The pain au chocolat (roughly pronounced pah oh shoh-koh-lah for those who do not speak French) is a simple but very delicious pastry sold in bakeries, cafés, and pastry shops all over the world.
Depending on where you live, pain au chocolat may be referred to by a different name, but there is no denying that this buttery, chocolate-filled treat is extremely delicious!
Let’s take a look at its surprisingly heated history, what this pastry is, and how to make the best pains au chocolat around.
What is Pain Au Chocolat?
Pain au chocolat is basically a sweet roll that has pieces of chocolate stuffed in the center. It is made of the same kind of layered dough that you find with croissants.
In fact, in America, Australia, and New Zealand, pains au chocolat are commonly referred to as “chocolate croissants,” but they are called “pain au chocolat” nearly everywhere else.
They’ve earned the title “chocolate croissants” in these locales because their dough is the same kind used in normal butter croissants, rather made from puff pastry dough.
Croissant dough and pastry dough are both types of laminated dough – or dough that creates thin, flaky layers from being folded over fat many times.
The biggest difference between these two, however, lies in the fact that the former uses yeast while the latter does not. Because pains au chocolat have yeast in them, the dough is technically considered croissant dough, even if they are in no way crescent-shaped.
Still, even with this small nomenclature discrepancy, pains au chocolat are widely appreciated by many people in many different countries all over the world today.
In France, however, there is an older, much more tempestuous argument over what these pastries should be called. This is the infamous pain au chocolat vs. chocolatine debate of France.
In mid-2018, there was even a proposal for the word “chocolatine” to be viewed as an official synonym for the more well-known “pain au chocolat,” but this was shut down by deputies of the French national assembly.
Why the fervent appeal to have the word “chocolatine” officially recognized by the government? Well, the pain au chocolat-chocolatine linguistic debate actually has a long, bitter history, particularly for those who live in the southwestern region of France.
History of Pain Au Chocolat
Some state that Marie Antoinette was the first to introduce France to the croissant, but croissants and pains au chocolat did not truly appear until the 19th century.
Pains au chocolat, in particular, was created by Austrian baker August Zang, who opened up the first Viennese bakery in Paris in the 1830s and thus introduced everyone to his “schokoladencroissant.”
The first “schokoladencroissants” were actually crescent-shaped and made of brioche rather than croissant dough.
The first theory of why this pastry’s name undergoes such heated debate states that because “schokoladencroissant” directly translates to “chocolatine” in French, they should be referred to as such.
As more and more Viennese bakeries began to crop up after Zang’s, however, the French began to layer the schokoladencroissant dough until these “chocolatines” became practically indistinguishable from the pain au chocolat pastry, which historically was known as any chocolate-filled bread children ate.
Slowly but surely, much of France began to call this pastry the pain au chocolat instead of chocolatine.
The southwest region of France, however, stuck with the name because it was very similar to an Occitan word “chicolatina.”
In fact, the group of French Parliament members who advocated for the word “chocolatine” to be equal to “pain au chocolat” framed their proposal as one of historical and cultural significance.
Unfortunately, with the proposal being shot down, it seems the pain au chocolat-chocolatine debate will continue to rage on.
There is another theory that the word “chocolatine” (not the pastry itself) originated from English colonizers in the 15th century, who had taken over the Aquitaine region of France.
The story goes that they asked for “chocolate in bread” every time they entered a French bakery, but today, this theory is widely disregarded, as chocolate was not brought into Europe until 1528.
Here’s a video showing an example of a pain au chocolat.
Best Pastry for Pain Au Chocolat
Our pain au chocolat recipe below describes how to make your own croissant dough, but there are many pre-made doughs you can use instead if you want to save on time!
Pillsbury crescent roll dough is by far the tastiest option, according to a 2010 comparison test on AOL Financial. It provides a light, flaky dough that is perfect for creating small pains au chocolat.
Jewel Osco-brand crescent roll dough is another good choice. This variety makes for quite a savory and flaky dessert. However, Jewel-Osco stores are localized in the midwestern regions of America, so if you do not live in these areas, Pillsbury will do just fine.
Best Chocolate for Pain Au Chocolat
Typically, dark chocolate is used in pain au chocolat.
There are a lot of expensive, fancy dark chocolates out there, but if you are looking for a simple yet tasty bar to use for your pastries, the Huffington Post claims that Ghirardelli’s 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Premium Baking Bar is the best choice.
While ‘baking chocolate’ is usually regarded as the very bottom-tier level in chocolate bars, this bar performs moderately well and tastes great plain as well as when baked into pastries.
Chocolate chips are another great alternative to use in pains au chocolat. They can come in both normal milk chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate varieties. However, if you want to create a more authentic pain au chocolat, you should use the latter kind instead.
Serious Eats tested 10 varieties of chocolate chips and found that, in terms of both price and flavor, Trader Joe’s-brand semisweet chocolate chips were the best ones to use in baking. Their relative bitterness also lends your sweets a gentle toffee flavor, which is an added bonus.
The former brand was named the favorite among all the testers at Serious Eats due to its ultra-smooth texture, shape, and the fact that it had a mature, fruity bitterness to it.
The latter brand is a bit sweeter and richer, so if you have the money to spare, either of these brands will be perfect to use in pain au chocolat.
The testers remarked that Ghirardelli’s chips were smooth, bright, fruity, and a bit sweeter compared to the other chocolate chips in their line-up. They are also a perfect substitute for Trader Joe’s-brand semi-sweet chips if you do not have a Trader Joe’s in your area.
Hershey’s chips were very candy-like (though no one expected any less), and was perhaps the sweetest of all the chocolate chips they tasted. If you prefer sweeter chocolates to bitter ones, substituting these chips into your pains au chocolat will help to satiate that sweet tooth.
The testers found that Nestle-brand semi-sweet chocolate chips were an interesting case. While more on the sweeter side in terms of flavor, it also held hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper that some of the testers found gross, while others found this intriguing.
They even went so far as to call it their favorite of the chips they tested. If this combination of flavors sounds like something you would like to experiment with, feel free to use these chips in your pains au chocolat!
Pain Au Chocolat Recipe
There are a multitude of pain au chocolat recipes out there that use pre-made croissant dough, but this recipe is made entirely from scratch.
Feel free to skip a couple steps in this recipe if you do want to use store-bought dough!
- Total Cook Time: 110 minutes.
- Prep Time: 90 minutes.
- Cook Time: 20 minutes.
- Serves: 12
- 2 ¼ cup of white bread flour (plus a little extra for your workspace).
- 1 teaspoon of salt.
- 1 easy-bake yeast sachet pack (7 grams, or 2 ¼ teaspoons)
- 1/3 cup of unrefined golden caster sugar.
- 1 cup of dark chocolate.
- 1 1/4 cup of water.
- 1 ½ cup of unsalted butter.
- Mix the white bread flour, salt, the yeast packet, and water in a mixing bowl until the dough becomes firm. You can knead the ingredients together by hand, or use an electric stand mixer with a dough hook for five minutes.
- Remove the butter from your fridge and warm it for a few seconds until you are able to shape it into a rectangle about 1-2 centimeters thick.
- Sprinkle a small amount of flour over your workspace and roll out your dough into a rectangle that is about three times the size of your butter.
- Place your butter on top of your now rolled-out dough so that it covers about two-thirds of the dough. Be sure NOT to spread it!
- Fold the other third of the dough over the middle third, right over the butter. Then fold the other buttered third over all of that, so that your dough and butter are now layered.
- Roll the layers down with a rolling pin to press them together. Then cover it and let it chill in your fridge for 15 minutes.
- Once you take your dough out of the fridge, roll it out into a rectangle until it is a little over half an inch. You will want to fold your dough into thirds, layering each on top of the other as before. Use a rolling pin to press these layers together again, cover and let chill for another 15 minutes.
- Repeat this folding and chilling process two more times after this. Once you are done, enclose in plastic wrap and let the dough chill for another two hours – or even overnight.
- When you are ready to use the dough, roll it out until it is about the thickness of a quarter, then cut the dough into 5 x 5-inch squares.
- If your dark chocolate is not already cut, chop it into strips and place one at the end of each square. If you have chunks or chocolate chips, arrange them carefully on the end of each square in a line. Roll up the chocolate in the dough so it is neatly tucked within.
- Put your pains au chocolat onto a baking sheet covered in grease-proof paper. Then cover it with oiled plastic wrap to let it proof for one hour.
- Preheat your oven to 428 degrees Fahrenheit. When your pains au chocolat are done proofing, bake them for 15 to 20 minutes until they are golden at the top.
- Serve and enjoy!
You may also create an egg wash to coat your pains au chocolat. This wash will give your pastries a glossier look, especially if you sprinkle sugar on top afterwards.
Here is a quick egg wash recipe for you to use, should you desire your pains au chocolat to be a little sweeter:
- 1 large egg.
- 1 tablespoon of water.
- Beat your egg and water together in a bowl.
- Brush the tops of your pains au chocolat with the egg wash before you put them in the oven to bake but after proofing. Sprinkle lightly with sugar on the top and then let them bake until golden brown.
Here’s a video showing an example of a basic pain au chocolat recipe.
Pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, if you live in the southwestern regions of France) is a delicious pastry fit for breakfast or even as a quick snack on the go.
Though the debate over its name may be something of a hot topic (especially in France), it is still revered as a delicious confection that people all over the world enjoy.
Hopefully, this short guide has helped you find the right types of dough and chocolate to use, so you can make your own tasty pains au chocolat!
What’s your favorite pain au chocolat combination?