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We were at a diner near Lake Tahoe when I was first introduced to the idea of the Monte Cristo Sandwich. I say “idea of” because I didn’t dare order it since I was sort of afraid of our waiter and didn’t think he’d approve of my changing up the ingredients too much.

Yes, I wanted to be cool for our waiter, so I missed out on my first Monte Cristo opportunity! I’m sorry, Younger Me! I wish I’d been there to save you this pain!

In case you don’t know, a Monte Cristo Sandwich is like a Grilled Cheese with ham, but before it’s fried in the pan (in lots and lots of grease) it is dipped in an egg mixture like French Toast! I believe that the original recipe, if there is such a thing, requires it to be dusted with powdered sugar before serving.

Mind. Blown.

And also. Disgusted.

A little.

So now you see that I would have had to make, not one, but two changes to the way the sandwich was described on that diner menu near Lake Tahoe. I would have had to ask them to leave off the ham, which would have produced that familiar half-pitiful-half-scornful frown on our scary waiter’s brow. And then I would have asked him to also hold that ghastly powdered sugar so my European taste buds wouldn’t be offended by that sweet-and-savoury mix Americans seem to love so much.

I was (comparatively) young and I simply didn’t dare.

Partly because of my cowardice I am obsessed with the idea of the Monte Cristo Sandwich to this day. I have still not had it prepared for me in a restaurant, but that is simply due to the fact that it was never again offered on any menu I have hence encountered.

But! I have prepared it for Hubby and myself at home. Not really, though.

It seems like such a hassle to try and dip a fully prepared sandwich in egg batter and fry it in a pan where it would inexorably start leaking and spattering hot grease all over the place before it would eventually probably just fall apart and end up as a tasty yet unsightly heap on a plate.

It’s probably as easy as pie, but then there’s my cowardice again, you see?! And, yes, my lack of enthusiasm for doing all kinds of dishes.

So I put on my thinking cap to try and figure out a way to make this one a less-dishes-less-hassle-dinner.

Along the way, I also turned it vegetarian and slightly less fatty by not frying it in the pan but baking it in the oven. And I have never even considered trying it with powdered sugar. But you can of course douse the poor casserole in all kinds of sweet stuff when it comes out of the oven. Sugar, jam, compote, I’ve even seen ice-cream topping being suggested. *shudder*

So if you’re into that sort of thing, go right ahead.

I, for one, will stick to the all-savoury-version. For now.

So here’s my take on a

Monte Cristo Casserole

10 slices of rye bread (you could also use regular sandwich bread or even baguette)

5 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

3 tbsp butter, divided

6-10 slices of cheese (use something tasty, like gruyère)

sandwich toppings of your choice (ham is the classic, I used red-wine caramelized onions)

salt, pepper

optional: powdered sugar, jam, ketchup, sour cream

 

Generously butter a 9×13 inch baking dish with about 1 tbsp butter, then arrange 5 slices of bread in prepared dish, tearing one or two slices up to fill the gaps. Now lay on your cheese and toppings and cover with the remaining bread slices, filling all gaps as best you can.

Whisk together eggs and milk, season with salt and pepper, then pour over the “sandwiches” in the baking dish, making sure to distribute it evenly so every slice of bread gets soaked with eggs and milk. Gently push the bread down into the egg-mix with a spoon or spatula. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, until the bread has soaked up all of the liquid.

Top with small pats of butter all over, about 2 tbsp worth.

Bake in 350°F/180°C oven for 30-40 minutes, until the eggs have set and the top is lightly browned. If it gets too dark during baking, cover with aluminium foil.

If you have to, give it a dusting of powdered sugar right before serving.

Serve with jam, ketchup and/or sour cream and a nice salad.

 

This casserole is like a savoury French Toast Bread Pudding with Cheese. I really don’t know what else anyone would need to know about it.

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