Saturday, September 30, 2017

The pain au chocolat and the chocolatine: a truthier version

As noted in my last post, I have been drawn despite myself into the history of the pain au chocolat and the chocolatine. And so I might as well provide what real information I can on these subjects. Not that this will keep a new set of myths from spreading like flattened dough.

Pain au chocolat

If you are American, you probably know the pain au chocolat as a “chocolate croissant”. Which in fact it is not (croissant means “crescent”, while the so-called chocolate croissant is dough rolled around a chocolate core); the English term refers to its being made with the same laminated dough as the (crescent-shaped) croissant. The French term simply means “bread with chocolate”, and to complicate matters the French sometimes eat exactly that: bread with chocolate. Not only that, but the French word "pain" can mean "loaf" (as in "sugar loaf") as well as bread.

The term is found as early as 1779 for a dish on the menu from a wedding in Clermont. It is included among the entremets (a course which could include both savory and sweet dishes), but no other details are provided.

In 1829, a regional cookbook for the upper Rhine printed a recipe under that name which bears no resemblance either to bread with chocolate or to today’s “chocolate croissant”:
A half-pound of sifted sugar, a half pound of crushed almonds, two ounces of grated chocolate, an eighth of an ounce of cinnamon and a sixteenth of an ounce of crushed clove, put all this in a large mortar or in a casserole, to make a workable dough of it; once powdered with fine sugar, stretch the dough to half the thickness of a finger, cut with forms on white paper and bake.
In 1901, a newspaper printed a very different recipe for the same item (which again appears as a dish in what would usually be the entremets course):
125 grams of ladyfingers, 125 grams of butter, two bars of chocolate, 1 egg, cut the ladyfingers in two. - The cream: Break the chocolate up into a pot with a spoon and a half of water, when it is reduced take it off the fire and let it cook, add the butter in pieces. When it is all mixed, break the egg, add it little by little vigorously stirring off the fire, spread a layer of the cream between each ladyfinger, pile them on a dish and cover them with a layer of cream and chill.
Just three years later, another newspaper printed yet another recipe, again for the pain au chocolat as an entremets; here however pain is being used in the sense of “loaf” and in fact the result resembles a chocolate mousse:
With three bars of chocolate, make very thick chocolate: and add a little milk, but the chocolate must stay very thick. Take the chocolate off the fire and add three egg yolks, a spoonful of flour and 100 grams of fresh butter, which are to be melted. Mix all this, then beat four egg whites very stiff, and mix all this together, butter a mold, then pour the mixture into it, put it in a double-boiler for an hour, then put it all in the oven to harden it. In serving it, one can if one wants fill this cake with a good vanilla cream.
Was the eighteenth century version also a “chocolate loaf”? That is not impossible.

A 1921 recipe actually cites the most primitive version:
Instead of eating, according to the old schoolboy tradition, bread and chocolate, is it not tastier to prepare a “bread with chocolate”?
Split a well-gilded roll, then take out the crumb. Butter it and put it in the oven until the butter melts. Meanwhile, soften a bar of chocolate in the fire. When it is ready, slide it into the roll which one serves while still hot.
Tantalizingly, a 1933 short story shows a young woman stopping in a bakery to buy a pain au chocolat – which is what one would do today, since the laminated dough version is a professional product. So it is possible this refers to the modern version, but not in the least certain.

And after 1933? Nothing, in a word, decisive. The term becomes more common with time, but is taken for granted, not defined. In 1951, an American writer described a pain au chocolat as “a kind of flat roll made with the same rich dough as the croissant and filled with a layer of mildly bitter chocolate”, which is exactly what it is today. In 1969 Joe Dassin recorded a song - “Le Petit Pain au Chocolat” - which says that the female baker who sold it was “as crispy as her croissants”, suggesting that the chocolate item was (as it is today) in the same family. So the best one can say is that for a long time, the term referred to a variety of sweet confections before taking on, at least by the Fifties, the meaning it has today.


In recent years, the word “chocolatine” has been offered as a synonym for “pain au chocolat”. Though, as pointed out in the last post, there is utterly no relationship between that term and August Zang’s nineteenth century Viennese bakery, the term was certainly popular in that time.

In an 1853 article on New Year’s presents, a French journalist announced the chocolatine as a new candy:
the novelty of the moment, the chocolatines, which have just appeared in a business loved by the public, chez Perron, the chocolateer of 14, rue Vivienne…. Perron has then made for the New Year’s gifts of 1854 charming boxes, filled with an exquisite candy, which he calls chocolatine. This delicious mix of chocolate and fruit is cheerful and pleasant to see; its fine and subtle taste cannot be confused with the chocolate known until now.; it looks like a hard candy, but has neither its hardness nor its inconveniences. .
Aubert, the journalist, goes on in a tone that suggests a paid ad more than a spontaneous journalistic mention.

About a decade later, Chocolatine was widely advertised, in both English and French, as a cocoa extract: “the purest extract of cocoa obtainable”. It was recommended for medical use, and said to be highly soluble. For decades, this would be the most common mention of the term.Yet Perron’s bonbon was still being advertised in 1878 as “the best of all candies”.

Meanwhile, in 1883, a patent was registered for a “Creole treat, hygienic and tonic chocolatine”. This may have referred to an item which would become more popular later.

An article from 1889 credited Victor Julien with inventing a number of liqueurs, including one called Chocolatine: “a chocolate liqueur”. Like a number of other liqueurs of the time, this included quinine, and the writer cited a medical report praising its tonic properties.

In 1894, a pastry-cook’s manual offered two recipes for what appears to be something similar to Perron’s version:
1268. Chocolatine
Make fruit pastilles (see this word) either with apricot or apple paste, the size of a one franc piece, on pastille sheets, then when they are set, detach them with the end of the palette knife, double them and set them in layers in a box garnished with very fine Caracas chocolate.
1269. Chocolatine (Candi)
Proceed as above. Double them and praline them with chocolate, then set them to candy for 24 hours. [That is, set them in a mesh-bottomed tray and cover them with sugar syrup.]
The first dictionary definition of the word appeared somewhere between 1881 and 1891: “A sort of chocolate candy” and another in 1895: “A kind of chocolate candy”.

Yet the liqueur too seems to have been established by then.

At the start of the twentieth century, the word’s meaning shifts drastically. A study of malaria from 1906 discusses the problems of administering quinine to children and states “Chocolatines with tannate of quinine, which we have received from Father Celli, of Rome, are very well accepted by small children”. Did Father Celli have the idea of putting quinine into chocolate candies for children? Was Julien’s quinine chocolate liqueur an influence here? Unknown. But for much of the twentieth century, “chocolatine” would mainly refer to various quinine-laced candies, which appear to have been promoted by the famous Institut Pasteur.

In 1915, Ezra Pound referred to the people of Tahiti as having a “faint pinkish chocolatine colour,” giving some idea of what the candy looked like at that point.

When did the term start to mean a chocolate croissant? In 1980, a novel listed “croissants, chocolatines, raisin rolls [pains aux raisins]”. Since such a list would otherwise include pain au chocolat, it is likely that here already the term chocolatine has taken that meaning. But the usage has remained rare (in France) until just recently when debates have arisen as to which term is the proper one. If one judges by prior usage, pain au chocolat seems to win hands-down, even if it took some time to take on its modern meaning. But in fact neither term has been used for very long with today’s meaning, even if both have a long history in France.

Friday, August 25, 2017

No, August Zang did not bring the pain au chocolat, the chocolatine or the schokoladencroissant to Paris

Why so categorical a title? Let me explain.

I was pleased last Sunday to receive an email from an old friend from Paris, and more pleased still to learn he had just seen my book August Zang and the French Croissant cited in Le Figaro. Once I found the item  Êtes-vous plutôt «chocolatine» ou «pain au chocolat» ? , written by Joanne Girardo and published August 20, 2017 – I was also pleased to see both my name and the title of my work spelled correctly.

I was less pleased however to see the following statement about August Zang: “In his shop, the ‘schokoladencroissant’ indicated a croissant filled with chocolate. Originally then, the term ‘chocolatine’ would have come from this place.” (“Dans son échoppe, le «schokoladencroissant» désignait un croissant fourré au chocolat. À l'origine, le terme «chocolatine» proviendrait donc de ce lieu.")

And who is credited for this claim? Why… me.

The problem? My book says NOTHING about the chocolate croissant either in French nor in German (schokoladencroissant). It is easy enough to see as much; go to Google Books and search for “chocolate” in that book. What is more, Zang, an Austrian, would never have called this crescent-shaped pastry - which Austrians knew as a kipfel - a "croissant"; the French only used that word (French for "crescent") AFTER Zang made the kipfel popular in Paris.

But it gets better.

Searching the Figaro’s own site, I discovered an article making similar claims had appeared last year in Madame Figaro, this one, published October 4, 2016, written by Anne-Laure Mignon: Doit-on dire pain au chocolat ou chocolatine ?

This one further credits my book with mentioning the arrival of chocolate in France in 1492: "l’historien culinaire Jim Chevalier rappelle que l’arrivée en France du chocolat daterait de 1492." It would be quite embarrassing had I indeed dated the arrival of chocolate in France to 1492 – chocolate was only discovered by the Spaniards after Cortes’ encounter with the Aztecs in 1519; it did not come to France until sometime after that.
At this point, the reader may be wondering, “Why not contact the Figaro?” Well, I tried.

Not finding an editor’s contact, I messaged their Facebook page and got a polite note suggesting I write… the journalists. Each of them. But given the overlaps between the articles and the fact that neither journalist seems to have actually consulted my book, I thought this was something to bring to the attention of an editor. Luckily the astute and helpful Irene Torres located the editor’s email address for me. On Tuesday, I wrote the editor, raising all these issues; I have heard not a word since.

So, how influential has this (entirely inaccurate) version of the "facts" been?

Well, right off, I was reminded that I had alreay seen
one post (from January 19) by Isabel Miller-Bottome on the Local France site which states: “According to culinary historian Jim Chevalier, author of "August Zang and the French Croissant: How the Viennoiserie Came to France", it was the schokoladencroissant, a crescent-shaped, chocolate-filled brioche [!] that slowly evolved into the rectangular chocolatine.

At the time, I posted a correction in their comments section but never saw any response to it. Now, checking, I see that that response has been... deleted and comments disabled.

UPDATE 9/2/2017
Last Sunday (August 27) I wrote the editor for the Local Paris and the managing editor for the Local, informing them of this error, the fact that my comment had disappeared and the resemblance of their article to one from the Figaro. To this date, I have received no response.

While I’m not going to list every one, a look at Google shows numerous other blog posts - at least twenty, including one in Spanish and one in Japanese - which appear to follow the first Figaro article, repeating the same error and crediting it to (groan) me.

I did however find one from well before that first article, a post on a POKEMON blog from March 2016. Could this then be the UR-post, the original source of all this eagerly shared erroneous information – information which writer after writer has passed on without a single one, apparently, consulting my actual book?

In the past I have tried to fight a number of myths about August Zang: that he was a count or a baron; that he brought the baguette to France; that he introduced the poolish pre-fermentation method. Not one of these is true. Now I find myself fighting yet another rapidly spreading myth – only this one is credited to… me.

I’d say, “You can’t make this stuff up.” Only, apparently, you can.

FOLLOW-UP 9/2/2017

I have learned (or perhaps confirmed) three things in tracking the spread of this idea across the Net:

1. Many bloggers and journalists find it perfectly natural to "quote" a work without ever actually consulting it. And yes, this includes articles in traditional, established media. (The error I've found here is not the only one I've found in a major publication.)

What you can do: Never forward an item which supposedly cites a work without making some effort to find the quote in the actual work (this goes for a LOT of quotes spread around the Net).

2. The business model for a dismaying number of sites is simply to take content from other sites, unacknowledged. Often, neither the original site nor the reader is aware of the 'borrowing" and the site using the content cares only that it attracts eyeballs (that is, advertising revenue).

What you can do: Before forwarding an article you find interesting on a site, copy a sentence or two and put it between quotes in a search engine, then look for it. No, you won't always find it on another site, but if you do, check first which article came earlier. If the one you found seems to be the source for the second, forward THAT one - and hopefully inform the contact person for the second site that their content has been swiped.

3. Once an idea is out there, it's really hard to change. (See my efforts above.)

What you can do: If you see the erroneous citation I'm discussing here mentioned anywhere, try to post a correction in the comments section or contact that writer or site owner. Ideally, link to this entry, which I wrote in part so search engines would bring up my correction.

The Truth thanks you.