Makes 4 sandwiches
1 cup milk
½ cup heavy cream or crème fraîche
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 extra-large egg yolks, reserved in a large bowl
8 slices brioche or other hearty white bread
8 slices thinly sliced ham (preferably Madrange ham)
12 ounces (about 4 cups) shredded Gruyère cheese
Prepare the béchamel: In a medium saucepan combine the milk and cream and cook over medium heat until hot. While the milk mixture is heating, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Using a wire whisk, add the flour to the butter and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble but does not brown, about 2 minutes. Add the hot milk mixture, salt, and pepper to the flour mixture, whisking constantly, and bring to a boil. Continue to cook the sauce, whisking all the while, until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk 1 cup of the sauce into the egg yolks, and then whisk this mixture back into the remaining sauce in the saucepan. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the sauce and allow to cool and thicken. (The cooled Béchamel can be kept, covered and refrigerated, up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before continuing.)
Make the Croque Monsieur: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the eight slices of bread on a work surface and using a small spatula, spread a thin layer of Béchamel sauce on each slice of bread. Divide the ham equally among the bread slices and top each with ¼ cup of Gruyère cheese. Place a slice of bread, béchamel side down, over the sandwich. Spread another layer of Béchamel on the surface of the sandwich. Divide the remaining Gruyère over the top of the sandwiches. Transfer the sandwiches to a parchment lined baking sheet and bake until the cheese is nice and melted, about 10 minutes. To add the final touch, broil the sandwiches to brown the top a bit. Slice in half and serve immediately.
I love cooking with cheese as much as I love eating it as part of a cheese course. I’m often asked what my favorite recipe with cheese is and to be honest, it’s a toss-up between a great grilled cheese sandwich and homemade mac and cheese using a blend of Gruyère, Comté and Beaufort. But, when I’m feeling especially needy for a soul-satisfying meal, I make myself a combination of the two: a traditional French Croque Monsieur sandwich. It’s the quintessential grilled cheese sandwich of France. You can add a fried egg on top and that’s called a Croque Madame. Traditionally made with a rich Béchamel sauce it’s moist, gooey, and super-satisfying.