The first time I went to Paris I told Mike that I had to have a croque monsieur or croque madame. Croques are classic French bistro fare and since I figured we’d be spending a lot of time café hopping, I had it all planned out in my mind: we would sit at one of those cute little sidewalk cafes, with the round tables and colorful rattan chairs, the chatter of French conversation all around us. Of course, when we got into Paris, it was pouring. The rain meant that Mike and I couldn’t sit outside, but I didn’t let that stop me from ordering a very authentic croque madame. It was a super cozy experience – the rain falling down incessantly on the eves, the warmth inside the cafe, Mike and I snuggled up against each other sharing a crispy, cheesy knife and fork sandwich.
Croques have fancy French names, but basically they’re grilled ham and cheese sandwiches topped with béchamel – a creamy white sauce. They’re crisp and gooey, decadent and rich, and absolutely addictive. I like making croque monsieurs with a bit of mustard – it really helps cut through the richness and adds an extra dimension of flavor.
Funnily enough, I never used to like mustard. But now that I’m a grown up, mustard is one of my all time favorite things. I love trying out different varieties because they all lend such different flavors to whatever they’re complimenting. French’s just came out with two new mustards, Sweet Yellow Mustard and Spicy Yellow Mustard, and they fit in perfectly for a fun French picnic idea that I had.
I really wanted croque monsieurs for our picnic, but since they don’t really travel well, I decided to use puff pastry to make some tiny tarts. I just love how well these little guys turned out – they’re super portable and easy to make ahead of time. Plus they taste great either warm out of the oven or at room temperature, which is perfect for a picnic.
The real secret to these tarts is the mustard béchamel. Usually, when I’m making croque monsieurs, I just go ahead and spread some mustard on to my bread, but for these little guys, I came up with the brilliant idea of putting French’s Spicy Yellow Mustard into the béchamel. I contemplated going with French’s Sweet Yellow Mustard, which would have paired wonderfully with the ham, but I was in a spicy mood.
The mustard béchamel added just the right amount of je ne sais quoi to my little ham and cheese croque moniseur puff pastry tarts. C’est bon!
Mini Ham and Cheese Croque Monsieur Puff Pastry Tarts Recipe
makes 12-16 mini tarts
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 15 minutes
total time: 45 minutes
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 – 2 tablespoons French’s Sweet Yellow Mustard or Spicy Yellow Mustard
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
- 12-16 thin slices of ham
- 1 cup shredded gruyère
- 1 egg, lightly beaten with a splash of water
- additional 1 – 2 tablespoons French’s Sweet Yellow Mustard or Spicy Yellow Mustard, to spread if desired
- fresh thyme sprigs, if desired
Preheat your oven to 425°F.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir constantly for about three minutes, until completely smooth and incorporated. Pour in the milk in thin stream while whisking. Keep on medium heat, whisking, for about 5-10 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard, taste and season with salt and pepper.
Use a round cookie cutter to cut out 2 inch rounds of puff pastry. Use a smaller cookie cutter to score a circle inside each round without cutting down all the way through. Gently poke the centre hole with a fork to dock.
Top each round with a bit of mustard béchamel, a bit of ham, and shredded cheese. Top with a sprinkle of fresh pepper.
Use a pastry brush to brush the rounds with the egg lightly beaten with a splash of water. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden and puffy. Enjoy hot with extra mustard and fresh thyme sprigs, if desired.