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Behind the Recipes

My Favorite Egg Sandwich

A local bakery’s thoughtfully crafted sandwich featuring tender, creamy, custardy eggs inspired me to create a version of my own.
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Published Dec. 7, 2020.

Just down the promenade from our office is an outpost of Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery, whose offerings have inspired a number of recipes for this magazine, including Andrea Geary’s Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise (November/December 2012) and my Best Lemon Bars (March/April 2018). But my favorite item on the menu, my go-to lunch when I can’t scavenge something from the test kitchen, has always been the egg sandwich.

What makes it so special? Instead of a runny fried egg that drips and oozes with every bite, a scramble that tumbles out from between the bread, or—the worst scenario—a microwaved slab that’s rubbery and dense, it features an “egg soufflé.” While the food nerd in me isn’t quite on board with this term (there’s no air beaten into the egg mixture), I love everything else about it. It’s soft, creamy, custardy, and delicately seasoned, and it stays neatly in place while I devour the sandwich.

Clockwise from top left: Egg, Salami, and Tomato Sandwiches; Egg, Kimchi, and Avocado Sandwiches; Egg, Smoked Salmon, and Dill Sandwiches

Chang tucks a portion of the egg into a house‑made focaccia roll along with bacon, cheddar, tomato, and mesclun for a supremely satisfying package of flavors and textures. After months of working from home, I really missed that sandwich. So I looked up Chang’s method for the eggs (find it, along with many other excellent recipes, in her 2013 cookbook Flour, Too) and set out to make a version of my own.

Good Eggs

Chang’s recipe turned out to have a couple hidden benefits that I wasn’t aware of: It produces four portions at a time and can be made ahead. She starts by whisking ¾ cup of half-and‑half into nine eggs along with a touch of salt. The mixture is poured into a round cake pan that’s been coated with vegetable oil spray and then baked (covered with foil for the first half of the cooking time) in a water bath in a 300-degree oven. Partway through cooking, after the eggs have begun to set, fresh thyme and ground black pepper are added. Once the eggs are baked, they can be cut into sandwich portions and served right away or cooled completely and later reheated in the microwave.

As good as this recipe was, as a professional cook myself, I couldn’t help finding a few things I wanted to change that would make the dish my own. First, the inclusion of half-and-half. Since I don’t typically keep it on hand, I tried swapping in whole milk instead. The resulting eggs tasted a little less rich—and more eggy—and that was great. They were destined for egg sandwiches, after all. And milk still made their texture as velvety and smooth as half-and-half had. That’s because dilution is the key here, not the type of liquid. As eggs cook, they form a tight mesh. Adding liquid puts space between the proteins, opening up the mesh, which results in tender, silky eggs (see “Dilution Is the Solution”). This being the case, I wondered if I should just use water. If the eggs were even leaner, I could pair them with rich toppings and still make them a regular part of my lunch (or breakfast or dinner) routine.

After a bit of fiddling, I settled on eight eggs beaten together with 2⁄3 cup of water and just ¼ teaspoon of salt. This small amount of salt was adequate because the other components in my sandwich would be highly seasoned. I also omitted the pepper and thyme, since a neutral base would allow me to experiment with a variety of toppings.

Dilution Is the Solution

The proteins in raw eggs are coiled and don’t interact with each other. But as eggs cook, the proteins unwind, entangle, and form a mesh. The tighter that mesh becomes, the firmer the eggs will be. But adding liquid puts space between the proteins, opening up the mesh. The result: tender, silky eggs.

 

I chose to bake the mixture in an 8-inch square metal baking pan. Its sharp, clean edges would let me divide the eggs into four neat squares that would fit tidily on bread, without any of the waste that comes from trimming quadrants cut from a round pan. And unlike glass or ceramic, the metal would heat up and cool down quickly, keeping the baking time to about 40 minutes and helping prevent carryover cooking.

I placed the baking pan on a rimmed baking sheet and poured 1½ cups of water around the pan before setting the assembly on the middle rack of the oven. The shallow bath didn’t reach even halfway up the sides of the pan, but the egg mixture wasn’t deep, so it still prevented the edges from overcooking by lowering the temperature surrounding the pan. Because the bath was so shallow, it was easy to transfer the sheet to the oven without much sloshing.

The Benefits of Baking Eggs for Sandwiches

Creamy, Custardy Texture

Beating some water into the eggs and baking them slowly in a water bath produces a luxuriously smooth consistency that pairs beautifully with crisp toast and multitextured sandwich fixings.

Getting My Fill

With the smooth, custardy squares under way for now or later (see “The Benefits of Baking Eggs for Sandwiches”), I considered the bread. There were a few points to keep in mind. First, I needed something large enough to support a 4-inch square piece of egg. Second, thick breads needed to be airy and easily compressed; otherwise, I had trouble biting into the sandwich. (Read: no bagels.) Third, light toasting created a thin, crisp crust, whereas an aggressive approach resulted in a hard shell that required a lot of force to bite through, thus squeezing out the filling. Ultimately, I had success with English muffins, kaiser rolls, bulkie rolls, hamburger buns, and sandwich bread.

For the fixings, I mimicked Chang’s style, combining contrasting yet complementary flavors and textures. I started with a classic ham and cheddar cheese combo and then turned it on its head with a spread of sweet apricot jam and a smattering of spicy, crunchy pepperoncini. My next creation paired gutsy kimchi with cool, creamy avocado; another combined lightly peppery salami with fresh tomato and basil; and a third highlighted silky smoked salmon with fresh dill and crisp slices of pungent red onion, all held in place by slices of toasted rye.

Along the way, I came up with my own mandates for successful sandwich combinations (see “Principles for Egg Sandwich Perfection”). Whether you try one of my riffs or create your own, I know you’ll fall in love with this approach.

Make-Ahead Potential

Because the egg squares are relatively thin, they warm up quickly in the microwave and thus maintain their moisture and delicate texture.

If you’d like to plan for a meal on the go, prepare the eggs in advance, cut them into squares, and let them cool completely. Stack the squares in an airtight container and refrigerate them for up to three days.

To reheat, arrange the egg square(s) on a plate and microwave at 50 percent power until they’re warm (about 45 seconds for a single square or 2 to 3 minutes for four squares).

Egg, Kimchi, and Avocado Sandwiches

A local bakery's thoughtfully crafted sandwich featuring tender, creamy, custardy eggs inspired me to create a version of my own.
Get the Recipe

Egg, Smoked Salmon, and Dill Sandwiches

A local bakery's thoughtfully crafted sandwich featuring tender, creamy, custardy eggs inspired me to create a version of my own.
Get the Recipe

Egg, Ham, and Pepperoncini Sandwiches

A local bakery's thoughtfully crafted sandwich featuring tender, creamy, custardy eggs inspired me to create a version of my own.
Get the Recipe

Egg, Salami, and Tomato Sandwiches

A local bakery's thoughtfully crafted sandwich featuring tender, creamy, custardy eggs inspired me to create a version of my own.
Get the Recipe

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