Hosting guests can be a lot of fun, but let's face it — serving breakfast for everyone is stressful. This is true even if you go with a simple meal, like quick omelets or breakfast sandwiches. You'll still need to hang out by the stovetop, which makes it difficult for you to actually spend time with your guests or eat your own morning meal.
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The solution? A make-ahead breakfast recipe, like this croque madame casserole. The best part is that it can be prepared the night before, making it ideal for busy mornings with a small crowd. Simply pop it in the oven about an hour before breakfast, then sit back until it's ready.
If you're unfamiliar with croque madame, it's a classic sandwich from France. It consists of a grilled cheese and ham sandwich that's topped with creamy béchamel sauce and a fried egg. It's also wonderfully rich and satisfying, especially when paired with leafy greens and hot coffee or tea.
This recipe calls for the same ingredients, but in casserole form. Cubes of white bread are soaked in an eggy mixture, then tossed with chopped ham and shredded cheese. The entire dish is doused in béchamel sauce and topped with even more eggs. It's like multiple croque madame sandwiches have been deconstructed and baked together.
If some of your guests are vegetarian, you can separate the filling between two smaller dishes, then mix ham into one. Regardless, this make-ahead croque madame casserole recipe is sure to be a hit. Read on for the full recipe.
Things You'll Need
7 to 8 cups stale French baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded
2 cups Black Forest ham, chopped
9 large eggs
1 cup half-and-half
3/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Fresh thyme or chives, for topping (optional)
Unsalted butter, for greasing
If your ham is already salty, feel free to omit the salt.
Grease a large casserole dish with unsalted butter.
In a large bowl, whisk six eggs. Add the milk, half-and-half, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Then mix well.
Add the cubed bread, then toss until every piece is soaked (you can let the mixture sit for a few minutes to help with this).
Fold in the shredded cheese and chopped ham.
Transfer to the greased casserole dish.
If you're making this casserole in advance, tightly cover it with aluminum foil. Store it in the refrigerator for four hours or overnight. Before baking, let the casserole sit at room temperature while the oven is preheating, about 10 to 15 minutes. This will let the actual dish reach room temperature before entering the hot oven.
Things You'll Need
1 1/3 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
Dash of nutmeg
In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk until fully dissolved and smooth, about one minute.
Add the milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Simmer for five to seven minutes, or until thick and creamy.
If you're making this casserole in advance, transfer the béchamel sauce to a sealed air-tight container and store it in the refrigerator. When you're ready to bake the casserole, warm the sauce in a skillet over low heat. Add a splash of milk to thin the sauce, then construct the casserole as usual.
Croque Madame Casserole
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the béchamel sauce on top of the bread mixture.
Press the back of a large spoon into the casserole to create shallow cavities.
Crack an egg into a small bowl, then transfer it into one of the cavities. Repeat with the remaining eggs, taking care to place them away from the edge. Top with additional cheese and chopped ham, if you'd like.
Loosely cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the bread is golden brown. Remove from the oven, take off the foil, and increase the oven's temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the oven has reached the correct temperature, return the uncovered casserole. Bake for another five to 10 minutes or until the eggs are set to your liking.
Let cool slightly before serving. Garnish with fresh thyme and/or chopped chives, if you'd like, and enjoy with a side salad.
Kirsten Nunez is a writer and author who focuses on food, health, and DIY. In May 2014, she published a craft book, "Studs & Pearls: 30 Creative Projects for Customized Fashion." Her work has appeared on eHow, Martha Stewart, Shape, VegNews, and more. She lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York.