Confession of an English Pain au Chocolat Eater

In some areas, France really does beat England.

During school break-times, rumours would weave themselves through the throngs of hungry school girls regarding what treat the kitchen had provided that day: cookies, sausage rolls or perhaps doughnuts (in retrospection we really were spoilt for choice). It was biscuits that most provoked a groan of disgust; how exciting can a digestive really be? Not to mention that even if we had the luxury of chocolate bourbons or custard creams we were only allowed three. I mean, honestly, telling a growing (well, I wasn’t really) fifteen year old girl that she has to limit her custard cream intake to so little, is just downright cruel. However, upon the whiff of a pain au chocolat, roars of delight would ripple through the corridors, and the challenge of ‘can-you-sneak-your-pain au chocolat-past-the-housemistress-to-the-common-room-microwave’ would begin. In short, everybody loved them…except for me. I found them dry, tasteless and continually disappointing. Flapjacks on the other hand….

However, three years later and seven months in France have taught me that this sense of disenchantment need not always be the case. Unsurprisingly, France does pains au chocolat incredibly well: they are soft, tasty and always come with an abundance of chocolate. I think it’s fair to say that I have most definitely been converted. On a recent trip to Berlin, what did I find myself searching for come breakfast time? Not a German speciality…but a pain au chocolat. Of course this recourse to what we know and love can be a common phenomenon when travelling; from a recognised shampoo brand to a type of crisp: it’s something that reminds us of home in a wasteland of alien produce. Not that I’m going so far as to say that France (well, my town, Niort specifically) is my true home as such, but it certainly feels that way on occasion. If truth be told, my new best friend is sans doute, “La Mie Caline”, the boulangerie-cum-pâtisserie at the end of my road. In fact a further 5 minutes and a corner down said road, one finds another ‘Mie Caline’. What Greggs is to Durham, ‘Mie Caline’ is to Niort. The waft of freshly baked deliciousness strays into my nostrils whenever I pass by – attempting a diet when I have to walk past it, a minimum of twice a day, is nigh on impossible!

Bernard, a friend of mine, has been making it his mission, during his stay in France, to seek out a ‘Mie Caline’ in every French city he visits. Part of me considers this wildly unimaginative – where’s the sense of adventure and the desire to try something new? Yet the other half of me views this as almost quite sensible: at ‘Mie Caline’ you’re guaranteed to find well-priced goodness, and why go searching among the second rate boulangeries when you know that ‘Mie Caline’ is really the answer to your prayers?

To return to the subject of the all-important pain au chocolat…aren’t they always that bit too small? That little, flaky cuboid often just isn’t enough to fill the gap in an empty belly… Not to worry – as ever, ‘Mie Caline’ saves the day with the invention of the ‘maxi pain au chocolat’ which is essentially the size of just under two pains au chocolat. Pure genius. Now that is a snack worth waiting for!

Unlike the pretentious croissant, which some say symbolizes the victory of Vienna over the Turkish forces and thus giving it its crescent shape (inspired by the Turkish flag), the pain au chocolat is an unassuming creation, with no exciting origin whatsoever. Although why it translates literally as ‘chocolate bread’, I have absolutely no idea, as it’s certainly unlike any bread I’ve ever tasted. Having done a ‘pain au chocolat’ search into Google (you know…as you do) I came across the hilarious sentence proclaiming that ‘flaccid and lifeless’ pains au chocolat are considered un-pleasing and that the aroma should be ‘seductive’… Honestly some people will sex things up no matter what the scenario, immature really. We should just face the fact that pains au chocolat should be bulging, easy to swallow…and should always leave us satiated.

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