Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Count Me In

I am noting a mini-trend here at Austin Agrodolce. I will read about, or more accurately, look at a photo of some dish or other somebody has made and simply have to try it. Immediately. If. Not. Sooner.

As my had-to-have-them pickled peppers were resting on their laurels in the refrigerator, I spotted this breakfasty bit of deliciousness on Sue Bette's Feelgood Eats - the Monte Cristo Bake.

A traditional Monte Cristo sandwich, Croque-Monsieur or a Croque-Mademoiselle either one, is typically a savory deal, but this version takes the idea of ham and melty cheese and eggy toasty bread and ingeniously layers it into a french toast type casserole. Hello, Brave New World!

Sue Bette posits this recipe may be a real ace in the hole for anybody with weekend visitors headed their way . I would agree. Problem was, we have no weekend visitors slated in the foreseeable future and I wanted, no strike that, needed to have me some Monte Cristo Bake of my own. Stat!

The recipe bakes up enough to serve 6-8 people. That is way too many servings for our little empty nest so I figured to divide the recipe in half as a natural candidate for Breakfast for Dinner. Problem number one solved. I made my shopping list and headed out the door. I had everything I needed on hand with the exception of brioche or challah. Three stores later I realized I'd run into problem number two. No eggbread or challah. None. Zero. Nunca. Zippity.

As much as I was craving French Toast now I was not wanting to make brioche or challah either one so I took a deep breath and plotted a substitute. I figured on the two likeliest candidates that were available. Hawaiian Bread or Croissants.King's Hawaiian bread is not only delicious but is very close to what they use to make our family favorite "away" french toast in Hawaii. Croissants are well, croissants, you know? Nothing says elegant simplicity for breakfast like a hot croissant.

In the end I went with the croissants because while both have a lighter, slightly airier texture than either Brioche or Challah, the Hawaiian bread is sweeter on its own than the croissant and with the powdered sugar and cinnamon vanilla'ed egg soak plus the maple syrup drizzled on top already providing beaucoup de sweet in the recipe, I wanted that buttery flavor of the croissant as a foil.

Since I was using crescent shaped rolls I pulled out a 9 inch round glass baking dish to make the shape work for me. I buttered the pan, and put together a half recipe of the Monte Cristo bake using six croissants as a substitute for a half loaf of bread. Rather than trying to slice the croissants, I broke them in half crosswise and used each hemi-croissant as a "slice".

Now pardon me for lapsing into extremely technical kitchen speak here but I did slightly squish the croissants down before putting them in the egg soak. Afterwards, since I already had the browned surface of the croissant as the top of the casserole I skipped running it up under the broiler, although in retrospect if I kept a close eye on it for overbrowning I think that wouldn't hurt. I would not try this in a round metal cake pan or tart pan as those might be too shallow. You'll want something closer to three inches deep to contain every drop of casseroley goodness.

I was thrilled with the result. It was totally delicious and is something I will make and serve to guests without hesitation. One out of one husbands surveyed gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs/one fork up. I will certainly try it as originally written given the appropriate quantity to feed or the availability of challah or brioche. I did not make an exhaustive search in all honesty - there are several artisanal bakeries around town I could have hit, but I was trying to be mindful of prudent travel habits, avoiding making a trip anywhere for just one thing.For anyone who wonders about the presence of cheese and ham inside two french toasty layers, I rush to reassure you it is not at all weird or intrusive in the proportions given. The cheese/ham layer does create a bit of a slide zone when you are cutting the bake up to eat, so I'd provide guests with a knife to make that a little less a daunting social challenge and a little more a delightful meal experience. Nobody wants to end up with the toasty-syrupy-sugary wonderfulness of the Monte Cristo Bake on the napkin in their lap rather than in their mouth.

Sue Bette suggests this as a great partner for scrambled eggs and coffee, but we found it plenty eggy and filling enough on its own. Perhaps that was because of the ginormous servings I gave us. I think it would pair very nicely with a fruit salad and/or mimosas, myself. Those who know me well will attest: I never met a mimosa I didn't like.

Don't wait to have company over to try this Monte Cristo Bake. Breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, this Monte Cristo bake was easy to put together, can be made ahead and baked when you need it, and reheats well. Come to think of it, that makes this recipe a pretty perfect guest all on its own!

1 comment:

PassivePastry said...

i want this.

i loooove monte cristos.

i love french toast.

i love cheese.

i love food?