Croque madame, sauce mornay (toasted ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg and mornay sauce)

Croque-madame, sauce mornay (toasted ham-cheese sandwich, fried egg and mornay)

  • Preparation Time100 mins
  • Cooking Time20 mins
  • Serves4
  • DifficultyMedium

For the croque madame

8 (1cm) slices brioche, recipe follows, or other egg bread or pain de mie (about 10cm square)
225g thinly sliced boiled ham
225g (about 15g each) Swiss cheese
45g unsalted butter
4 large eggs
240ml mornay sauce, warmed, recipe follows

For the brioche

80ml very warm water (43-46C)
1 (7g) package active dry yeast (not quick-rising)
300g cake flour
65g caster sugar
2 1/2 tsps fine sea salt
6 large eggs, at room temperature
285g unsalted butter, cut into 2cm cubes, at room temperature, plus butter for the pans

For the mornay sauce

45g unsalted butter
80g diced (1cm) Spanish onion
25g plain flour
475ml milk
240ml double cream, or as needed
1 bay leaf
3 black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
Freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground white pepper
35g grated Comte or Emmental cheese
1) Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5.

2) Lay out the bread slices. Divide the ham among them, making sure it doesn't extend over the edges of the bread. Place the cheese over the ham. If the cheese is larger than the bread, bend it over to fit.

3) Heat two large ovenproof nonstick pans or griddles over medium heat. (If you have only one large pan, make two sandwiches and keep them warm in the oven while you make the second batch.) Add 15g of the butter to each pan. When it has melted, add half the bread, cheese-side up to each pan and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Transfer the pans to the oven for 2-3 minutes to melt the cheese.

4) Meanwhile, melt the remaining 15g of butter in a large ovenproof skillet and fry the eggs. Cook the eggs until the bottoms are set, then place the skillet in the oven for a minute to set the top of the whites. (We cook the eggs in 13cm individual skillets.)

5) When the cheese is melted, remove the sandwiches from the oven. Place two slices together to make each sandwich and put each sandwich on a serving plate. Place an egg on top of each sandwich. Pour about 60ml of the sauce over the white of each egg, leaving the yolk uncovered. Grind black pepper over each egg and garnish the eggs with a diagonal sprinkling of chopped parsley. Serve with frites, if desired.

Jean-Louis Palladin was a close friend and one of the greatest chefs I've ever known. And he made some of the best brioche I've ever tasted. This is his recipe. Start it a day before you want to make it, as the dough has to rest overnight.

1) Combine the water and yeast in a small bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes, then stir until the yeast is completely dissolved. Set aside.

2) Sift together the flours, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the eggs and beat for 1 minute at low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Slowly add the dissolved yeast and continue beating at low speed for 5 minutes. Stop the machine, scrape any dough off the hook, and beat for another 5 minutes.

3) Add about one-quarter of the butter cubes at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each addition. Once all the butter has been added, beat for 10 minutes more.

4) Place the dough in a large floured bowl and cover with clingfilm. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, about 3 hours.

5) Turn the dough out onto a generously floured work surface and gently work the air bubbles out by folding the dough over several times while lightly pressing down on it.

6) Return the dough to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.

7) The dough is now ready to shape or use in another recipe. Generously butter two 22-by-11cm loaf pans. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. With floured hands, divide the dough in half and shape it into two rectangles that fit in the loaf pans. Place the dough in the pans.

8) Let the dough rise uncovered in a warm place until it is about 1 1/2cm above the top of the pans, about 3 hours.

9) Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.

10) Bake the brioche in the centre of the oven until it is well browned on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 35-40 minutes. Remove the brioche from the oven and immediately turn out onto a wire rack.

11) If serving immediately, let the breads cool for 10 minutes, then slice. If serving within a few hours, wrap the hot bread in aluminium foil and set aside at room temperature until ready to use. To freeze, wrap the hot bread in foil and promptly freeze. The bread can be kept frozen for up to 1 month; when ready to use, reheat (without thawing and still wrapped in the foil) in a 140C/Gas 1 oven until heated through, 20-25 minutes. If using the brioche for croutons, let sit at room temperature uncovered to dry for a day.

Mornay sauce:
Mornay, a roux-thickened white sauce, is a luxurious cheese sauce that we use for gratineed scallops, macaroni and cheese, croque monsieurs and madames, and crepes.

1) Melt the butter in a medium heavy saucepan set on a diffuser over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that the roux doesn't burn or colour. Whisking constantly, add the milk and cream and whisk until fully incorporated. Bring to a simmer, whisking, then add the bay leaf, peppercorns and cloves. Move the pan to one side of the diffuser, away from direct heat to avoid scorching, and bring back to a gentle simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, reaching into the corners of the pan, for about 30 minutes. (If the sauce does begin to scorch, pour it into a clean pan--don't scrape the bottom of the pan--and continue.)

2) Remove the sauce from the heat and season to taste with salt, a grating of nutmeg and a pinch of white pepper. Strain the sauce, add the cheese and whisk to melt. Use immediately, or place in a storage container, press a piece of clingfilm against the surface to keep a skin from forming and refrigerate for up to a week. If the sauce is too thick after refrigeration, it can be thinned with a little double cream.

Yield: 475ml

Variation: For 700ml sauce, use 60g butter, 2/3 cup diced onion, 35g flour, 630ml milk, 315ml double cream, 4 peppercorns, 4 cloves and 50g cheese. Make the sauce in a large saucepan.

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