My 7th grade students and I spent most of class today making fun of their writing.

Wait, that sounds bad, doesn’t it? Am I currently losing teacher points? I definitely would’ve lost a few if you’d walked in and seen me reading a student’s paper aloud, barely restraining laughter (while the class didn’t even bother trying.)

Reserve judgment, though! I promise it’s not as bad as it sounds.

See, the students were actually nominating themselves for this roasting. The papers we were snickering at were their earliest assignments from last year, and they were so amusing because the kids are so much better at writing now. Because they grow by leaps and bounds over the two years I teach them, I always plan a day at the end of 7th grade for them to complete a writing reflection. Today was that day.

I originally planned the reflection to be an individual, silent activity. Every year, however, it inevitably evolves into a class-wide discussion, mostly because they love to share the absurd things they find in their early work. About 5 minutes into the assignment, a student will raise his or her hand to announce, “My handwriting was terrible back then!” Another hand will shoot into the air: “I used periods in a list where I should have used commas!” Another hand: “This sentence didn’t even make sense!”

My favorite moment today was when E. and A. shared their “thesaurusy” papers. After I exhorted them at the beginning of the year to work on their word choice, both girls resorted to the thesaurus. It was an excellent impulse, but their execution was . . . ah, imperfect. They doubled over in laughter today as they shared sentences from that early paper: “I reckon human cloning is spurious,” and “I conjecture that human cloning is shoddy.”

I’m happy to report that both girls use more appropriate diction these days.

All of the good-natured ribbing and laughter today did make their writing analysis take longer, and I could have shushed them and redirected their focus. The truth is, though, I relish their incredulity. I’ve saved all of their writing for two years just to savor this moment with them. They giggle at themselves and at others, search for concrete ways their writing has improved, and realize that the 360 language arts classes they just completed actually taught them something.

Secretly, their reflection becomes my reflection: what did my course accomplish? How have these kids grown?

For my students, I provide reflection opportunities like this, complete with detailed prompts to guide their thoughts. For me, though, reflecting is like breathing. I’m naturally introspective (sometimes to a fault!) so that I can hardly plan the future without evaluating (and re-evaluating, and re-evaluating again) the past.

Recently, pondering the past led me to revisit these adorable stuffed French toast cups. They’re one of my favorite breakfast/brunch recipes and I’ve known for awhile that I wanted to create some variations on the French toast cup theme.

In these little Croque Madame Cups, sweet French toast cradles salty ham, mellow Gruyère cheese, and a gorgeous yolky baked egg. The cups self-sauce as the yolk breaks over the contents, and with a quick dip in some maple syrup, each bite is perfection. They’re a little more fiddly than just making French toast or just making a sandwich, but they’re cute enough for a fancy brunch and so worth the effort.

They were a delicious, luxurious way to reinvent my French toast cups, but I’m betting I’m not finished yet! Those cups are destined for even more fun fillings.

Since we’re being reflective today, reflect on your year so far: how have you grown in 2012?

One year ago: Blueberry Cream Cheese Almond Braid
Two years ago: Lemon Triumph Cake

Croque Madame French Toast Cups

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: 8 cups

These little Croque Madame French Toast Cups take two messy dishes — a traditional croque madame and French toast — and combine them in finger food format. Apart from being more convenient to serve and eat at a brunch or breakfast, they’re outright adorable. I love the gorgeous flavor of Gruyère in each cup, but if you’re on a budget you can use good Swiss. Make sure to buy good quality ham, though, because it really makes the dish.

1/2 cup heavy cream, plus 8 teaspoons, divided
1/2 cup milk
3 large eggs plus 4-8 eggs, divided (see note below)
2 tablespoons honey, microwaved for 20 seconds (but not while still IN THE BEAR, y’all!)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 slices day-old or stale sandwich bread
4 tablespoons butter
a couple of slices good ham
a couple of slices Gruyère cheese (or Swiss) and some grated for topping
salt and pepper

Note: Cracking the egg over each French toast cup before baking is the hardest part of this recipe, because a whole egg has too much liquid and overflows the cup. I’ll tell you what I did to get the right amount of egg in each cup, and then I’ll make a suggestion for how you might be able to do it even easier. What I did is crack the egg and pry it open just enough to let half the white and half the yolk slip into one French toast cup (using the shell to reserve the other half of the egg). I then released the other half of the egg over another cup. I think it’d be even easier, though, to just crack 8 eggs into a wide bowl and use a spoon to scoop a yolk and a little white out into each French toast cup. You’d end up using more eggs, but this way each cup will have a whole yolk, which is lovely!

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, honey, cinnamon, and salt (this step can be done the night before and refrigerated). When you’re ready to cook your French toast, pour this mixture into a cake pan or pie dish.

Prepare your bread by removing the crusts (I stack the slices and use a long serrated knife to remove all the crusts at once) and roll each slice with a rolling pin to slightly flatten and elongate it. Dip each slice of bread into your custard mixture for about 8-10 seconds on each side before carefully removing it with a spatula to a cooling rack over a sheet pan or over the sink. Allow the excess moisture to drain off of the slices for 1-2 minutes.

To cook French toast, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a skillet. Put 2 slides of bread at a time into the pan and toast gently to golden brown (about 2-3 minutes per side). Remove the French toast to a cooling rack to cool completely. Repeat with all the slices of bread, replenishing butter in the pan as needed. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. When the French toast is cool enough to handle, take each piece and gently tuck it into the well of a greased muffin tin, forming a bowl. Tuck some ham and Gruyère cheese in each cup. Place an egg over top (see above note). Lightly salt and pepper each cup and then top each egg with 1 teaspoon heavy cream.

Bake the cups at 400 degrees F for 10-12 minutes, watching carefully. Pull them out when the white is set but the yolk is not fully cooked through (has a little jiggle.) Top each cup with a little shredded Gruyère when they’re hot from the oven. Set them out to cool and continue cooking from their residual heat (at least 10 minutes). Use a knife to loosen the edges from the pan (and you might even need to use it as a lever to loosen the bottom of the cup, since some of the egg will have leaked out and sealed the cup to its well.) Remove the cups to a serving plate (if they seem to be wobbly, leave them in the pan a little longer). Serve them warm on a bed of maple syrup.

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26 Comments on Croque Madame French Toast Cups

  1. Deanna
    June 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm (12 years ago)

    Sounds like a hybrid of a Monte Cristo and a Croque Madame. I love both, so I can’t see how this could be bad.

  2. Denise @ Creative Kitchen
    June 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm (12 years ago)

    What a brilliant idea!! My mind is already churning up a million ways one could make these french toast cups. Thanks!!

  3. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar
    June 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm (12 years ago)

    These sound fabulous, what an awesome idea! Love that little exercise you did with your students. So fun!

  4. Rachel @ Baked by Rachel
    June 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm (12 years ago)

    I love the idea you do with your class. What a fun way to show them all how much they’ve grown! BTW I’m loving these French toast cups! 🙂

  5. Eileen
    June 5, 2012 at 7:25 pm (12 years ago)

    That actually sounds lik a really good writing exercise! Anything that has kids not only recognizing their own mistakes but laughing at them is obviously a good plan. 🙂

  6. A_Boleyn
    June 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm (12 years ago)

    Your language classes sound amazing and I’m glad to see that your students are able to critique and laugh at their early efforts and appreciate how far they’ve come.

    The cups are a lovely brunch idea though my tastes are more geared toward the savoury portions of the dish.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      June 6, 2012 at 3:28 am (12 years ago)

      Thank you! They’re definitely savory little treats, but have a lovely sweet balance.

  7. Amanda @ Once Upon a Recipe
    June 5, 2012 at 8:52 pm (12 years ago)

    You sound like such a great teacher Julie. I love that you have so much fun with your students!
    And these french toast cups? One (non-thesaurusy) word: Yum.

  8. Vicki Bensinger
    June 6, 2012 at 2:21 am (12 years ago)

    I love your story. You sound like a wonderful teacher and have shown your students how they can enjoy writing, laugh at their mistakes and be proud of their accomplishments. It sounds like it was a wonderful day for you and your students. All teachers should be like you.

    Love your french toast bites.

  9. Carol
    June 6, 2012 at 3:29 am (12 years ago)

    I so enjoyed reading about your students’ appreciation of their own growth. Years after college, I read some of the stories I wrote for my creative writing class. Only then did I really appreciate the comments the professor had written in the margins. At the time they were written, I couldn’t fully understand the criticisms. It was time and more writing that put my own earlier work in a different perspective.
    That is why I saved my students writing samples. I home-schooled all five of my kids. Each one of them learned differently, and each had their strengths and weaknesses. They all have an aptitude for writing. From phonetically spelled sermon notes, to birthday cards, to writing assignments, I have treasures in my Mom Box from each of them. From time to time I brought out earlier works for them to read, and like your students, they would laugh and point out their own mistakes. It was a great, enjoyable way to note progress. Thank you for sharing that story.
    Your recipe posted today is pinned on my ‘list’ I must make. Thank you for that also.
    As for how I have grown this year, I will have to say so far I have grown in confidence and wisdom. There have been some personal trials; difficult, heart-wrenching, tearful struggles. These brought me to a closer walk with the Lord, and a strengthening of my faith. I am stronger for all of it. I can empathize with many more people, comfort others, and give a better testimony for those observing
    me go through these trials, some of which are on-going. I look forward to see how the Lord would have things work out in His providence.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      June 6, 2012 at 3:38 am (12 years ago)

      Carol, I LOVE that you made mom boxes for each child — I can only imagine as they grow and look back at these things how much they’ll treasure the memories AND the fact that their mama loved them enough to do it! That is just too sweet.

      I so feel you on the trials. I don’t know if you follow my Facebook page, but I mentioned there recently that I’ve been going through quite the trial lately also. The story isn’t mine to tell or I would share it, but suffice it to say that this has been one of the hardest times in my life — and after just getting through a rocky year, too! I do have the comfort of knowing that my Lord is leading me through this storm for a reason, like you say! But it’s rough going. Big *e-hugs* to you and here’s hoping you’re on the other side SOON! Love and prayers for you!

      • Carol
        June 6, 2012 at 3:45 am (12 years ago)

        Thank you, Julie. While I don’t know the details of your trial, I can still pray for you, and I will. I’m so glad you share that same comfort. Love, appreciation, and big *e-hugs* to you also. = )

  10. Jenny @ BAKE
    June 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm (12 years ago)

    These look insanely good! and your photos are stunning

  11. Jen @ Savory Simple
    June 11, 2012 at 8:30 pm (12 years ago)

    You sound like a wonderful teacher! And this recipe sounds amazing.

  12. Jessica @ Sunny Side Up
    June 20, 2012 at 4:19 am (12 years ago)

    I don’t think you lose teaching points at all! In fact, I think you earn some teaching points. It just goes to show what a great relationship you have fostered with your students. They trust you enough and have learned enough to be able to poke fun of themselves a little bit. If you can’t laugh at yourself sometimes, you’re doing it wrong!

    And these french toast cups sound/look amazing!


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