*The theme for my A to Z is Childhood Stories. Some are real, some are embellished, some are downright fictional but are based on the kind of things I imagined when I was younger.*
This post could also be called How to Prepare the Best Breakfast ever – but this is A to Z and I needed a C, so Chocolat Chaud it is. (This is, by the way, French for Hot Chocolate).
Growing up, my favourite meal was always le Petit Déjeuner (French for breakfast). It still is. And the best Petit Déjeuner of all my childhood was the first one of the summer holidays, having arrived at my grandparents’ place in the South of France. It isn’t just the croissant, the baguette. It’s the ritual of preparing the Petit Déjeuner that I love, a ritual that centers around the Chocolat Chaud.
Allow me to guide you through said ritual.
The perfect Petit Déjeuner begins on wakeup, on a sunny summer’s morning. You go down in your pyjamas to the terrace outside with its already-warm terracotta tiles, the sunlight dappled by the grapevine overhead. There, you say hello to the family already eating. You yawn, stretch your arms overhead, and then go to the kitchen to begin the Preparation.
(As you may have guess by now, as a child the preparation of my Petit Déjeuner was as solemn an occasion as any religious ceremony.)
You retrieve a bowl from the old fashioned crokery cupboard (bonnetière in French) that smells of old wood and wood varnish. Now Chocolat Chaud requires a bowl. Not a mug, not a cup, a bowl. No other vessel will do it justice. Preferably a simple bowl, even better if it’s a bit old with a chip on the side, perfect if on top of that it has some colour (the bowl I liked to use was blue green with a crack down the outside)
Two teaspoons of powdered chocolate go into the bowl and a third into your mouth, because it’s tasty, and because there is a unique joy in eating something powdery off a spoon — it goes all tacky in your mouth. Then milk, then into the microwave.
While the Chocolate Chaud is heating up, you eat a second teaspoon of powdered chocolate and put the pot back in its cupboard (you’ll of course have a third and final teaspoon later.) Then you begin preparing the baguette.
If you’re lucky (and I was pretty much always lucky for that first Petit Déjeuner of the summer holidays), there will be a croissant waiting for you out on the terrace, still in its crinkly paper bag, warm and smelling of butter. (My father would go and get them from the village down the road. The sign that you are grown up, by the way, is when you fetch your own croissant.)
A croissant is great, but not enough on its own. We need a baguette.
Half a baguette, freshly baked that morning. Slice it open. Then butter. Real butter, bien sur. No, I’m not referring to the margarine alternative, I mean salted butter. In Brittany, there is a saying: if it’s not salted butter, it’s not butter. And in Brittany you can get butter with actual salt crystals and it’s delicious beyond words. So. Salted butter.
Petit Déjeuner and childhood is not a time for weight or health concerns (in fact even as an adult Petit Déjeuner is not the time to worry about your cellulite), so it’s a generous slab of butter, followed by several generous dollops of jam that you spread with the back of the spoon (always with the back of a spoon for jam, never with a knife).
(The jam was homemade by Manou, my grandmother, and my favourites were either blackberry or apricot).
By now, the Chocolat Chaud should be ready, but wait. Don’t go yet. The bowl will be hot so take a tea towel. Now, here we come to a point of some dispute. To get the Chocolat Chaud to the right temperature you will have to heat the milk until a skin forms on the top. I’m not sure why it does that — it just does. It is an immutable part of hot milk physics.
The dispute is what to do with the skin.
Me, I think it’s gross. I scoop it off with a spoon and put it in the bin with a ‘yech!’. My father eats his milk skin with relish. Each to their own, but it’s something you have to take a stand on (and by the way, if you are mistaken enough to eat your milk skin, that’s fine but I will judge you a little.)
The milk skin taken care off, you *carefully* carry your bowl to the terrace. Depending on your age, this can be done confidently, or with snail like slowness, gaze fixed on the milk to make sure it doesn’t slosh and spill over the side of the bowl. Then go back to get your baguette, and finally, you are ready to take your place at the table.
Take the croissant out of the bag (bonus if it’s the last one and you get to crinkle the bag up in your hands), and then commence.
Dunk the croissant in and take a bite. The Chocolat Chaud will be too hot and will burn your mouth a little. That is good. The croissant will also soak up too much milk and chocolate so that, as you bite, milk will run down your chin, down your hand, down your forearm. You will stain the tablecloth and your pyjamas. Someone (probably your mother) will sigh and hand you a napkin.
Now, you can avoid soaking yourself in milk if, as you bite, you do a huge ssshhhhhlurp. Of course some will still go down your chin but that’s part of the fun.
The baguette is less messy but the challenge here is how much dunking you can achieve while keeping the baguette horizontal enough so that the jam doesn’t slide off the butter and into your bowl. I am quite the expert at this by the way.
When you are finished, drink the Chocolat Chaud, now at the right temperature and full of bits of bread, croissant, jam and butter.
Then, recline back, full to bursting, and happy as a pig rolling in an enormous pile of elephant dung.
In other words, heaven.