Pain au Chocolat: The Pick-me-up that Brings Back Memories

This is one of the best things a girl can nosh on in times of crisis: a gorgeous, powdered-sugar-and-choc-drizzled pain au chocolat from French Baker, one of my favorite local patisserie-boulangeries.

I remember that French Baker’s pain au chocolat (still sold, alas, as a “chocolate croissant”, same as at La Coeur de France) was the first I had outside of France – and mind, this came several years after my long, long ago trip to France as a kid. My mother brought home several one day as she was coming home from work as a treat for me and my brother.

The taste and texture brought to mind a cold, rainy spring day in Lourdes; a vision of seven-year-old me holding my aunt’s hand while my grandmother sat on a convenient bench and my grandfather bought baguettes and sandwiches to be eaten during the trip to the grotto of Notre Dame de Lourdes. I remember Lolo breaking a square-ish roll in half and handing each piece to me and my aunt. I liked it at once: it was buttery like the croissants we’d eaten for breakfast, but each bite was punctuated by the dark, bittersweet richness of really good chocolate. It was a gastronomic experience I missed until the day Mom bought those treats from the French Baker.

I’ve had other chocolate-filled croissants over the years and even had those aberrations where a whole croissant was dunked – and I seriously mean dunked – in a vat of coverture and left to harden, but nothing beats this one.

It is one thing to bite into the roll and get all the goodness at once; it’s what I do (as above) when things get really bad. But there’s a truly sensual pleasure in pulling off the crunchy crust – literally unravelling the roll – and dipping each piece into milky tea until I’m left with the buttery layers of the interior with their double-barreled fill of chocolate. This I eat in smaller bites, chewing meditatively and just letting the chocolate melt in my mouth, filling it with its decadent richness.

I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to go back to la belle France, but – at least, until then – I have this little roll to awaken beautiful memories and to set things back on track.