We could easily say that pain au chocolat is one of the most renowned viennoiseries around the world. This delicious sweet roll with a chocolate stick in the inside is probably, along with the croissant, one of the most well-known French delicacies. But do you know where pain au chocolat really comes from? And do you know that, if you go to Bordeaux, you may prefer to order a chocolatine, s’il vous plaît ? Keep reading to find out!
The history of the pain au chocolat
The origin of pain au chocolat is not utterly clear; there are many different theories about who came up with the idea of wrapping a chocolate stick with a laminated dough. The most popular one holds that it was an Austrian military official, August Zang, who imported them from Austria to France back in the 1830s. According to this theory, in his Viennese Bakery in Paris he would have baked Schokoladencroissants (croissants filled with chocolate). However, the French food historian Jim Chevallier, who published a book about Zang and the origin of the croissant, states that this may not be entirely true, since the denomination “croissant” came after Zang made the Kipferl (Austria’s original croissants)popular in France. It seems that for the time being the true origin will remain shrouded in mystery…
Pains au chocolat around the world
Although we can’t know the real origin of these delicious sweet rolls, what we can affirm is that they are popular in countless places all around the globe. As a result, we can find many variations of its denomination.
In Spain, for example, the pains au chocolat are commonly known as napolitanas de chocolate –literally “chocolate Neapolitans”, although they don’t really come from Naples…–; in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, they mostly refer to them as chocolate croissants; in the Netherlands, you will find them under the name of chocoladebroodje and,in Belgium, they are called couques au chocolat.
However, there is one country where the different ways of calling this viennoiserie have truly split the population: France.
France: chocolatine or pain au chocolat ?
Let’s take a deeper look into the different denominations of this viennoiserie in France, for it has been a subject of debate for years. In fact, the matter has even reached the French parliament some years ago!
I had the chance to experience this by myself. I used to live in Bayonne, in the southwest of France, and I still remember the first time I referred to the pain au chocolat as… pain au chocolat. “No, no, here we don’t call it like that…” was the answer. In fact, in this region of France, the pain au chocolat is not a pastry, but an actual piece of bread with a chocolate bar. In the French southwest, the sweet roll filled with chocolate we are talking about is called chocolatine.
Nevertheless, while the great debate revolves around chocolatine and pain au chocolat, there are also other denominations in France. French linguist Mathieu Avanzi polled thousands of French-speaking people in order to identify the usage of all the different variations. At the end of his study, he was able to draw a map where we can see that pain au chocolat is the designation used in most of the country, followed by chocolatine (also used in Quebec), petit pain au chocolat –in some areas of the north and the northeast–and croissant au chocolat, used in the northeast as well.
In any event, however much we may argue about how to call it, we can all agree on one thing: eating this viennoiserie is a true delight. As the acclaimed French singer Charles Aznavour once sang, “enveloppés tout frais dans du papier de soie, comme un cadeau du ciel, exquise friandise, des petits pains au chocolat…” (“wrapped fresh in tissue paper, like a gift from heaven, exquisite delicacies, the little pains au chocolat…”).
Cindy Anderson. 2021. Le Pain au Chocolat — Cindy Anderson. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.cindyandersonauthor.com/blog-4/le-pain-au-chocolat. [Accessed 08 June 2021].
Connexion France. 2021. Pain au chocolat or chocolatine? The definitive map. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.connexionfrance.com/French-news/Pain-au-chocolat-or-chocolatine-The-definitive-map. [Accessed 08 June 2021].
France 3 Occitanie. 2021. La science tranche la “guéguerre” entre chocolatine et pain au chocolat. [ONLINE] Available at: https://france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr/occitanie/haute-garonne/toulouse/science-tranche-gueguerre-entre-chocolatine-pain-au-chocolat-1353799.html. [Accessed 08 June 2021].
Joe Sevier. 2021. How to Make Chocolate Croissants From Scratch | Epicurious. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/how-to-make-homemade-chocolate-croissants-pain-au-chocolat-article. [Accessed 08 June 2021].
King Arthur Baking. 2021. Pain au Chocolat | King Arthur Baking. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/pain-au-chocolat-recipe. [Accessed 08 June 2021].
Les Leftovers: No, August Zang did not bring the pain au chocolat, the chocolatine or the schokoladencroissant to Paris. 2021. [ONLINE] Available at: https://leslefts.blogspot.com/2017/08/no-august-zang-did-not-bring-pain-au.html. [Accessed 08 June 2021].
Mathieu Avanzi. 2021. Pain au chocolat vs chocolatine… Fight !. [ONLINE] Available at: https://theconversation.com/pain-au-chocolat-vs-chocolatine-fight-85923. [Accessed 08 June 2021].
Written by Irene Arto Escuredo, Schuman Terminology Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit (DG TRAD). She holds a BA in Translation and Interpreting by the University of Salamanca (Spain) and is currently carrying out a Master’s degree in Institutional Translation.