may be tempted to skip the sugar and jam – don’t do it. They’re the hallmark of a real Monte Cristo, and the salty/sweet/fruity/meaty melange of flavors is, surprisingly, just right.

Besides, by my calculations, the chefs at Disney have sold nearly 3 million of these creations. Surely that many ham-and-cheese sandwich fans can’t be wrong!

Usually there’s a recipe link here, huh? Not this time. Just follow along with the photos above; you’ll be fine.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. omaria

    Oh PJ, You know I cannot do it !! Sugar ???!! No no. Jam ??? Yes, an apricot jam or maybe a sour cherry jam, or maybe marmalade . It sounds very good,but I cannot put sugar on it. LOL.

    Think of it as a taste experiment! I am sure the sweetness goes well with the salty ham.-Jon

    Reply
  2. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez- Petrópolis, R.J.- BRAZIL ( SENAC Rio )

    One of best experiences is exactly this contrast between salty/sweet. I love sweet sandwiches. Here at Brazil one of our passions specially on winter nights is a sandwich filling that includes cinnamon sugar, sliced bananas and local cream cheese version of melted cheese we call here REQUEIJÃO and better brand is Catupiry.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Requeij%C3%A3o
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catupiry
    I really appreciate Naan bread sliced, powdered with cinnamon sugar, sliced bananas, cream cheese and reheated until crispy crust and melted cream cheese. All paired with vanilla ice cream. I think this Crocque Monsieur version with iced sugar on top is similar and deserves a try with ice cream just as i did with fantastic Naan. Another great post…as always

    Hmm, I do enjoy salty and sweet but I am not sure how I feel about a ham sandwich with ice cream!-Jon

    Reply
  3. omaria

    Ricardo, I can see your “REQUEIJAO” would be good with the things you mentioned, but if you would put ham or turkey with that I would not like it. I think it is the sweetness with meat that I cannot see. Didn’t you start a bakery a few years ago ?

    Reply
  4. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez-Petrópolis, R.J.-Brazil ( SENAC Rio )

    Yeahh…i really mentioned Crocque Monsieur, but did not payed atention to ham filling. Better Pain de Mie slices, with cinnamon sugar and bananas with Catupiry, then with ice cream…now better!!
    I really started new bakery, but closed it after one and half year. Now i’m better with baking classes, working as bakery consultant and as palestrant all over the country, sometimes abroad! Nice to hear from you!

    Reply
  5. FlipSideKitchen

    Hi JP! Me & my hubby just got done devouring your two recipes… I made Croque Monsieur for myself & the Monte Cristo for my husband. It was really good. The only modification I made was the cheese. I used swiss cheese instead of the above mentioned coz it was the only one available in my fridge. I also added a bay leaf to the bechamel and that umph the taste really well. The powdered sugar on top the sandwich subdued the fattiness flavor (butter, cheese, white sauce, ham). Thanks for the recipe.

    Thank you for enjoying them! The bay leaf in your bechamel is a great idea, yum!-Jon

    Reply
  6. Michelle

    I totally have a jar of a cranberry shiraz jam that I bought on my first field trip to the Messina Hof winery outside Houston, Texas. It totally needs using. And this is the PERFECT weekend adventure :)

    Sounds yummy!

    Reply
  7. Linda Jean

    I’m sitting at work reading this recipe and I swear I can smell them….this isn’t good. It’s a long wait until the weekend to give the recipe a try.

    The weekend will be here sooner than you think, Linda Jean – hope you get a chance to try either of these sandwiches. Not for everyday, but as a special treat? You bet! PJH

    Reply
  8. "Ninny Gail"

    I first had the Monte Cristo in Houston Tx, many years ago. It has become one of my most favorite foods.

    Reply

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