Triple-Decker Croque Monsieurs

The French version of grilled cheese, known as a croque monsieur, is simply the ultimate. To double the decadence, I build a second layer of ham and cheese on the first. Slathered with a mustard-infused bechamel and griddled until golden brown, these triangular bites are made for sharing.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 45 min
  • Active: 15 min
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings
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Ingredients

Mustard Bechamel Sauce:

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/4 yellow onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seed

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 small bay leaf

2 points star anise

2 cloves

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Kosher salt

Additional Ingredients:

12 slices brioche loaf or challah

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese

16 wide slices Black Forest ham (about 8 ounces), trimmed to fit the bread

8 wide slices domestic Muenster cheese (about 6 ounces), trimmed to fit the bread

Unsalted butter, for buttering the sandwiches, at room temperature

Directions

Special equipment:
16 bamboo or wooden skewers, for serving
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. To make the sauce: Bring the milk, cream, onion, mustard seed, nutmeg, bay leaf, star anise, and cloves to a simmer in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, taking care that the mixture does not boil over. Reduce the heat to low and heat to steep without reducing the liquid, about 10 minutes. Strain the mixture through a wire sieve into a bowl. Press hard on the solids, then discard them. Wash the saucepan.
  3. Melt the butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and let bubble without browning for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the hot milk mixture and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, whisking often, until no raw flour taste remains, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Dijon mustard. Season to taste with salt. Transfer the sauce to a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the surface, and let cool completely. (The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.)
  4. To make four triple-decker sandwiches: For each sandwich, spread a bread slice with about 1 tablespoon of the warm sauce, followed by 2 tablespoons of shredded Gruyere, 2 slices of ham, and 1 slice of Muenster. Repeat with a second bread slice, sauce, Gruyere, ham, and Muenster. Top with a third slice of bread. Cover the remaining sauce with the saucepan lid and set aside. (The sandwiches can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature, with the sauce, for up to 2 hours.)
  5. Spread the butter on the outermost slices of bread of each sandwich.
  6. Heat a griddle over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Place the sandwiches onto the griddle. Cook, adjusting the heat as needed so the sandwiches don't brown too quickly but the bread has time to toast, until the undersides are golden brown, about 5 minutes. Flip them over to brown the other sides and heat the sandwiches through, about 5 minutes more. Transfer the sandwiches to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the cheese melts, about 5 minutes.
  7. Cut each sandwich into quarters with a sharp, serrated knife to avoid pressing the sandwich. Serve warm with any remaining sauce.

Cook’s Note

Rectangular loaves of brioche bread are sold at many specialty bakeries and natural food superstores. Challah is similar to brioche, but it is usually braided and makes irregularly shaped slices. Although egg-enriched bread is my personal favorite, any good- tasting sandwich bread will do for this recipe. The proportions of the filling may change slightly with the size of the bread slices, so be flexible with the amounts. If your bechamel is too thick, whisk in additional heavy cream to reach your desired consistency.

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