Croque Madame

This is one of my favourite sandwiches ever and so great for a weekend lunchtime treat. I’ve been trying to recreate my favourite version for a while and I think I’ve finally got the balance right – turns out you can have too much bechamel sauce. Would would have thought it.

Anyway, since I’m running out of words (unless you want to hear about fracturing toughnesses and patterned grounds) I’ll go straight to the recipe.

Croque Madame 

Ingredients (makes 4)

3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp olive oil (you can use butter, but I’m Greek)
less than a pint of milk (excuse the vagueness but I never measure – you should be able to tell from the consistency of the sauce)
1/2 to 1 tsp of english mustard (to taste)
pinch of nutmeg
salt and black pepper

8 slices of bread
lots of cheddar (about 2 cups when grated)
4 slices of ham

Quickly fry the flour in the fat over medium heat until you’ve got a paste – do not overcook or your sauce will taste biscuity. Take off the heat and add a splash of milk and incorporate until you’ve got a smooth mixture. Turn the heat on again on low-medium and keep adding milk and mixing until the mixture is thick. You want it to be slightly thicker than normal bechamel so make sure you don’t add too much milk. Stir in the mustard, salt and pepper, and let it cool slightly.

Start preparing the toasties: spread about half a tablespoon of bechamel on one side, top with grated cheese and a slice of ham, and toast them using a panini press or a griddle pan. If you’re doing it on the hob, make sure it’s on medium heat as you don’t want the bread to toast before the cheese is melted.

Turn the grill on to preheat. When the toasties are golden on both sides, top with a tablespoon of bechamel each, and then more grated cheese. Place under the grill for a few minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is starting to brown. In the meantime, fry 4 eggs – I did them all in one large frying pan, so it didn’t take long.

To serve, just top each sandwich with a fried egg.

Apple Tarte Tatin

I absolutely love apple desserts: apple crumbles, apple pies, apple tarts. Saying that, it is weird that I only discovered tarte tatin when, a couple of years ago, I got a French (almost) housemate. She loves cooking too, and one evening she produced the best apple tart I had ever tasted. How had I not thought of this before? Caramelised apple tart. The perfect dessert? Possibly.

I didn’t try it to make myself though. It always seemed a bit of a faff to be honest, and everyone who made a tarte tatin on Masterchef (and Masterchef is never wrong) used some kind of fancy equipment or made it look and sound too complicated.

The other day, I had a lot of apples left and it had been a hard week, so we thought we’d cook ourselves a treat. We made some steaks and some dauphinoise potatoes and I made a tarte tatin for pudding. Well, almost. I completely underestimated how long it would take to cook, so we had brownies for pudding and I decided to finish the tarte tatin the next morning.

And this is the only thing that stops this from being the perfect recipe: it takes a while. But it’s completely worth it. Perfectly sweet and soft apples in the middle, sticky at the edges, with crumbly, buttery puff pastry at the bottom for some texture contrast.

Apple Tarte Tatin

Ingredients

6 crisp medium apples
100 gr butter, softened
100 gr caster sugar
250 gr puff pastry

Peel and core the apples and cut them in quarters. Spread the butter as evenly as possible on the bottom of a round oven-proof bowl, with a flat bottom, about 20cm in diameter. Sprinkle the sugar on the top.

Place the apples, cut side up, symmetrically around the bowl. The bottom side is going to be on the top later on, so make it as pretty as you can. When/if you run out of space, slice the rest of the quarters in 2-3 pieces and place them on top of the apples already in the the bowl. It doesn’t matter if these will look pretty as they will end up at the bottom of the tart anyway.¬†

Cover with foil and cook in the oven at 170 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Take the foil off and cook for another half hour, making sure the top doesn’t burn.

Roll your pastry in a circle big enough to cover the apples. Place it on top of them (I did that when mine had cooled down, not sure if it makes a huge difference but you’ve been warned) and tuck the ends inside, between the apples and the bowl. With a knife, pierce the pastry in a couple of places to make sure any steam can come out. Cook for half an hour or until the pastry is cooked.

The bottom should now be looking beautifully caramelised. Place a plate on top of the bowl (make sure you don’t burn yourself!) and quickly turn it upside down so that the pastry lands on the plate. The apples should follow.

I was a bit scared of this part but it actually worked fine, almost nothing got stuck on the bowl. Any buttery juice will end up on the pastry, making the edges really sticky. It is genius.

Serve with vanilla ice cream or some creme fraiche. I love it either warm or cold. And now that I know how to make it, it’s my new favourite dessert. It does take time, but you don’t have to do anything as your oven will do all the work. Perfect for a weekend treat or a dinner party as it is definitely a crowd pleaser.