A Taste of True Catalan Comfort

Spanish modernist José Chesa shares a recipe from his chocolate-fueled childhood.

By Benjamin Tepler January 25, 2016 Published in the February 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Michael Novak

Of José Chesa’s various gastronomic whiz-bang inventions at Northwest Portland’s Ataula—vacuum-sealed patatas bravas to chorizo lollipops—it’s the simplest of desserts, pa amb xocolata, or chocolate bread, that he turns to for nostalgic reassurance.

“My mom sent me to school with this sandwich in my bag at least twice a week,” says the Barcelona native, 34, who also co-owns Northeast Portland churro bar 180 (editor's note: 180 is now closed). “She would spread Nocilla, the Spanish Nutella, on toast and drizzle a little bit of olive oil. Still, it is the best-tasting thing I’ve ever had for breakfast.”

When he opened Ataula in 2013, it was one of the first dishes on the menu, reimagined with high-quality chocolate ganache enriched with egg yolks, fruity Spanish Arbequina olive oil, and a sprinkling of Jacobsen sea salt, all slathered atop house brioche. Unlike the rest of Chesa’s repertoire, chocolate bread is dead-simple. It’s also borderline life-altering: sinking into plush ganache cloaked with buttery olive oil is like seeing chocolate with 3-D glasses. When it comes to comfort, mother always knows best.

Pa amb Xocolata
  • Brioche, cut into 1-inch thick slices (Chesa recommends St. Honoré Boulangerie.)
  • Chocolate ganache*
  • Arbequina olive oil
  • Fleur de sel

Toast brioche. Spread a large spoonful of ganache over the top. Drizzle generously with olive oil and top with a sprinkle of flake salt. Serve with a sweet sherry, like Pedro Ximenez.

*Chocolate Ganache
(Makes 1 pint)

Bring 1 cup whole milk to a boil in a small saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk ¼ cup white sugar into 3 egg yolks in a medium, heat-safe bowl, just until blended. Take the milk off the heat and immediately whisk into the sugar-yolk mix, pouring the first ⅓ cup slowly at first, then adding the rest all at once, being careful not to let the eggs cook. Immediately add 9 ounces dark chocolate (61–78 percent chocolate wafers or finely chopped bars) to the custard and whisk until fully melted. Pour ganache into a container with a lid and let chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Will keep for one week refrigerated.

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