By Angela Denstad Stigeler
Easter brunch is just a hop away, and here’s a way you can get all your little eggs in bread baskets: a clever variation of a classic French sandwich known as a Croque Madame. A spin-off of the original toasted ham-and-cheese known in French bistros as a ‘Crispy Mister’ (that’s Croque Monsieur in French), the Madame is a knife-and-fork sandwich robed in a creamy sauce and topped with a fried egg, which is said to resemble a lady’s hat.
This version, however, does away with the flat sandwich and, instead of placing a ‘bonnet’ on it, the egg nestles into a little round bread box, made from pressing a crustless sandwich slice into a muffin cup. The recipe is easily multiplied for a crowd and can be partially made in advance; the bread cups and sauce will hold well for a day. On Sunday, you need only get your eggs in their baskets, your bonnets from their boxes, and hats off to you!
Croque Madame Cups
6 large slices of white bread, crusts removed
¼ cup butter, melted and divided
1 tablespoon flour
1 scant cup milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
a dash of nutmeg
¼ cup grated Guryere or Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
3 thin slices deli ham, halved
6 small eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 6-cup muffin tin. Flatten the bread slices, then brush each slice on both sides with melted butter (about 3 tablespoons). Carefully fit the bread slices into the wells of the muffin tin, pressing them into the bottoms with a small glass or measuring cup. Put them in the oven to toast.
Meanwhile, make the sauce by heating the remaining butter over medium heat and whisking the flour into it, making a roux. When the roux just starts turning golden, whisk in the milk in a steady stream. Add the mustard and nutmeg and bring to a boil. Let the sauce simmer a few minutes until thickened. Off the heat, stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.
When the bread cups are just starting to turn golden, remove them from the oven. Line each bread cup with half a slice of ham, then crack an egg into each well, discarding some of the white if the egg is too large. Add a spoonful of sauce and some fresh pepper on top, then bake for 15-20 minutes on the top rack, depending on how runny you like your eggs. Serve hot, passing the extra sauce.
Recipe adapted from The Little Paris Kitchen: 120 Simple but Classic French Recipes, by Rachel Khoo.