She is nine and a half years old this June, and her Baba’s birthday is coming up in a few days. She does not have enough money to buy a proper present, something that adults plan and execute with little thinking. As far as she can remember, Baba has made everyone’s birthday special, pouring all her creativity and love into that particular day, excited to bring joy and cause shrieks of laughter with her thoughtful and unique presents.
Besides her mother, Baba was the biggest part of her life, a constant that made her feel loved, secure, and comforted. Her middle name (Angelika) was in honor of her beloved grandmother. Baba taught her how to read in Serbian and put her to sleep singing beautiful melodies in her soft alto. She took her to the park every day, pushed her on her bike until she took off and became free for the first time, and held her little squirming body up in the pool while her splashing legs and arms sent a thousand droplets of water around them.
Since she was born, Baba was an everyday presence in her life, but when she started kindergarten, she had to learn to say good-bye to her beloved grandmother at the airport, hiding her tear-soaked face in Baba’s embrace, not embarrassed at all that everyone at the gate could hear her sobbing. She counted the months until Baba’s next arrival, and at Grandparents’ Day in school she told anyone that would listen that her Baba spoke four languages, painted wonderful watercolors, knitted beautiful sweaters, sewed, cooked the best dishes, sang in a choir, knew her way around the Internet, and had a whole wall in her room lined with book shelves.
Baba sent her beautiful handmade cards filled with lines overflowing with love for her first grandchild. She sent Baba her first awkward renditions of flowers, butterflies, and families in which the two of them were always holding hands and smiling. Every year she eagerly awaited the last day of school knowing that only a long inter-continental flight separated her from spending her summer break in Serbia.
Still fighting the last vestiges of jet lag, she tried to think of something she could give Baba to make her happy. When the idea came to her, she knew it would be the perfect gift. She shared her plan with her mother and aunt, enlisted their help in gathering the necessary items, and gave them the instructions to wake her up really early on the morning of June 15th.
The morning broke and she quietly climbed down the stairs, mindful of the sixth step from the bottom which squeaked, clutching her wallet in her right hand, while holding to the banister with her left. She peaked into the kitchen where her aunt was pouring three small cups of Turkish coffee, and darted outside through the central hall, hoping that Baba was too busy talking and laughing to notice her sudden movements.
She ran to the corner bakery and back, closing the wrought-iron gate slowly behind her, and stealthily walked ahead hugging the walls of the house. As was the plan, her mother and her Aunt served the coffee outside at the table underneath the eave, where the apricot tree cast shade and the view of Baba’s lovingly tended yard was unspoiled. She busied herself in the kitchen fetching everything she needed, trying not to make any noise as the back door was open and Baba could hear fish talking.
When she was ready, she carried the silver-plated serving tray gingerly down the stairs as the three women stared at her. She ceremoniously placed the tray in front of Baba, leaned down and hugged her tightly, blasting an excited “Happy Birthday!” in her ear. Words chased words as she stumbled over her prepared little speech: “You always make breakfast for everybody and I wanted to make breakfast for you. Prijatno*!” Baba’s eyes were blinking as she was fighting the onslaught of tears, but it was useless. She clutched her oldest granddaughter’s narrow hands and sobbed silently, a habit she developed over the years as she cried herself to sleep night after night.
She did not want to make her Baba sad, and now her mother and aunt were crying, too. She started to feel weird, as if she had done something she was not supposed to do, and she shifted her weight from one foot to another, unable to understand the overflow of emotions and drama evolving in front of her. Baba finally released the grip on her hands and looked at the offerings displayed on the silver platter.
There was the ubiquitous handmade card with two female figures holding hands and smiling, oblivious to the world around them. A small crystal glass filled with milk hugged the far right corner. A soft, white damask napkin was folded into a triangle and tucked underneath a zwiebelmuster saucer barely big enough to hold a still-warm, plump, flaky chocolate croissant, dusted generously with powdered sugar, and three luscious, dangerously red June strawberries from the farmers’ market.
Nina is a student at the University of California at Berkeley now, and she will read this and look back and marvel at the beautiful little girl she once was who stood there and wondered why we were all crying… knowing now that tears are sometimes diamonds, beautiful and powerful and sparkling with the emotions that make us who we are.
*Serbian for Bon Apetit!
PAIN AU CHOCOLAT
- 2 tsp instant yeast (or 1 inch cube of fresh yeast)
- 100gr (3 oz) granulated sugar
- 250 ml (1 cup) warm milk
- 500 gr (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 150gr (12 Tbsp, 1 and a half stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 100 gr (3oz) good quality chocolate (I prefer at least 70% cacao, but the rest of the family likes it sweeter), cut into pieces; you can use Nutella or any other chocolate spread
Place yeast with sugar and milk in a large bowl and allow it to bloom for 10 minutes. Add most of the flour and salt, and mix to combine. The dough should be soft, but not sticky. Add the rest of the flour in small increments if necessary.
Remove to the counter dusted with flour and knead for 10 minutes until elastic. Lightly oil the dough, return to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave at a warm place to double in size, about 1 and a half to 2 hours (I left mine in the refrigerator overnight).
Divide the butter in three equal parts. Punch the dough down and shape into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick, the longer side facing you. Spread butter onto two right thirds of the rectangle, fold the left third over the buttered middle third as if you were folding a business letter, and in the end the remaining uncovered third over the other two folds. (I folded mine one more time to form a square). Place on a tray, cover with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated for 30 minutes.
Repeat the process two more time, for the total of three folds. After the final rest in the fridge (which can be overnight), shape the dough into a rectangle and cut strips 2 inches wide and 4-5 inches long. Or you can shape the dough into a circle and cut it in triangles to form croissants (first in halves, then in quarters, eights, etc., just like a big pie).
Preheat the oven to 450F.
Place a chocolate square close to the narrow end and fold into a roll. Flatten the roll just a little bit, and place seam down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (if you have a non-stick pan, you donâ€™t have to do this).
Bake the rolls for 10-15 minutes, until light brown. Let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then transfer them to a cooling rack. After they cool off, sprinkle with powder sugar and serve.
Lisa Michelle from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives is hosting Bread Baking Day #47, an event started by Zorra from 1x UmrÃ¼hren Bitte. She chose the theme for this month, Bread and Chocolate, and I think my Pain Au Chocolate would love to be in the company of so many baked beauties.