pain au chocolat

It is ‘Chocolate Week’ here in the UK and don’t forget there is a festival of chocolate at London’s Olympia – ‘The Chocolate Show’ 17th to 19th October! So what better way to start the day than with a choccy and coffee treat:

painchocolat‘Pain au Chocolat

The typical breakfast in France is a ‘continental style’ combination of hot white coffee (cafe-au-lait) accompanied by a sweet ‘croissant’ pastry. A popular choice is pain au chocolat which consists of sweet ‘croissant’ pastry, but with chunks of dark chocolate running through the centre.

History

There are a number claims as to how the pain au chocolat came about – here are just a couple of them. This is an extract from one of our earlier in the year stories – ‘A Wine Harvest Breakfast’.

Harvest Time

“At the ‘vendange’ (wine harvest) the much dented Citroen van began winding its way up the furrowed tracks early in the morning mists, bringing much needed hot coffee and freshly baked croissants and baguettes for the vineyard workers. This is one story of how ‘pain au chocolat’ came to be created in the northern Chablis vineyards of France’s Burgundy region.”

Much of the time it was necessary to light braziers or small bonfires around the rows of vines to stop the night frost from settling upon the grapes. At first light and on the dying embers of the smouldering fires, the workers would toast their newly baked bread delivered to them fresh each morning. Locally made bitter chocolate would be melted in battered skillets over the heat and then the crisp toasted bread would be dipped in this rich molten treat and again into their hot strong coffee. This with a nip of ‘eau de vie’ [distilled wine brandy] would set them up for the next grape gathering session until lunch. This ‘petit dejeuner’ was based upon a very old harvest time tradition in this area.

pain au chocolat 1The English Influence

Another story based upon the foundation of this moreish treat, is that pain au chocolat was first created in the southwest region of France known as Aquitaine, where it is known as a ‘chocolatine’. Apparently the chocolatine originated during the time of the English occupation of Aquitaine during ‘The Hundred Years War’ which took place from 1337 to1453. The English asked for “chocolate in bread” which over time evolved into chocolatine!

So you decide which story is the one, but be careful – with the English invention of Champagne (see ‘Sour Grapes’ article); our new British influence and recent creation of ‘Skinny Champagne’ and the fact now we have more cheeses produced in the UK than the whole of France – it may be better to go with the  French vineyard variation – we don’t want another war – especially before breakfast!

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What time’s the ferry?

Alan Hunter
Master chef, wine writer, importer and educator, adventurer, wine tour operator and co-creator of the fast-growing online food and wine magazine Nosh.
Alan Hunter