A few weeks ago Hubby brought to my attention that there was a new restaurant in Salt Lake City, and on our next trip to the library downtown he pointed it out to me: la Madeleine Cafe & Patisserie. Voila! It had been so long since I saw one, I’d almost forgotten about some of my favorite foods.
I first discovered this little French style cafe and pastry shop in Columbus, Ohio many years ago when my English professor invited me to join her there for lunch one day to discuss my latest batch of short stories. A good idea. If we didn’t enjoy the stories or if the critique was harsh, then at least we could enjoy a leisurely and very inexpensive lunch. Since the place was new to me, I elected to have what she chose as she spoke of it so highly: a Caesar salad with a Croque Monsieur, which was a sandwich that is described as a continental cross between French toast and grilled ham and cheese. All that for about $6 around 20 years ago. On the way out, I couldn’t resist buying an assortment of fancy pastries to take home to the family as a special treat.
That sandwich became my all-time favorite since my other favorite, a Cheese Frenchie, a similar but more countryfied version, was no longer to be had. The chain fast-food place that specialized in them in Florida had disappeared for many years– from my universe at least.
So when I saw this la Madeleine here in downtown, I wanted a croque monsieur! Then I remembered a baked version I had a recipe for and made once for a company brunch. In spite of my clumsy attempt that resulted in a slightly overbaked offering that day, it tasted quite good, but since it serves 8 to 10, it was not a recipe I’d use often.
Because I’d filed it away in my inimitable way, wouldn’t you know, when I wanted to make it again, I couldn’t find the recipe! But the other day, as I was looking among my clutter for something else, it came to light again. Since my filing isn’t likely to improve, I decided to share it on My Wintersong for not altogether altruistic reasons. By so doing I wouldn’t have to worry about finding it again. So here it is for you to try if you think it will work for you and your guests.
Other things you might like to know: since it can be made the night before, it’s perfect as a main dish for a Sunday brunch without having to work too hard the day guests are coming; it serves a crowd, too. I made two versions, substituting fresh Spinach leaves in place of the ham slices in one for my non-meating-eating hubby; Japanese style Panko breadcrumbs are readily available at most large grocery chains now, but you can substitute by making your own, just be sure the crumbs aren’t too fine; pain de mie is french for sandwich loaf, so you can substitute a good white sandwich loaf if you wish. I sliced my own French loaves, but the pain de mie indicates the recipe is designed for a thinner slice; it’s very easy to make and looks very impressive to boot. I’m not absolutely positive, but I think the original recipe came from the King Arthur Flour bakers catalogue.
I hope you like it, and now I’ll know where the recipe is next time I have guests for breakfast or brunch. Oh, and it’s also still available–as far as I know, although menus may very well have changed after all these years–at the la Madeleine Cafe and Patisserie if you’re lucky enough to live close to one.
BAKED CROQUE MONSIEUR
16 (1/2″ slices) pain de mie or other fine-grained white bread
1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard (optional)
3/4 pound sliced or grated cheese (Grùyere, Swiss, or cheddar)
3/4 pound sliced ham
1 medium-small onion, thinly sliced
6 large eggs
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (or the mixed dried herbs of your choice)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups Panko (Japanese-style coarse breadcrumbs)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup grated cheese (Parmesan, Grùyere, or cheddar)
Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Remove the crust from the bread if you wish. (I don’t.) For firmer texture, toast the slices. Spread eight of the slices of bread with the mustard. Place them into the greased baking dish, mustard side up, cutting slices in half, as necessary, to completely cover the bottom of the pan. Top with half the cheese; the ham, sliced onion, and the remaining cheese; and the remaining bread. Press the sandwiches together.
Beat the eggs, milk, and seasonings together. Pour slowly over the bread. Cover and place in the refrigerator for several hours, or overnight.
About an hour before serving, preheat the oven to 400°F. Mix the breadcrumbs with the melted butter and grated cheese. Sprinkle over the sandwiches. Bake for 42 to 48 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the eggs set. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Yield: 8 to 10 servings.