On the day of our departure from France my husband and I rose early. Already on “home” mode, we packed the night before and, after a light breakfast, went about tidying up the apartment we rented during the last half of our vacation (more on this in an upcoming post). It had been a truly wonderful, much-appreciated holiday, especially after my husband’s cycling accident earlier this summer, and though for the most part we didn’t want the vacation magic to end we had both begun to miss home.
One month seems to be our limit. Every place we’ve visited we’ve fantasized about living there for a time and never have we felt this as much as when we first stumbled upon Saint Jean Cap Ferrat in the French Riviera. But that is all it will ever be, a fantasy, for the pull of our simple life here in California with our family and friends (and cat) is apparently stronger than we’ve realized.
But this is not to say that we won’t miss a few things…we’re already missing quite a lot, actually, after being home only a week. Sipping tea on the terrace and watching the sun rise, witnessing the local fishermen on Villefranche Bay pull in the morning’s catch, the morning walks around the peninsula, taking the bus to Nice for the farmers and antique market, picking up a baguette at the local boulangerie and finally, returning to the terrace in the afternoon for a glass of wine. It’s really a charmed life that one can have on the Riviera and we discovered that having your own place instead of a hotel room can make, to a point, a vacation spot feel more like home. This was our first time staying in a self-catering apartment and my husband is now so sold on the idea that I may never see the inside of a European hotel room again. I’m going to miss that…
…as well as a certain baked good that ended up being my last French treat on this trip.
Standing between the A-gates on the second floor of Terminal 1 at the Nice airport is a tiny Paul bakery kiosk. Paul is a 120-year old, family-owned French bread/pastry company with a few stores in the US and other parts of the world. I picked up a couple of sandwiches and also asked the clerk to throw in one of the breadstick-like rolls studded with chocolate chips, Benoîton pépites chocolat. I bought one based on their looks alone. Well, I also can’t ever resist bread and chocolate together. I walked back to my husband and generously offered a bite of my benoîton. That was a mistake because I managed only one bite before he polished off the entire roll (in his defense, the Paul version is a bit daintier than the ones here).
“This is good,” he said. “Can we get another?”
Ever the good wife, I stood in line again only to see that there was only one benoîton left. I only got one bite out of that one, too, but it was enough to convince me to make a project of them once we returned home.
A few days later I ended up with a version that I’d say comes pretty close to the original despite the very few recipes available online. And did I mention that the handful of recipes I saw were in French?
Google translate came in quite handy. I found a recipe that I felt comfortable using as a base though I took several liberties with it. I used chocolate instead of dried fruit, used a combination of flours in addition to the traditional rye, added cocoa powder to the mix, reduced the salt, used my own baking method, a lower baking temperature and shorter baking time.
My benoîtons came out a bit plumper than the ones at Paul but the texture and taste were very close. I made two batches a few days ago. Still jet-lagged at the time, I got up at 1 am, proofed the yeast, let the dough rise and was baking before sunrise. Then when I realized I should have incorporated the chocolate pieces into the dough instead of just pressing them onto the top, I made an improved second batch.
What’s a benoîton like? It’s a yeast bread, pleasantly dense because of the whole wheat and rye flours and wonderfully chocolatey because of the cocoa powder I added to the dough and the generous amount of chocolate pieces. They’re best served warm or at room temperature or toasted the next day. Nutella and jam wouldn’t be bad accompaniments either.
As I nibble on one of these rolls somehow France doesn’t seem so far away…
- This recipe will make 20 – 22 rolls so be prepared to have leftovers. I have plans for the few I still have sitting in the refrigerator and if my idea works out, I’ll be sharing that recipe with you soon, too.
- Don’t let the fact that this is yeast bread scare you from trying this recipe. It’s very easy. I didn’t even knead the dough by hand this time–my stand mixer did all the work. And if you want to try other flavor combinations, benoîtons can easily be adapted for dried fruit or a savory version with olives and/or herbs. I might give these variations a try next time.
- 300 grams (~10.5 oz) whole wheat flour
- 155 grams (~5.5 oz) all-purpose flour
- 75 grams (~2.6 oz) rye flour
- 330 ml (~11.15 oz) warm water (between 105 - 100℉) + 1-2 tablespoons more
- 1½ teaspoons yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 115 - 135 grams (~4 - 5 oz) chocolate chips (mine were large so I processed them into smaller chunks) (I set aside about 1 ounce to top the dough before baking)
- Olive oil or cooking spray
- Proof the yeast: Stir the yeast into the 330 ml of warm water and set aside for about 10 minutes. The mixture should be foamy after this time.
- Prepare the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the three flours, cocoa powder, chocolate chips (minus 1 oz), sugar, salt then whisk lightly just to incorporate the ingredients. Using the dough hook attachment turn your mixer on and set it to Speed 2. While it's running add the yeast/water mixture. Knead for 8-10 minutes. If, after running the mixer for one to two minutes the mixture looks a bit dry (unincorporated dry ingredients at the bottom) add an additional tablespoon or two of water; it doesn't have to be warm. After 8-10 minutes the dough should have formed into a smooth ball.
- Place the dough in a large bowl rubbed with a thin layer of olive oil or lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Rub the top of the dough with oil or spray so it doesn't form a skin while it rises. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and leave it to rise, double in size for 1½ hours.
- Once the dough has doubled in size preheat your oven to 425℉. Transfer it to a lightly-floured surface and roll it into roughly an 11 x 13 inch rectangle. You can prick the surface of the rolled out dough with a fork just to keep it from rising too much but this is optional.
- If you reserved the last ounce of chocolate pieces press them onto the dough.
- Cut the dough: Cut the dough in half widthwise then cut each half lengthwise into roughly 1-inch rectangles. You should have 20-22 strips. Transfer the strips onto a parchment lined baking sheet (you may need two) and let them rest for 5-10 minutes before baking them. Bake for about 12 minutes rotating the baking sheet halfway through the cooking period. Cool for a few minutes on a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator and heat up in a toaster oven.