For all the grilled cheese sandwiches I ate as a kid, I’m kind of surprised I didn’t discover these a little earlier. It’s weird with chocolate. Everyone’s cracked for it, but the thought of it on a sandwich is a little strange. Unless you think about it really hard. And then realize it’s actually genius. I guess for North Americans chocolate is strictly a treat, a dessert food, an Easter food, something to put in your cookies when you bake them after school with your mom. Chocolate had rules like that when I was growing up. I distinctly remember the day my sister Robin came home from a sleepover at a friend’s house, eyes wide and glazed over as she tried to explain to me this mysterious chocolate spread that came out of a jar. At her friend’s house they were allowed to eat it on toast for breakfast. It was Nutella of course, something my mother was smart enough not to buy for us because she knew deep down what she’d have on her hands. I was the child who gave herself heartburn for the first time at the age of seven after eating too many tacos, so she knew all bets were off if I was allowed to have chocolate for breakfast. My mother is a very smart lady, as I now enjoy Nutella far too often, most often by the heaping tablespoon at three o’clock in the morning standing at the kitchen counter.
So yes, these little chocolate sandwiches do break the rules. If you’re North American and these things make you feel dangerous. My friend Darka sometimes lets her kids have a couple of squares of chocolate after breakfast…she’s from Slovenia, is the best cook I know, and I trust her when it comes to European chocolate sensibilities. I thought of her when I made these for the first time. They turned out to be a late night snack with a couple of girlfriends after a show. But I would make them for breakfast in a heartbeat.
These sandwiches are loosely based on a recipe that comes from Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue (Workman Publishing, 2010). If you even remotely enjoy barbecuing (I love it, I’m awful at it, even putting a barbecue together makes me cry) get your hands on a copy of this book. This guy went to sixty countries and came back with over three hundred barbecue recipes from all over the world, including Jose Andres Grilled Bread with Chocolate. I was a little hesitant to make these without all the gorgeous ingredients that would be so readily available in Spain but not so much down at the liquor/convenience store. But I was kind of stuck for a new recipe and gave it a go with what I could find. I don’t have the exact recipe in front of me, the book belongs to my brother-in-law, but get your hands on something remotely close to these ingredients: Spanish style white bread, extra virgin olive oil, some thin rectangles of bittersweet chocolate and some coarse sea salt.
My sister read this recipe to me over the phone, and from what I can remember, there were some pretty elaborate instructions that involved grill settings, etc. No disrespect to Jose Andres intended, but I made them like grilled cheese sandwiches. Lucky for me my breadmaker makes passable baguettes, but I couldn’t get my hands on a single square of bittersweet chocolate and had to use a couple of Hershey milk chocolate bars. There was extra virgin olive oil, but no sea salt, just regular. I don’t know who Jose Andres is, but I’m guessing right about now he would be furrowing his brow and yelling at me in Spanish.
So here’s what I did seeing as how it was raining and I wasn’t up to cooking outside…I spread the pieces of bread with olive oil, laid them oil side down in a pan, placed a few squares of the chocolate on them (four worked much better and was nice and oozier than three as we found out for batch number two) and laid another piece of bread oil side out on top. Then, like the sandwich from my childhood, cooked them over a medium heat until the bottom was golden and the chocolate was melted. Flip. Squish. Wait for other side to do the same.
Drizzle the sandwiches with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, watch eyes widen around the table. Nice with a cup of tea I would imagine, but we had ours with a few glasses of cold milk. The sweet of the chocolate together with the salt is a combination that will really surprise you. So will the olive oil, just don’t use anything but extra virgin. My sister Robin (the other Nutella-deprived child) first told me about this recipe and she was right….it’s like I can’t imagine my life without these sandwiches in them. I’m gunning to make them again in a few weeks when I leave Cow Head and have access to dark chocolate and good European-style bread. It’s hard to believe these things can get much tastier. But I think they can. And I think that’s pretty great.