Imagine the most delicious mash-up of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and a decadent stack of buttery French toast. You’d have tender-crisp, custardy bread stuffed with sweet ham and gooey Gruyère cheese that oozes with every bite. Luckily, this isn’t just a sandwich of your imagination — it very much exists, and it’s called a Monte Cristo.
You may have seen a Monte Cristo on the menu of your local French cafe, but never thought to make it at home. But you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy this popular brunch order is to make at home, and how much better it tastes, too. And while Monte Cristos are ideal for breakfast and lunch, my family devours them for dinner as well.
Perfect, Classic Monte Cristo Sandwiches
Most food historians agree that the Monte Cristo originated in France as a simplified version of the Croque-Monsieur or Croque Madame sandwich. It became popularized by California cafes in the 1950s, where it first appeared on a menu as The Monte and most notably become a staple at Disneyland California in their New Orleans Square.
3 Tips for Mastering a Monte Cristo at Home
Start with the right ingredients: Making a really good Monte Cristo at home starts at the grocery store. A thickly sliced sturdy sandwich bread will make dipping, frying, and cooking the sandwich easier. Next, head to the deli for ham. A pound of slightly sweet honey ham works best. Buy the Gruyère in a block and grate it rather than buying slices so that the cheese melts more quickly and evenly in the pan.
Build your Monte Cristos assembly-style: Mix up the custard first and set it aside. Lay out all 8 pieces of bread for 4 sandwiches and spread the mustard onto 4 slices and the mayo on the others. Stack each mustard-covered slice with cheese, ham, cheese. The cheese on both sides of the sandwich holds the bread in place while flipping. Top the sandwiches with the mayo-swiped bread.
Cook two sandwiches at a time: Heat a little butter in your largest pan — cast iron works well for Monte Cristos. Then, dunk one sandwich at a time in the custard and transfer it straight to the hot pan. You’ll get the most even cooking if you cook just two sandwiches at a time. Transfer finished sandwiches to a cooling rack to keep them crisp while you finish cooking the remaining sandwiches.
- Whisk together the egg dip. Whisk the eggs, half-and-half, salt, and pepper together in a baking dish ir large, wide bowl until combined; set aside.
- Build the sandwiches. Spread the mustard in a thin, even layer on 4 of the bread slices. Repeat with the mayonnaise and remaining 4 bread slices. Sprinkle half of the cheese on the mustard slices. Place the ham on top of the cheese, then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the ham. Close the sandwiches with the remaining bread mayo-side down.
- Dip the sandwiches, working two at a time. Dip and cook 2 sandwiches at a time. Dip each sandwich in the egg mixture — soaking each side for about 1 minute.
- Cook two sandwiches at a time. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat until melted. Add the 2 dipped sandwiches and cook until golden-brown on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip with a wide, flat spatula and continue cooking until the cheese is melted and the ham is warm, 3 to 4 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack or keep warm in a low oven. Repeat dipping and cooking the remaining 2 sandwiches.
- Slice and serve. Slice each sandwich in half and dust with powdered sugar just before serving with jam if desired.