I ate a whole lot of cheese, ham, butter, and eggs in the making of this sandwich-focused blog post. I tested two different styles of baked bread on this sandwich, and I am here to share my tips and tricks to pull off each type of bread in case you want to play along in this sandwich adventure with me.
Let’s talk about the croque madame sandwich.
This sandwich was the suggestion of a member of my Patreon community, Sylvia Chilton. Sylvia has been an internet and real-life friend of mine for a few years, and she’s also my Mother-in-law!
Sylvia’s suggestion was for me to take a trip to Paris in the safety of my kitchen and tackle the croque madame.
What is croque madame?
A croque madame is a butter-fried or griddled ham and cheese sandwich that is topped with a creamy mornay sauce and a whole bunch more melted cheese on top. Then the knife-and-fork sandwich is finally topped with a fried or sunny-side-up egg creating a very rich and extravagant sandwich full of texture and flavor. The croque madame is basically the same as a croque monsieur with an addition of a fried or sunny-side-up egg. The name “croque madame” translates to “crunchy lady” in English, referring to the crispy texture of the sandwich and the egg that resembles a woman’s hat.
History of the croque madame
The history of the croque madame and monsieur dates to the late 1800s but it took a person known as Michel Lunarc to popularize the sandwich in Paris in the early 1900s. The exact origin of the name and who invented the croque madame is unclear, but it has become a very popular sandwich in France and abroad. Today, it appears on menus in cafes and bistros as an indulgent brunch or lunch option.
Jim from the Sandwich Tribunal also wrote a lot about the croque madame and monsieur back in 2015 and he covers a lot of the history as well if you want to read more. Jim also made some extensions of the croque brand of sandwiches including croque provençal, which you can see listed in the table below. Go read the Sandwich Tribunal when you get a chance.
Here’s a screenshot of the variants devised based on the croque monsieur from Wikipedia. The croque monsieur with bechamel sounds a little strange because that just means the same thing as the regular croque monsieur but with less cheese. Interesting to consider where that variant came from.
You might remember earlier this summer when I wrote about the Francesinha sandwich from Portugal? I mentioned then that the Francesinha was originally inspired by the croque monsieur or madame sandwich from France. Much like the sandwich that was inspired by it, the croque madame is not an open-faced sandwich but it’s not one that you’re picking up and eating with your hands either.
Let’s make some croque madame sandwiches. First, as usual, we need some bread.
A tale of two bakes
If you google image search for croque madame, you will find all sorts of different types of bread being used in the creation of this sandwich. Two types of bread stood out the most though, and that was a sort of rustic, country-style white bread where the slices were shaped like half ovals and the second style was more of a traditional sandwich-style white bread.
I wanted to see which sort of bread I would most appreciate so I ended up baking both types so that I would have a frame of reference for a comparison. It turned out that I didn’t get a massive winner in this comparison, but I do think I preferred the standard loaf pan baked white bread because the crust turned out to be much softer and easier on each bite.
For my croque madame sandwiches, I baked the same dough recipe in two different ways. The first option was a more rustic-shaped loaf like you might get if you bought a sourdough loaf from a bakery.
Rustic shaped loaf
For this loaf, I prepared the dough like normal and allowed the dough to rise for 45 minutes. Then I performed a stretch-and-fold on the dough which helps build gluten and then allowed the dough to rise again for another 45 minutes. Then I stretch and fold again and pre-shape the dough into a ball for another 15 minutes while the dough relaxes.
The final stage in shaping is to get the dough into a basket, bowl or banneton to rest again for an hour in a warm environment before being moved into the fridge for an overnight rest. This means you can bake almost immediately when you wake up the next day and that’s what I did.
The rustic style loaf takes more effort in shaping pre-baking but when it comes time to bake it doesn’t require a whole lot more effort. This style of loaf is baked inside of a pre-heated Dutch oven with the lid on for the first part of the bake and then the lid is removed to help the loaf continue to brown.
The second option of bread I baked for Croque Madame Week was a more typical sandwich-style white bread.
Traditional pan-baked white bread
This is my normal simple white sandwich loaf. The only difference between this loaf and the loaf in the recipe I have shared below is that I painted this loaf with an egg wash prior to baking. This egg wash will help with browning the bread as well as make the loaf a lot shinier. I like the shininess, but it’s certainly not required for a good loaf of bread.
This loaf turns out to be a pretty soft bread with a fairly tight crumb. While this bread is great warm, I highly suggest waiting to slice until it has fully cooled. It is even easier to slice if you wait 24 hours to give the loaf a little time to stiffen.
In the past, I have often sliced a whole loaf when I make the first slices, but lately, I just slice what I need a leave the rest of the loaf unsliced until I need it.
I find slicing as slices are needed works best for my sandwiches. Here’s my bread recipe for the regular pan-baked loaf. If you want the more rustic loaf, you will have to follow the instructions I have shared above.
Ham and cheese sandwich
The base of this sandwich is simply a grilled or griddled ham and cheese. Because it’s of French origin, we don’t really want to use American cheese or English cheddar, although neither of those choices would be terrible. Most recipes and depictions of the croque monsieur or madame suggest that gruyère is the traditional cheese to use, but I have seen both parmesan and emmental cheese mentioned as well. For my sandwiches, I kept it simple and stuck with gruyère cheese and shredded it myself.
For the ham, it’s not complicated. You want to use fresh ham, sliced fairly thin. This should easily be available at every grocery store or deli.
Mustard and/or condiments
I have watched almost every croque madame video on YouTube (just kidding, there are probably a few thousand others I have yet to view) and at least 1/3 of them include mustard in the sandwich. Most of them use Dijon and that choice makes sense. But I used Grey Poupon’s Harvest Course Ground mustard that my wife had in the fridge, and I hope it’s not difficult to find because I used almost all of it during the making of these sandwiches. If my wife is reading this: whoops.
If you hate mustard, you could use mayonnaise in this sandwich, but I feel that mayo is not needed here. There’s already so much richness in the sandwich that mayo won’t contribute anything. If you don’t use mustard, I think something like a couple of dill pickles would be much appreciated inside the sandwich, but they would be FAR from traditional. In the end, you should make the sandwich that makes you happy!
Bèchamel begets mornay sauce
The biggest lift in creating a croque madame is building and making the mornay sauce. To create a mornay sauce, we must first create a bèchamel. Bèchamel sauce—sometimes called “white sauce”— is known in the French cooking world as a mother sauce.
Mother sauces are commonly taught sauces or sauce recipes in French cuisine that can be used on their own or they can be adjusted with more ingredients to create a daughter sauce. In this case, we add shredded cheese to the bèchamel which turns it into a mornay sauce.
Traditional bèchamel sauces contain flour, butter, milk, and grated nutmeg for flavor. I added a little salt and pepper as well, but you could leave those out if you wanted. The melty shredded cheese should bring a lot of salt and cheesy flavor to the party.
Even though I said above that a mornay sauce was the biggest lift in making this sandwich, creating the sauce really isn’t that difficult. As with most of my sandwich blog posts, I record videos for each component and typically share them on my Instagram. I just looked back at both mornay sauces that I made and recorded and the time spent on each sauce was under 6 minutes of total time.
Make mornay in advance?
I made mornay for these sandwiches three times over the past week or so and I found that it’s pretty easy to make the sauce in advance and keep it in the fridge. When it’s cold and you’re ready to make a sandwich, you can just put 2 or 3 tablespoons in a bowl and microwave it with a couple of teaspoons of milk, and once warm, the sauce will come right back together after a little whisking. Even if the warmed-up mornay sauce isn’t super hot, it’s going to get really hot under the broiler and it will start to become very creamy as it starts to broil, and the cheese starts browning and melting.
Griddling the sandwich
At the root of the croque madame/monsieur is a griddled ham and cheese sandwich. Basically, just a fancy grilled cheese with a couple of slices of ham. There are a lot of recipes online that require you to build the sandwich and then bake it at around 350 degrees before covering it with mornay sauce and broiling, but in my experience, this doesn’t do the sandwich the proper justice. There’s something about the bread toasted in butter that works so well that the other method seems to be missing.
My suggestion is to treat the base of this sandwich like a grilled cheese and cook it in a pan or on a griddle with butter. It might not be the healthiest option, but it brings a lot of extra flavor and texture to the final sandwich.
Set up the broil
Now that you’ve made a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, the next step is to cover everything in mornay sauce and even more cheese. Then it’s off for a quick trip in the oven under a broiler to melt the cheese and get the mornay sauce creamy and hot. I prefer to place my griddled ham and cheese sandwich on a cooling rack over an aluminum foil-lined sheet pan to prep it for broiling. This means the cleanup will be lessened when the inevitable cheese melts and slides off the top of the sandwich.
Once the sandwich has been toasted or griddled in butter in a pan, the interior meat should be hot, and the cheese should be melty or at least close to melty. But the sandwich is not complete yet. A croque madame or monsieur gets a solid few tablespoons of mornay sauce and even more shredded cheese on top of the toasted bread and then the sandwich does a few minutes under a really hot broiler.
When you are adding the mornay sauce, spread it right to the edge of the bread. This will keep the edges of the bread from turning extra brown or even burning. In my tests in a toaster oven, starting from cold (no pre-heating) it took 6 minutes to start seeing any color on the cheese and mornay sauce with the broiler on high. It’s very important that you keep an eye on your own sandwich and do not cook it based on a time that some person on the internet suggests. Because broilers will burn your food quickly.
After this broiling time, we have our completed croque monsieur. But we’re not done with the crunch lady sandwich yet. Keep scrolling and reading to see how we finish that one.
The croque monsieur
The croque monsieur is easier and quicker to make than the croque madame because the monsieur is missing one final component.
Here’s my recipe for a croque monsieur.
I made a sunny-side-up egg for each of my croque madames. You can either cook your egg while the sandwich is broiling or pull the sandwich out of the broil and allow it to cool while you finish the egg. The timing is up to you. Just make sure not to get so preoccupied with making the egg that you end up burning the sandwich under the broiler.
I have also seen croque madame photos and recipes online that feature an over-easy egg. So, if you like your eggs with a yolk that has been cooked through a little more, that’s easily accomplished with a quick flip in the pan to cook the other side of the egg briefly.
Croque madame recipe and photos
Here are quite a few photos of croque madame sandwiches and the recipe is just down below.
Here’s my croque madame recipe. This is a fantastic sandwich that really doesn’t take a ton of effort to make and enjoy. Give it a try and let me know how it turned out.
This croque madame is a cheesy, creamy, savory, and crunchy knife-and-fork sandwich with a sunny-side-up egg hat.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 2⁄3 cup whole milk
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1⁄4 cup gruyere cheese, shredded
- 2 slices of white bread
- Dijon mustard (optional)
- 2 to 4 slices of ham
- 2 to 4 tablespoons gruyere cheese, shredded
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 to 4 tablespoons mornay sauce (from above)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons gruyere cheese, shredded
- chives, thinly sliced (optional garnish)
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 1 whole large egg
- pinch salt and pepper
Mornay sauce: In a medium pot over medium heat, add butter and cook until the butter is melted and starting to bubble. Add the all-purpose flour and whisk to combine the two. Allow the flour and butter to cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring often.
Slowly add milk while continuing to whisk. Whisking frequently will help make sure that there are no lumps in your final sauce. Once all the milk has been added, cook the sauce for 4 to 5 minutes until it starts to thicken.
Add the shredded cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg while continuing to whisk. Once the seasonings are fully incorporated and the sauce has thickened, you can remove the pot from the heat. If you are making your sandwich immediately you can add the lid to the pot to keep it warm while you prep everything else.
Ham and cheese sandwich: Add mustard (if using) to one slice of the bread. Top the mustard with slices of ham and then top the ham with 2 to 4 tablespoons of shredded cheese. Close the sandwich with the second piece of bread.
Griddle sandwich: In a medium-sized pan over medium-low heat, add 1/2 tablespoon of butter. When the butter is fully melted add your ham and cheese sandwich. Cook this first side until it has browned and is toasty, somewhere between 3 and 6 minutes (check often). When the first side is browned remove the sandwich from the pan briefly, add the other 1/2 tablespoon of butter to the pan, and when it has melted add the sandwich back in on top of the melted butter untoasted side down. Toast this second side for 3 or 4 minutes until it is fully toasted.
Remove the sandwich to a cooling rack while you prepare the next ingredients. Do not wash the pan. Just remove it from the heat and leave it on the stove, you will be using it again in a bit.
Turn on the broiler in your oven and allow to preheat.
Broiling: add mornay sauce to the top of the sandwich and then top the mornay with extra cheese. Make sure you go all the way to the edges with the mornay sauce so that the bread does not burn in the broiler.
Broil the sandwich in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes or until everything is melty and the cheese on top starts to turn brown and is very bubbly. Remove the sandwich to the cooling rack again to rest while you cook the egg.
Sunny-side-up egg: turn the heat under the medium-sized pan to low. With a couple of paper towels, wipe out the pan, removing all grease and residue from cooking the sandwich.
Once the pan has had 2 minutes to warm up, add 1 teaspoon of butter. When the butter is melted and bubbly, crack an egg right onto the bubbling butter.
Salt and pepper the egg and place a lid on top of the pan. Cook the egg with the lid on for 3 to 4 minutes until all the white is set.
Top the sandwich with the sunny-side-up egg, and finely chopped chives and serve.
You can make the mornay sauce in advance if you would like. When it comes time for sandwiching you can scoop out the sauce that you need for a sandwich and add a teaspoon or two of milk. Stir both together and microwave until the sauce is warmed. Then you can use as needed according to the instructions.
Check back next week
Next week, we’ll be back to making non-classic sandwiches and maybe I’ll make a dip as well.