Monte Cristo

What is brunch? It’s either a late breakfast, early lunch or some hybrid of the two, right? Well if there were one dish that were to represent that hybrid, I can’t think of a better manifestation than the Monte Cristo.

Simply put, the Monte Cristo is a ham sandwich. But it’s not just another boring sandwich, it’s one where the pieces of bread are made out of French toast. Considering how much I love French toast — why have I never made this? The whole thing melts in your mouth and pretty much results in the best sandwich you’ll ever make.

Right off the bat, it’s a winner in my book, as my most common frustration with sandwiches is having to chew through a big hunk of dry, tasteless bread. And what’s interesting is that the Monte Cristo often includes three slices of bread to help keep it all together, with two on the outsides and one in the middle. You’d think with all that bread it would be too dense, and yet, somehow, that’s not the case.

Meanwhile, the filling, typically ham and Swiss cheese, is warm and gooey after the assembled sandwich spends a few short minutes in the oven. I threw in some sliced turkey as well, but that’s totally your call. Use all ham if you like. Aside from that, the sandwich traditionally includes condiments such as mustard and mayo.

I rarely like to use mayo, and instead, I combined Dijon mustard and black currant jam to add components of both sweet and savory. Any jam will do. Raspberry or cranberry sound good, but apple or apricot would pair nicely with the ham as well. Apparently people like to dip their Monte Cristo in jam, but I prefer to spread it throughout the sandwich and make sure every bite has a bit of mild sweetness.

Side note: I always go for jam over jelly, as I like to think I’m at least getting some fruit out of it, whereas jelly is mostly just added sugar. Also, I currently have a small stockpile of homemade jam I’m always looking to use.

Although new to me, the Monte Cristo originated in Parisian cafés during the early 1900s, later becoming popular in America by the mid-20th century. It is a sort of variation on the Croque Monsieur, another ham and cheese sandwich that’s toasted and coated in a bechamel (white) sauce.

It’s unclear what happened since then. I hardly ever see the Monte Cristo on menus, even though it wouldn’t require anything special to be added to most breakfast offerings. Maybe it’s just waiting to make a comeback.

On the other hand, it’s a filling sandwich and probably not something you want to eat all the time. Though, I say that’s why it’s perfect for brunch, as it can take the place of two meals in one. It’s easy to assemble several at once and keep them warm in the oven at a low temperature until ready to serve.

After attempting the Monte Cristo with a few different techniques, I learned something important. You need to individually dip and cook each side of the bread in the egg before assembling the sandwich. Just trying to dip the outer sides of the assembled sandwich in the egg and then cook doesn’t produce nearly as light and tender of a sandwich.

Monte Cristo

servings: 4

4 eggs

½ cup milk

3 tablespoons of butter

12 slices of soft bread

4 tablespoons Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons of your favorite jam

8 thin slices of Swiss cheese

8 thin slices of ham

4 thin slices of turkey

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Beat the eggs and milk in a shallow dish. Heat a large pan or skillet over medium high heat and melt one tablespoon of butter when hot.

Dip a piece of bread into the egg and milk mixture for a few seconds. Use a fork to flip the bread over and coat the other side. Drip off any excess, then place in the pan. Repeat with the remaining bread, fitting as many pieces in the skillet as you can at a time and adding more butter as needed. Place the cooked pieces on a baking sheet

In a small bowl, stir together the mustard and jam. Spread this evenly — and delicately — over each slice of French toast.

Place a piece of Swiss cheese on eight slices of the French toast. On four of these, place a piece of turkey. On the other four, place two pieces of ham.

Assemble a sandwich starting with the turkey and cheese slice on the bottom. On top of this, place the ham and cheese slice. Then top with the final piece of bread, with the mustard and jam side facing in. Repeat three more times.

Carefully slice each sandwich in half and place all of them on the baking sheet. Put the sheet in the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese is sufficiently melted and the sandwich is warmed through.

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