These delicious little tarts are my way of elevating the classic French sandwich, the croque madame. The croque madame is just a croque monsieur with a poached or fried egg on top… and a croque monsieur is basically a warm ham and cheese sandwich. Except it’s so much better than a regular ham and cheese sandwich because it’s also got a bechamel sauce, which is a deliciously smooth and creamy white sauce, and it’s topped with that bechamel and/or more cheese and broiled until it’s gooey and delicious and has little bubbled up browned bits on top. It’s a classic for a reason.
So, this past weekend I decided to take those flavors and turn them into individual tarts. A traditional bechamel has a pinch of nutmeg in it and, although it may sound a little strange in a savory dish if you’re used to only using nutmeg in spiced desserts (think pumpkin pie), I strongly recommend that you don’t skip it. It, along with the dried mustard that I added, pairs fantastically with the nutty, sharp Gruyere. Also, technically speaking, I melt the cheese into the bechamel sauce which turns it into a Mornay sauce in French cuisine.
I also recommend garnishing with chives. Unfortunately, when I was grocery shopping for this recipe, the store was out of chives – I don’t even know how that happens – but the only thing I could find were scallions, so that’s what I used to get a bright and mildly onion-y finish. Don’t get me wrong, I love scallions, but the lighter flavor of chives would be best here.
I used 5-inch round tart pans that can be found here on Amazon. I imagine this would work in one large tart pan but I haven’t tried it myself so I can’t guarantee the results. It’s definitely worth getting the mini tart pans, though, in my opinion; they’re also great for mini quiches or individual pies. These croque madame tarts would be a great addition to a brunch spread or even a good option the next time you want to do breakfast for dinner. Serve it with a nice green salad on the side and you’ve got a meal.
Although they’re best served fresh, you can reheat them in a low temp oven if you want to have them as leftovers (I’ve done 275 F for 25ish minutes) – just be aware that the egg will cook further, so if you know ahead of time you’ll keep some as leftovers, I’d slightly underbake the any that you plan to reheat.
Also, if you’re wondering why the egg yolks in my pictures look so orange, it’s because they’re farm fresh from my parents’ backyard chickens!
- 2 cups AP flour
- 4 Tbsp butter, cold and cubed
- 2 Tbsp vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
- Pinch of salt
- 1 egg
- 2-3 Tbsp ice water
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp flour
- 1 cup milk, 2% or whole, warmed
- 1 tsp ground mustard
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 oz Gruyere, shredded
- 5 slices of ham
- 5 eggs
- Chives or green onions and parmesan for garnish
Make the dough. Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Using your hands, two forks, or a pastry cutter, cut in the butter and Crisco. Work the flour and fats together until the bits of butter/Crisco are about the size of peas. With your hands, mix in the egg and 1 to 2 Tbsp of ice water. Add more ice water if necessary (up to 3 Tbsp total) until the dough begins to come together; if two pieces stick together when pressed together, it’s ready. Work the dough into one ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
After the dough has rested, divide it into five portions. Roll each portion out and line each mini tart pan, making sure the dough is pressed into the corners. Trim any excess dough around the edge. Chill the dough in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes while the oven preheats to 375 F.
Line the tart shells with parchment or tin foil and fill with pie weights/beans/rice/sugar. Bake for 15 minutes and then remove the weights and parchment or foil; bake for an additional 5 minutes and let cool slightly before filling.
While the tart shells bake, make the bechamel. Melt the butter in a saucepan and then stir in the flour. Cook the butter-flour mix for 1-2 minutes to cook out the taste of raw flour, whisking constantly. Slowly stir in the milk, whisking constantly, until fully incorporated. Let the sauce simmer until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Once thickened, take the sauce off the heat and stir in the cheese, mustard, and nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the cheese isn’t melting all the way, you can put the saucepan back on the stove on low heat until smooth.
When ready to fill the tart shells, first spoon a layer of the cheese sauce in the bottom of each shell, reserving some to drizzle on top. Lay a slice of ham in each shell. Crack an egg on top of each slice of ham – I cracked each egg into a small bowl and then poured into the tart just in case I broke any of the yolks while cracking. Drizzle the remaining cheese sauce on the top of each tart. This allows you to get some bubbly, browned bits of cheese in each tart.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on how runny or cooked you want the egg yolks to be. Season the egg with salt and pepper upon taking the tarts out of the oven. Let cool for about 5 minutes before garnishing with chives and parmesan. Enjoy!