This Monte Cristo sandwich is the most elevated grilled cheese/French toast hybrid in existence! Crispy challah, melty Swiss cheese, turkey, and salty ham are dunked in a custard mixture, pan-fried, and served with maple syrup and fruit preserves on the side for dipping. Sweet and savory in every perfect bite!
Often confused with its French buddy the Croque Monsieur, the Monte Cristo sandwich is a kind of savory French toast. We start with a ham, turkey, and cheese sandwich, then dunk the whole thing in a custard mixture and pan-fry it just like French toast.
As if that were not mouth-watering enough, these sandwiches are traditionally served with maple syrup or fruit preserves for dipping. Believe me when I tell you they’re in a class of their own!
These sandwiches started popping up across the U.S. in the early 1900s, but the recipe really exploded when the Disneyland Monte Cristo sandwich showed up at the park’s Blue Bayou restaurant in the 1960s. It has a cult following and I am so thrilled to share my favorite version with you!
Ingredient and equipment tips
Custard: I took my traditional French toast recipe and adapted it for the coating here. The custard mixture includes a little bit of brown sugar and vanilla extract, which you can omit. If you are looking for something more savory, adding a pinch of your favorite herb can add a little extra zip!
Bread: One of the best parts of the Disneyland Monte Cristo sandwich is that they use challah bread instead of a standard white or French bread – and it is my must-use for this (as well as my French toast!). I use stale slices here, either setting it out the day before or drying it out in the oven on the lowest setting. Brioche would also be a good substitute.
Cheese: This sandwich traditionally includes Gruyere or Swiss cheese. The Gruyere has a little bit of a nutty flavor and is extra salty, which pairs so well with the sweetness of fruit or syrup. Swiss is great if you are looking for a milder flavor, and is what you find on the Disneyland Monte Cristo.
Meat: The meat on the Monte Cristo sandwich varies regionally, but I prefer it with equal parts Virginia ham and smoked turkey. In some parts of the U.S. you will see this with all ham, and some even use prosciutto.
Kitchen Tools: You will need a large baking dish for the custard dredging; I’ve found that a 9×13-inch pan is perfect for dipping four sandwiches! You also need a skillet or griddle for frying and a cooling rack to put them on when done, so they stay crispy.
Making a Monte Cristo Sandwich Step-by-Step
Whisk together the custard mixture and pour it into the 9×13-inch pan.
Top four slices of challah with equal parts ham, turkey, and cheese, and top with another slice of bread.
Melt ½ tablespoon of butter on the skillet over medium-low heat.
Place the assembled sandwiches into the glass tray. You want them to sit in the custard for 20 seconds on each side. Place two of the coated sandwiches on a plate off to the side.
Place the other two sandwiches in the skillet for about 3 to 4 minutes, until the first side is golden brown.
Carefully flip the sandwich over and fry for another 3 to 4 minutes.
Once crispy, place the sandwiches on the cooling rack, or a serving tray lined with a paper towel.
Wipe down the skillet with another paper towel, and melt the remaining ½ tablespoon of butter. Fry the last two sandwiches the same way!
Serving ideas, variations, and tips
Syrups: You can not go wrong with a pure maple syrup here! I recommend sticking with something low in added sugar or flavors. The more basic the syrup, the bolder the rest of the flavors become.
Preserves: Honestly, this is so awesome that even jelly from the pantry works. But – in my dream world, a berry or stone fruit preserve goes exceptionally well. Apricot, raspberry, and blackberry are some of my favorites!
Sugar: A Monte Cristo sandwich is usually topped with powdered sugar, but cinnamon is also delicious. If you are going the more savory route, you can top with parsley, cheese, or Herbs de Provence.
Pan or Skillet: If you are making this for one or two – using a standard pan works just fine! If you have a large number of sandwiches to make, a stovetop skillet or countertop griddle is a great way to make these! For large parties, you can also use slider buns to make hand-held versions everyone will love.
Make-Ahead: If you are meal prepping, or planning for a party – you can cut down on prep time by pre-making these sandwiches. Wrap them individually in plastic wrap or a Ziploc the night before, and you can dunk them the next day! The custard can also be made the night before and kept covered in the refrigerator.
If your bread is not yet dry, put it in the toaster on the lowest setting to dry it out.
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.
Assemble the sandwiches by topping 4 slices of bread with an equal amount of ham, turkey, and cheese, and then top with the remaining slices of bread, pressing them together gently.
Set a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat and melt ½ tablespoon of the butter.
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.
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.
Dust with powdered sugar and serve with maple syrup or fruit preserves for dipping.
Bread: Challah is recommended, but brioche will also work.
Cheese: Gruyere is preferred, but if you like a milder flavor, you can use Swiss.
Serving: Serve with maple syrup or fruit preserves on the side, for dipping.
Make-Ahead: Assemble the sandwiches, wrap them in plastic wrap, and store them in the refrigerator overnight. The custard can also be assembled, covered, and refrigerated overnight. Dip and fry the sandwiches before serving.