Earlier this week, I asked my Chief Culinary Consultant if he was hungry for anything in particular. He thought for a few minutes, and then suggested some Monte Cristo sandwiches. I had heard of them, but had never eaten one. He said he’d had one quite awhile back at a popular Pittsburgh diner, but he thought that they no longer had it on their menu. I did a quick search online and found that the Monte Cristo sandwich is basically a savory stuffed French toast. A ham and cheese (most traditionally, Gruyère) sandwich with Dijon mustard is dipped into a custard mixture and then fried in a skillet. The kicker? It’s most commonly served with either sweet fruit preserves or maple syrup. While I’m always a fan of sweet and salty combinations, I’m less adventurous when it comes to sweet and savory. Maple syrup with cheese? I definitely went in skeptical. I may have even made some faces. Let me tell you, you just need to trust it. It totally works!
I took my traditional French toast recipe and adapted it a bit to make these delicious sandwiches. The custard mixture includes a little bit of brown sugar and vanilla extract, which you could omit if you want to keep the sandwich more savory. I ended up loving the touch of sweetness in the bread itself. It really paired well with both the ham and the cheese; it reminded me of baked brie served with fruit preserves. Such a fantastic combination! I will admit that I took a bite of the sandwich before drizzling the maple syrup over it, just so I could compare the before and after. (I was totally side-eyeing the maple syrup the whole time.) As it turns out, the syrup is a fabulous complement to the entire finished sandwich.
This Monte Cristo sandwich is part grilled cheese, part French toast, and every single bit amazing. I tippy-toed out of my eating comfort zone and found something totally delicious and new to me. I obviously need to take more of my Chief Culinary Consultant’s recommendations – they’re always spot-on!
A variation of the Croque Monsieur, this is a savory ham and cheese sandwich prepared like French toast, served with sweet fruit preserves or maple syrup.
8 slices firm bread (a hearty French or Challah), sliced ½-inch to 1-inch thick
1½ cups whole milk
6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted + 1 tablespoon for cooking
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
8 ounces sliced Virginia ham
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded
Maple syrup, for serving
1. If your bread is not yet dry, put it in the toaster on the lowest setting to dry it out.
2. Whisk together the milk, egg yolks, brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla extract and salt in a medium bowl. Pour the custard into a 9x13-inch baking pan.
3. Assemble the sandwiches by spreading a thin layer of Dijon mustard on each slice of bread. Top 4 slices with an equal amount of ham and cheese, and then top with the remaining slices of bread, pressing them together gently.
4. Set a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat and melt ½ tablespoon of the butter.
5. Meanwhile, place the assembled sandwiches in the custard mixture for 20 seconds. Gently flip the sandwiches over and soak on the other side for an additional 20 seconds. Transfer two of the sandwiches to a baking sheet or tray.
6. Place the other two sandwiches in the skillet and cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully flip the sandwiches and cook until the second side is golden brown, an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the cooked sandwiches to a cooling rack or serving tray. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, melt the remaining ½ tablespoon of butter and repeat with the remaining two sandwiches.
7. Serve with maple syrup or fruit preserves.