Avenging the Count

My first encounter with a Monte Cristo sandwich wasn’t that long ago. I was visiting my best girls in Los Angeles, and we had decided to do something we’d never done: Disneyland. By midday, we’d spun in the teacups, screamed in the Tower of Terror and had our picture taken in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Famished, we turned in to the first restaurant we spotted: Cafe Orleans.

After perusing the menu, my friend decided to get the Monte Cristo, which was piled with turkey, ham and Swiss, fried in a batter, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and served with a berry purée. It sounded tasty, so when I noticed the restaurant had a meat-free version, I quickly scanned the description to see how the kitchen crew achieved such a feat. I was disappointed to learn that they just subbed mozzarella and brie for the ham and turkey, essentially creating a glorified grilled cheese. Surely the wonderful world of Disney could do better.

This less-than-inspired sandwich was at the top of my What Not To Do list as I began hatching a plan for this month’s column. Although, to be fair, the restaurant did have one good idea: Use more than one kind of cheese. Swiss is a must, as its distinct flavor marries really well with the saltiness of the “meat” and the sweetness of the jams. But my favorite melt-y cheese is Havarti. Since I often eat it with red grapes and crackers in the summer, I knew it could lend its talents here as well.

As for the rest of the ingredients, I found that they can really run the gamut. Some restaurants just use ham and cheese; some add turkey to the mix. Some home cooks put sliced tomatoes in between, and a few especially carnivorous ones love to add crispy bacon. I even found several recipes that call for spreading mustard on one side of the bread and jam on the other. And don’t even get me started on the bread debate. Plain white? Sourdough? Brioche? Ciabatta? The perfect bread for your sandwich is like the perfect amount of cream for your coffee: It’s personal. So, while I went with Companion’s Pain Beaucaire, a really nice white bread that holds this batter like a champ, I encourage you to follow your taste buds. Just make sure whatever loaf you choose is thickly cut, so there is plenty of space to soak up the egg mixture.

Between the bread, I decided on a classic combination with a couple twists: veggie deli turkey instead of ham, the aforementioned cheese duo, some crispy tempeh bacon, two kinds of jam and some Dijon mustard on the side for dipping. The end result left me believing that dreams really do come true.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches

4 Servings

12 smoky tempeh slices*
4 large eggs
½ cup milk (whatever kind you have in the fridge)
1 tsp. kosher salt plus more to taste
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. raspberry preserves
8 slices Companion Pain Beaucaire bread
8 slices Swiss cheese
24 veggie turkey slices*
8 slices Havarti cheese
6 Tbsp. fig spread
Dijon mustard
Up to 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter

• Prepare the tempeh bacon according to the instructions listed on the package. As you finish each batch, remove the cooked pieces to a paper-towel-lined plate and let sit until ready to use.
• In a shallow baking dish, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, sugar, nutmeg and flour. Set aside.
• Spread 1½ tablespoons of raspberry preserves on 1 slice of bread. Top with 2 slices of Swiss cheese, then 3 folded slices of turkey.
• Sprinkle a little salt atop the turkey, then add 2 slices of Havarti cheese and another 3 folded slices of turkey, followed by 3 tempeh slices. Spread 1½ tablespoons of fig spread on a second slice of bread, and place it atop the turkey slices. Repeat this process until 4 sandwiches are made.
• Melt 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter in a nonstick pan over medium-low to medium heat.
• Meanwhile, take 1 sandwich and pierce the bread on 1 side with a fork. Place the pierced side into the egg batter, press down and let sit for 1 minute. Pierce the other, upward-facing slice of bread with a fork. Flip the sandwich over and press this side into the batter. Let sit for 1 minute.
• Once the pan is hot, place the battered sandwich in the pan and place a heavy skillet or pan on top of the sandwich. Let cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the sandwich, place the heavy skillet back on top and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook 2 more minutes, this time leaving the heavy skillet off. Flip once more, and cook for 2 more minutes without the heavy skillet. (The goal is to melt the cheese by cooking it at a low temperature and flipping it more than once.) Remove to a plate and keep warm.
• Repeat the dipping and cooking process with the 3 remaining sandwiches, adding more butter as needed.
• Serve with a side of Dijon mustard for dipping.

* Available at Whole Foods, 1601 S. Brentwood Blvd., Brentwood, 314.968.7744, wholefoodsmarket.com