One summer, when I was young, we rented a house on the small island of Île de Ré, off the west coast of France. Along the way, a three-day drive from Oslo, through Denmark and Germany, we stopped at every flea market we could find to feed my parents’ treasure-hunting addiction. (To this day, I can’t pass up a flea market no matter how hard I try.)
One afternoon, we stopped at a roadside café. I didn’t understand a word of French, but I pretended to read the menu in a worldly manner. I zeroed in on a sandwich that I guessed was ham and cheese. What emerged from the kitchen was made with thick pieces of bread, covered with ham and melted cheese, and topped with a sunny-side-up egg. Heaven. Since that day, Croque Madame has been my favorite lunch.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1½ tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups whole milk, warmed, plus more if needed
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 8 slices brioche bread, sliced ½ inch thick (you can substitute challah or a good Pullman loaf)
- 8 slices ham (about ½ pound)
- 8 ounces grated Gruyère cheese (2 cups)
- 4 large eggs, fried sunny-side up
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F, with a rack in the middle. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the flour. Stir constantly for about a minute; do not let the mixture get dark.
3. Add the milk, a little at a time, stirring with a whisk until you have a smooth sauce. If it’s too thick, just add some more milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste and scrape the sauce into a shallow bowl.
4. Dip each of 4 pieces of bread into the sauce, then place the bread on the baking sheet.
5. Top each slice of bread with 2 slices of the ham and some of the cheese.
6. Dip the remaining 4 slices of bread and place one on top of each of the sandwich bottoms.
7. Top with the remaining cheese.
8. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
9. Serve hot, with a fried egg on top of each.