One of my favorite things about traveling is architecture.  This is probably why I am so drawn to Europe.  Old churches, basilicas, cathedrals, castles, châteaux, and rikety old building abound and while I may get them all jumbled together by the end of the trip, my camera is full of these pieces of art.

I love how these structures have been cared for over time and allowed to evolve with the cities growing around them.  Some are in better shape than others.  Some are now museums or major tourist destinations while others reside unassumingly on a quite street with the day’s laundry hanging from the balcony.  Either way, at least to me, they exude life and I could bask in their beauty all day.

To be honest, and I apologize art/history lovers, I would rather sit outside of such buildings than venture inside.  While on our honeymoon in France, along with admiring a multitude of architecture, we visited many of the requisite tourist stops.  We spent an entire afternoon strolling around the Louvre, on the outside, admiring the gardens and the ornate designs of it’s structure.  Sorry, Mona Lisa, we missed you.  We walked to the Eiffel Tower one morning, to simply soak up the summer warmth in it’s shadow. Sorry Paris, we didn’t see you from the top of the Tower.  At Notre Dame, we were the only people we saw exploring the perimeter of the Gothic cathedral (Did you know there is a small garden nestled behind the church?  Way better then waiting in lines).  Sorry Quasimodo, we didn’t venture in.

You probably already guessed that my other favorite thing about traveling is the food.  I have enjoyed many great meals during my travels, but often it’s the afternoon snacks that stand out in my mind.

After walking for miles exploring a new city, it is always a treat to stop and get a little bite (especially since dinner might still be hours away).  Typically, these snacks are something sweet (croissants, crepes, gelato) and are found in a small bakery or a stand on the street, thus you end up eating outdoors in an old square or while leisurely walking in the surrounding neigborhood.

A heavenly combination of a perfectly crafted snack and beautiful surroundings.  This is why I travel across the ocean.

As I have professed before, I have an obsession with croissants, especially chocolate croissants.  I also love making croissants, but it is time consuming and sometimes you just don’t feel like being held captive all day by a recipe (or should I say, you might not feel like being held captive, I’m always down).  For those who want to give croissants a whirl, don’t worry, I have plans to share that with you soon, but for now, lets try a “quick n’ dirty” version of pain au chocolat.

I was lucky enough to receive The Essential New York Times Cookbook for Christmas and I give it a huge thumbs-up.  I have made some awesome goat cheese filled calzones, rockn’ sangria, and a lot of the famous Jim Lahey No-Knead Bread.  One of the first recipes to be bookmarked, however, was Petits Pains Au Chocolat A L’ancienne (Old-Fashioned Bread and Chocolate Rolls).

While not croissants, the slightly sweet rolls filled with melted chocolate remind me of my favorite treat.  This recipe was featured in The New York Times in an article reminiscing the French tradition of le gouter de quatre heures, or afternoon snack.  A wonderful piece that reminded me of beautiful afternoons in France.  After making this recipe, I am happy to bring this tradition to America.

Petits Pains Au Chocolat A L’Ancienne

Makes 8 Chocolate Breads

From The Essential New York Times Cookbook, Originally Published September 25, 1988

Note:  These are best right out of the oven, so eat up!  I love the crunch and toastiness of sliced almonds on top of croissants, so I added them to my chocolate bread, this is completely optional.

1/2 cup lukewarm milk

1/2 cup lukewarm water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon, or 1 package, dry yeast

2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1 teaspoon salt

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, preferably Lindt or Tobler brand, divided into 8 equal portions

1 tablespoon milk, for brushing the rolls

Sliced almonds (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk, water, sugar, yeast and one cup of the flour. Stir until thoroughly blended and set aside to proof the yeast, about five minutes.

Once proofed, add the salt, then begin adding the remaining flour, little by little, until the dough is too stiff to stir. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and begin kneading, adding additional flour if the dough is too sticky. Knead until the dough is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, about one hour.

Punch down and let rise again, covered, until double in bulk, about one hour.  Preheat oven to 400°F.

Divide the dough into eight equal portions.  On a lightly floured board, roll each portion into a six-by-four-inch rectangle.  Place a portion of chocolate in the center of each rectangle.  First fold the ends, then the sides, pinching the dough together to make a neat package of each.  Arrange rolls, pinched side down, on a baking sheet.  Cover and allow to rest, at room temperature, for about 30 minutes.  Brush rolls with milk, sprinkle with almonds if using, and bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.  Some of the chocolate may leak through the dough during baking.  Serve warm or room temperature.

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