Saturday, September 10, 2011

Day 160.5 Kouign Amann (Caramelized Breton Pastry)

Last night while scrolling through my Facebook feed, I happened on a post from entitled,  Kouign Amann, Your New Favorite Pastry. The teaser read:  "The hottest pastry in America right now is one you probably can't find, much less pronounce." The article spotlighted the Starter Bakery in Oakland, California that's now making Kouign Amann to rave reviews. Aside from the word "pastry", the bait was the key word "can't" which I took without a second thought.  Ask anyone in my family, and they will testify that from the time I was old enough to be told what I couldn't or shouldn't do ( probably as soon as I learned to walk), I set out to very deliberately prove that I most certainly could and would. Needless to say, this stubborn streak persisted through a rather, "I can and you can't stop me" adolescence (sorry, Mom) and has now become what some in my immediate family might describe as, "Mom doing Mom". And, while I have failed many times at whatever it was I may have been attempting to do,  I still keep trucking - because I can, and because I love a challenge almost as much as I love butter and caramelized sugar, both of which Kouign Amann has in abundance.

So, I ventured into the cloud to find a recipe, and my first hit was David Lebovitz's recipe. A published pastry chef now living, eating and cooking in Paris, I have followed David's blog for several years and regularly drool and laugh (simultaneously), over his posts. I found a few other recipes on-line, but his have never steered me wrong. Below is his unadapted recipe -- because I wouldn't dare mess with it. But I can try to recreate it, and thanks to his great instruction, I did (except I think I my oven may run a little hot and I could have cut the cooking time down by 3 minutes). Merci Mr. Lebovitz , you're the pastry mang par excellence!

A brief word about the origin of Kouign Amann, because, after all, this blog explores food from around the world, and because I always want to know why things are as they are. The name comes from the Breton words for cake (Kouign) and butter (Amann) and is a specialty of the town of Douarmenez in the Finistère region, one of Brittany's 5 provinces. Located in north-west France, Brittany is a large peninsula that sits between England to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south. It seems that noone knows for sure who invented the cake. Some speculate that it was "invented" when a baker made an unsucessful batch of bread dough and turned it into a cake rather than toss it. Others say that it came to be in the 1860's when flour was scarce and butter was plentiful. Another theory is that during the time that Brittany was actively trading with Norway and Denmark, the Breton's adapted the Nordic custom of eating slightly sweetened bread. For more information, check out David Lebovitz's post about a trip to Brittany.

Lastly, please don't be discouraged by the number of steps in the recipe. It's very, very easy to make (note there are only 6 ingredients), and if you have the couple of hours you'll need to let the dough rest and rise, the reward of this crunchy, buttery, caramelized, beautiful pastry is so worth the time. And, as the original recipe post points out, there's no need to freak about the amount of butter or sugar used - it's less than you'd use making a batch of Toll House cookies - so go for it and enjoy every luscious bite. You can and you should!

The Basics: Yeast, flour and butter make the dough

Roll out the dough: Add butter, fold in thirds, then fold again - mmm...a buttery packet of goodness

Cover a dinner plate with plastic wrap and chill for one hour (go for a run while you wait)

Remove from refrigerator, sprinkle with sugar and roll/pat out to fit pan

Kouign Amann (Recipe Courtesy of David Lebovitz)
(About 8-10 Servings)

1 Tbsp. dried yeast (not instant)
3/4 cup tepid water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. sea saltx
1 cup sugar (which will be divided later)
(Plus additional sugar for rolling out the pastry)
1 stick salted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

2-3 Tbsp. additional salted butter, melted
  1. In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water with a pinch of sugar. Stir briefly, then let stand for 10 minutes until foamy.
  2. Gradually stir in the flour and salt. The dough should be soft, but not too sticky. Lightly dust your countertop with flour and transfer the dough onto it.
  3. Knead the dough with your hands until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes. If the dough is very sticky, knead in just enough flour, one tablespoon at a time, until it doesn't stick to your hands.
  4. Brush a medium bowl with melted butter, put the dough ball into the bowl. Cover, and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour.
  5. Meanwhile, line a dinner plate with plastic wrap and set aside.
  6. On a lightly floured countertop, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12" x 18" with the shorter sides to your left and right.
  7. The dough may be sticky and difficult to handle. Use a metal pastry scraper to coax the dough into shape, and a minimal sprinkling of flour, as necessary.
  8. Distribute the butter in the center of the dough and sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar. Grab the left side of the dough, lift and fold it over the center, then do the same with the right side (as you would a letter). you should have what resembles a 3-level pastry.
  9. Sprinkle the entire length of the dough with 1/4 cup sugar and (without rolling), fold again into thirds as before.
  10. Place on plastic wrap-covered dinner plate and chill for 1 hour.
  11. Next, clean excess flour for the countertop and dust with a liberal handful of sugar for rolling out the pastry again.
  12. Once chilled, remove dough from the refrigerator.
  13. Ease it away from the plastic onto the sugar-covered countertop, using plenty of sugar.
  14. Top the dough with 1/4 cup sugar, press it in a bit with your hands, and roll into a rectangle for the last time.
  15. Again fold it into thirds and let rest in the refrigerator for another 30-60 minutes.
  16. Preheat oven to 425 F. and brush a 9-inch non-stick cake pan with melted butter.
  17. Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll into a circle about the size of the baking pan. It will be sticky; dusting the top with a sprinkle of sugar will help.
  18. Once rolled out, lift the dough and coax it into the pan. If it starts to break, fold in half and slide a metal bench scrape or spatula under it and slip it into the pan. If it does break, gently piece it back together.
  19. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4-cup of sugar and drizzle with 1 tablespoon melted butter.
  20. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is deeply caramelized. Let stand a few minutes, then run a spatula around the edges to release the Kouign Amann and slide the cake from the pan onto a cooling rack.
© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved


witchywoman said...

I have to say that my hat's off to you...I seriously don't have the patience. I'm trying to learn it, but it's slow in coming. That does look like something that my husband aka The Schizz would love, so I may just give it whirl. Thanks, Sarah!

sadie said...

thanks, Laurrie! My husband loved it too. In fact, by the time it was done, it was well past supper time (note the dark pix!), so we just ended up having it for dinner and he was a happy man :) Hope you try it!

Nick Moran said...


I am very impressed and inspired by your cooking. I am another blogger attempting to cook around the world (and coincidentaly a John Irving fan). Your culinary and photography skills are beyond me but that is the whole idea; come Zimbabwe I will be the next masterchef! I would love to hear what you think about my journey thus far:


sadie said...

Hey Nick, aka, Master Chef! Welcome to the wacky world of cooking by country! I love your blog and am thrilled to connect with you...and if you love John Irving, well, that's just icing on the cake -- to continue with the food metaphors :) I added you to my "cool blogs I follow" page.

OysterCulture said...

This is certainly one of my favorite pastries, thanks for the great read and of course recipe. I have not had time to bake but hope the popularity continues so I can sample the efforts of others.

sadie said...

Dear Ms. Oyster Culture <3

Thank you so much for the kind words. If and when you find time to bake between your worldly travels, I hope you'll make this - It's a good thing it takes a little time, otherwise I'd make it constantly and be as big as a house! said...

Great !..
Ciao from Italy

sadie said...

Grazie mille! :)