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.