Every Christmas and every Easter, I become something of a pig sniffing for truffles as I go in search of the best fruit mince tarts and hot cross buns. If for no other reason, this is what these two festive seasons mean to me. I know that is not the ideal or the intent and I should say it is about family and giving, but I can’t – I am purely motivate to find (and gobble) fruit mince tarts and hot cross buns. This is how I stumbled upon my favourite café in Melbourne – La Tropezienne.
I don’t think it is a very common thing to remember the exact moment when you discover a café. But I do distinctly recall when I walked into La Tropezienne – I was in search of fruit mince tarts. Since that moment, the years have been filled with countless visits for what is arguably some the best food outside of France and in Melbourne. From baguettes to my most adored macarons this café never fails to disappoint me. It reminds me of eating in Paris – and that makes me so very happy! Among the many yummy things to eat, La Tropezienne make the best croque monsieur in Melbourne, confidently rivaling any eaten in France. And this version of a French classic is my ‘homage’ to my favourite café.
The difficulty I have in describing a croque monsieur is to avoid the temptation to reduce it to a simple ham and cheese sandwich. Fundamentally, it is a ham and cheese sandwich, but to call it such, is to simply miss the point. I can not recall who said it, but I remember someone once saying that the French can make anything chic – even a simple sandwich. And that is what they have managed to do with a croque monsieur.
4 slices sour-dough loaf
8 slices ham
180ml milk, hot
150g grated cheese (100g and 50g)
3 tsp’s plain flour
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp nutmeg, grated
Cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C.
In a saucepan, begin the béchamel sauce by making a roux. Melt the butter until it is bubbling and then add the flour. Using a whisk, stir the roux well until the flour is incorporated. When ever you make a roux, take time to cook the flour, otherwise you are left with an unpleasant floury taste. Keep stirring until it just starts to take on a more nutty caramel colour, but don’t let it burn. As soon as you reach this point, add the mustard and stir until until it is well combined. Then add approximately half of the hot milk and whisk vigorously to ensure any lumps are removed and the sauce begins to thicken. When the sauce is smooth, add the remaining milk, continuing to whisk to ensure no lumps form. Finally, add 100g of the cheese and mix well until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Set the sauce aside, removing it from the heat.
Next, assemble the layers, beginning with the first slice of bread by adding one slice of ham. Next carefully spread enough of the béchamel sauce to cover the ham, taking it no further than the edges of the bread. Add the second slice of bread on top and repeat the layers with the ham and more béchamel sauce. Top the sauce with half of the remaining grated cheese, grated nutmeg and cracked pepper. Repeat the same process for the second croque.
Place the croques in an oven-proof pan and gently toast the bottom over a medium to high heat. Then transfer the pan to a preheated oven for around 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the sauce has begun to brown to a toasty nut colour. If you don’t have an oven proof pan, just transfer the croques to a baking tray (perhaps lined with foil). The purpose of toasting the croques in a pan is to ensure the bottom is cooked. You can skip this stage if you’d like, but the bottom slice of bread may be a little more soggy than you’d prefer.
It is best to eschew the temptation to eat more than one – le croque monsieur can be a little rich. Besides – less is definitely more.
P.S. – La Tropezienne have fantastic fruit mince tarts and hot cross buns! They are some of my absolute favourites and they are always stashed away for secret chomping business!