The Monte Cristo

monte2
Photo Credit: Jocelyn & Cathy at FoodishFetish, 2014.

 

The “Monte Cristo” is thought to be a tribute to the French novel, “The Count of Monte Christo” by Alexander Dumas, and as such, the sandwich’s name suggests its French origins.

Basically, a Monte Cristo is a fried ham and cheese sandwich, which can be considered a variation of the French croque-monsieur. Recipes for the sandwich abound, with regional variations.

In the Southern United States, versions of the Monte Cristo calls for dipping it in egg and then heavy breading, like corn flakes, rice cereal or bread crumbs. The egg battered sandwich is then deep fried, resulting in an all-over very crusty exterior. ANd because everything is not for every body, as my Grand would say, most people prefer the more traditional grilled sandwich, as it is lower in fat than its deep fried versions.

 

Some Monte Cristo sandwiches also vary ingredients, and may include baked chicken, turkey as well as ham and Swiss, or may add several types of cheeses. Some restaurants combine the traditional triple-decker club sandwich of turkey, ham or bacon, and Swiss, dip in it egg and present this as a Monte Cristo. This is not the traditional sandwich, but many argue that it is an improvement. In some areas of the contiguous United States, it is served grilled; in other regions, it served as  an open sandwich with only the bread battered and the assembled sandwich heated slightly under a grill or broiler. A finished Monte Cristo tends to be topped with a small amount of powdered sugar and is most traditionally served with raspberry or strawberry jam. In some cases, maple syrup is served in place of the jam. Though many think the combination unusual, the flavors actually seem to work well together, accounting for its continued popularity for modern diners of today.

 

 

brown derby cookbookIn the 1930s–1960s, American cookbooks had recipes for this sandwich under such names as “French Sandwich”, “Toasted Ham Sandwich”, and “French Toasted Cheese “. The first know written recipe was found in the 1949 cookbook published by the Brown Derby Restaurant in Los Angeles, California. Although it may be speculated that the sandwich had been previously served at several other Los Angeles restaurants, there is no definitive evidence on its precise origins or who really invented the sandwich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown_Derby_on_Wilshire_entrance_1956Opened in 1926, the original restaurant at 3427 Wilshire Boulevard was the first and most famous of these distinctive eateries, shaped like a man’s derby hat, an iconic image that became synonymous with the Golden Age of Hollywood. Whimsical architecture was popular at the time, and the restaurant was designed to catch the eye of passing motorists. The Brown Derby name originated from a Malverne, New York-based restaurant of the same name that had been a popular hang-out for vaudevillians in the 1920s. The Los Angeles based resturant was founded by Wilson Mizner as a small cafe, across the street from the popular Hollywood hot spot the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel. Wilson was the front man; Herbert K. Somborn, who was a former husband of film star Gloria Swanson, owned the property and movie mogul Jack L. Warner put up the money for the initial investment of the restaurant. Wilson Mizner sat in booth 50 almost every day.

The cafe was successful enough to warrant building a second branch later. Soon after its opening, the Brown Derby chain was started by Robert H. Cobb and Herbert K. Somborn. The original, derby-shaped building was moved in 1937 to 3377 Wilshire Boulevard at the northeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Alexandria Avenue, about a block from its previous location and directly across the street from the Ambassador Hotel.

 

 

brown derby menuOver the years, the sandwich gained great popularity in the United States in the 1960s, when the Blue Bayou restaurant in Disneyland began serving it on a regular basis. Disneyland’s version deep fried the sandwich, which some people feel results in an overly greasy result.

In September 1980, the original Brown Derby restaurant closed without warning Local preservationists unsuccessfully tried to stop the building from being bulldozed. Unfortunately, the demolition was completed in November and replaced by a parking lot. It should be noted that a Disney-backed Brown Derby national franchising program revived the brand in the 21st century and brought the Monte Cristo sandwich back to the public.

The Monte Cristo has appeared on various menus, including the Cheesecake Factory and Denny’s. I really love this old-time classic version listed here. It is the prefect sandwich for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. Traditionally served with a side of jam or jelly, to make this a savory treat you can add a dab of Dijon mustard, if you like. Although this sandwich can be quartered and deep fried separately, many of the earliest recipes like this one adapted from the Brown Derby Cookbook, calls for frying the sandwich in a skillet, much like French Toast.

 

 

Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
Salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, taste
5 tablespoons butter, softened
6 pieces thinly sliced white bread
4 thin slices cooked turkey
4 thin slices cooked ham
4 thin slices Swiss cheese or Gruyere Cheese
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Strawberry Jam, Raspberry Jam or Red currant jelly, for dipping

 

Directions:
To make the egg batter, lightly beat eggs and milk in a shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

For each sandwich, lightly butter 3 slices of bread on both sides. Place 2 slices of turkey and 2 of ham between 2 slices of bread. Top with 2 slices of cheese and add last slice of bread.

Trim crusts, secure with toothpicks, and cut in half on the diagonal.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat.

Dip sandwich halves, top and bottom, in the egf batter. When butter foams, place sandwiches in skillet and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to skillet, turn sandwiches, and fry for 2 minutes more.

Transfer to plates, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, and serve with jam or jelly.

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Hoecakes and Honey

General Washington started each day with a breakfast of hoecakes as described by members of his family and guests. More than likely, Washington’s first mea1 of the day was prepared by the enslaved chef, Hercules Posey. Washington’s family loved Hercules’ cooking – Washington’s step-grandson described Hercules as one of the best chefs in America. Washington praised Hercules’ cooking so much the president was reportedly angered and surprised when Hercules escaped and sought his own freedom.This recipe is a modern adaptation of the 18th-century original recipe found among the letters of Nelly Parke Custis Lewis, Washington’s step-granddaughter.

Hoecakes Collage

 

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Galettes des rois

gallete

 

Photo Credit: Dominique Ansel Bakery, 2018

 

Starting in late December, pastry shops in Paris start jumping the gun, and windows and showcases begin filling up with Galettes des rois, or King Cakes, in anticipation of the celebration of Epiphany, held on January 6th.

 The French have been serving up galette des rois since the 14th-century. Traditionally, the  season of the galetter des rois begins on Twelfth Night and ends on Shrove Tuesday.  The cake is served on January 6th – the 12th day of Christmas – to celebrate the Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the Wise Men, Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, who travelled  from the three continents, Asia, Africa and Europe, to the manger in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, to present their gifts.

Today, it’s eaten throughout the month of January and is simply a festive way to celebrate the new year with family and friends, regardless of religious background.

Composed of a puff pastry cake, with a small charm, the fève, hidden inside, it is usually filled with frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar. But more gourmet versions are available for us to enjoy, with chocolate, apple or candied fruits. Every year, the leading French pâtissiers offer exclusive creations for the tradition of crowning the one who finds the fève.

The Fève

Like many Christian festivals, the date of Epiphany corresponds to what was originally a pagan festival. In the past, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, the festival of the winter solstice, at which a king or queen was chosen for one day, by means of a  fèves : a white or black bean baked inside a loaf of bread and the person who found the bean was crowned king for the day.

The item baked into the cake is called a fève, which means “bean”, a broad bean to be exact, which was the original king selector. In the 18th century, the fève was a porcelain figurine representing the nativity, in particular, the Baby Jesus. At the end of the 19th century, the beans were replaced by porcelain figurines. Even though the trinkets in the cake are no longer beans, they are still called fèves. They might be tiny santons (nativity figures), cartoon characters, or any number of other things. There are collectors of these fèves and even a fève museum.

Galette des Rois - 3 feves
If you are lucky, you might find a fève like one of these in your slice of cake.

Today, the fèves get more and more creative as well: some boulangeries (bakeries) create special collections of fèves depicting modern themes from great works of art, to classic movie stars, or even popular cartoon characters. Naturally, if you are making your own galette, you will  need to buy your own fève, which can be bought here: http://www.fevesdumonde.com.

Nowadays there is a wide range of different fèves which are much sought-after by collectors. The family tradition is for everyone to gather together to cut the famous cake. The youngest child goes under the table and points out the guests, who are then given their portion of the cake. A cardboard crown is supplied with the cake. The one who finds the fève is crowned and chooses his or her queen or king.

The Christian church changed the solstice celebration to the Epiphany and fixed the date as the 6th of January. With the “king for a day” theme already established, it became the time to remember the kings who presented gifts to the baby Jesus. Over the years, the bean-in-the-bread turned into a bean-in-the-cake and became known as the galette des rois, “cake of the kings”.

Cake vs. Pie

In 16th century Paris, this king cake was at the center of a conflict between the boulangeries (bakeries) and the patisseries (cake shops). They each wanted the sole rights to make and sell it. The cake shops won, but the bakeries weren’t about to give up so easily. If they were forbidden to make king cakes, then they would make king pies. And this is why  there are two very  distinct versions of king cake today.

In the south of France,  you will be eating a circular  cake made of  a sweet brioche-style  dough with a hollow circle in the center. The cake is then  covered with a variety of  candied fruits.

In northern France, the galette des rois favored by most of the  French populous is  in its simple version that looks more like a pie made of a pâte feuilleté, flaky puff pastry,  filled with frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar. The galette is then decorated  with notches incised across the top of  it and browned in the oven.

It is said that frangipane was invented as  scent to perfume the leather gloves of King Louis XIII that were  made by a Florentine nobleman, the Marquis of Frangipani. Soon after Frangipani, living in France, released his fragrance made from bitter almonds to the public and  the local patisseries created a cream made with milk, sugar, flour, eggs, butter and ground almonds. They named it frangipane. Little could 16th century Frangipani, have guessed  that the  scent  would inspire pastry chefs for centuries to follow.

Other variations of the galette can be found as well, from shortbread-style, popular in Western France, to those that have alternate fillings, such as chocolat-poire (chocolate-pear) or raspberry. Abroad, the famous galette des rois has a lot of fans, notably at Belgian and Dutch tables. There are customs of eating king cakes  in a number of countries with the festival of Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season; in other places, such as New York, London and Berlin In New Orleans, Louisiana,   king cakes are  associated with the pre-Lenten celebrations of Mardi Gras and Carnival.

Modern Traditions

The cake with the fève is a long-standing tradition which is still very popular today. At January gatherings, when it is time to serve the cake, the youngest child gets under the table. Tradition also dictates that when serving galette des rois, the host or hostess cuts the entire cake  such that each guest receives a slice, plus an extra, symbolic slice for any unexpected visitor, or poor person, that should pass by. In this way, everyone has the opportunity to “tirer les rois,” – or “draw the kings” – from the cake. The  child is then asked by the host or hostess, “Who is this piece for?” The child calls out a name and the cake is distributed according to his instructions. This way there can be no cheating, as the child cannot see the fève and play favorites. Everyone chews their piece of cake very slowly, to avoid cracking a tooth, until the fève is found.

Whoever finds the fève becomes the king (or queen) for the day. They get to wear a paper crown which is supplied with the cake, if bought from a French bakery. The king’s  or queen’s responsibility is to bring another king cake to the next gathering – and that probably means the following week because the French eat these cakes during the entire month of January. This way everyone gets a chance to find the fève, wear the crown, and be king or queen of the party.

The Christian church changed the solstice celebration to the Epiphany and fixed the date as the 6th of January. With the “king for a day” theme already established, it became the time to remember the kings who presented gifts to the baby Jesus. Over the years, the bean-in-the-bread turned into a bean-in-the-cake and became known as the galette des rois, “cake of the kings”.

The pleasure brought by a galette des rois isn’t merely due to its delicious taste – it’s also the anticipation of wondering whether you will be the lucky one to discover la fève, a tiny charm, buried inside one of the slices. The good thing about making your  galette own is that you can customize the  almond filling, to your taste. So who will become king or queen for the day at your house? Bake a galette and have a little fun with the family. Make a foil or paper crown to place atop the cake before eating it (if you buy it at a bakery in France, they will provide the crown).

If you are lucky enough to find the fève, you’re “king for a day” and take your place in a 700-year old French tradition.

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients:
For the Almond filling:
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill® Almond Flour
½ cup granulated sugar
zest of 1/2 orange
⅛ teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons Finlandia® Butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons Courvoisier® Cognac (or rum)
teaspoon almond extract
teaspoon vanilla extract
2 sheets puff pastry
2-3 tablespoons apricot jam
1 whole almond, or small dried apricot fruit if desired (the fève)
Water, for sealing

For the Egg Wash:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon light cream

Directions:
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, sugar, flour, orange zest and salt. Cut in the butter until incorporated. Stir in the egg, cognac almond extract, vanilla extract. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for up to 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the two pastry sheets to 10-inch squares. Using a pie plate or other round object, cut 2 10-inch circles.

Place one circle on your lined baking sheet. Spread the apricot jam in the center, leaving a 2 inch edge. Top with the chilled almond filling. Place the almond in the filling, if desired.

Brush water over the edge of the bottom circle. Top with the second pastry circle and pinch along the edge to seal.

To crimp, use your thumb and pointer finger together, pressing the back of a paring knife into the edge to create the crease. Continue around the entire tart.

Galette des Rois

Whisk together the egg yolk and cream. Brush over the entire tart. Decorate the tart by scoring the tart with a pairing knife to leave indentations.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before cutting.

King cakes of the type locally called “French style” on display at the chain bakery/restaurant “La Madeline” branch in Carrollton, New Orleans. Note they come with cardboard “crowns” to be worn by whoever gets the slice with the token and becomes monarch of the event.

 

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