At one of my favorite cafés in Seattle, it’s possible to order one of the simplest yet most satisfying snacks. Pain au chocolat a l’ancienne, as it’s called, is nothing more than a sturdy baguette with crisp brown crust sliced in half and oozing with warm, melted chocolate. A l’ancienne, or old-fashioned, indicates Café Presse’s rustic and simple variation on the pain au chocolat made with puff pastry that’s invariably found in French bakeries today.
No matter how careful you are when biting into the baguette, you’ll end up with stray chocolate in the corners of your mouth like a little kid. And by the time you’re done, your white cloth napkin will be coated in brown smears. I’ve eaten more of these rustic treats than I can recall–both at Café Presse and at home–and they’re filled with associations and memories.
There was the time my friend’s husband took the inevitable mess a step further and spread chocolate all over his face. He’s actually a very fine, upstanding and respectable man who just gave into a moment of giddy bliss (it’s a good thing we were all dining in the back room…).
And then there was the time when I had just lost my wedding ring. Upon returning to the car after a Sounders game on cold March evening, I took off my gloves and felt piercing shivers bolt through my body as I sensed the absence of the ring on my finger. Searching the car and retracing steps in the stadium turned up nothing. Unable to do much more, we drove up to Café Presse and ordered pain au chocolat. I asked the waitress if I could have mine with extra chocolate since I had just lost my ring. (There’s a happy ending here: We found the ring the next day.)
Whether for date nights with my husband or outings with friends, a pain au chocolat with a demi pichet of French red wine has to be one of my favorite food-related experiences. These days, however, I don’t eat nearly as much bread. And if I buy a baguette, chances are we won’t actually manage to eat it all before it goes stale. So I’ve given this somewhat decadent, if simple, snack a Nordic twist by placing chocolate on crispbread and heating it in a moderate oven until the chocolate melts to a consistency that can be spread smoothly. The results are just as satisfying, perhaps even more so in different ways. The crispbread lends more of a crunch than the baguette, and the higher chocolate-to-bread ratio means, well, more chocolate. If you’re so inclined, you could even sprinkle a little flaky sea salt on top to give it an extra-special touch.
Crispbread with Chocolate (a.k.a. The Nordic Pain au Chocolat a l’Ancienne)
An Outside Oslo original
3 to 4 squares of good-quality dark chocolate, 70 to 75 percent
1 piece of crispbread
Sprinkle of flaky sea salt, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange chocolate on crispbread and place on the top rack of the oven. Heat for 2 to 3 minutes, watching carefully so that the chocolate and crispbread don’t burn. When the chocolate is soft but still intact, remove from the oven and spread chocolate across the surface of the crispbread with a knife. Sprinkle sparingly with flaky sea salt if desired. Serve with a glass of milk or red wine–your choice.