Having worked with laminated dough before, and that too in warm and humid tropical conditions, let me assure that the subject/ object of this post is not for the faint hearted. I don’t mean that just figuratively but also literally when you consider that about 50% of this yeasted French pastry is butter!
Pronounced “koo-WEEN a-MON”, which not surprisingly means “butter cake” in Breton, this pastry is native to Brittany in France, where it is believed to have originated in the 1800s. The pastry derives its name from the old Breton words for cake which is “kouign” and butter which is “amann.” The coastal region of Brittany, in the northwest of France is home to Celtic traditions brought by the migrants who crossed the English Channel in the 5th and 6thcenturies.
So the Kouign Amann, much like typical laminated dough, is made of layers of butter folded into a yeasted dough where the final fold includes a layer of caster sugar. This makes for a savoury tasting pastry with a hint of sweetness, which is exactly the kind of thing I like.
Apparently, in France, Kouign Amann is often served with fillings of fresh fruit or chocolate.
I don’t remember exactly when, but I think it was a few years ago that I first came across the Kouign Amann on David Lebovitz’s blog. What got my attention then was the Middle Eastern sounding name which incidentally turned out to be a French one! When I went through the recipe, all I was left with was the thought of working with heaps of butter and that somehow scared me a whole lot, as did the thought of laminated pastry which I had never worked with.
A few years and a lot of practice later, I am no longer scared of making laminated dough and now can turn out a rather mean batch of croissants. I still gave the Kouign Amann because of all that butter that is something I can do without. However, Lien chose the Kouign Amann for the Bread Baking Babes to bake this month and when I looked at the recipe and her photographs I was hooked. The Kouign Amann is traditionally baked as one large cake but Lien’s recipe calls for making smaller muffin sized mini Kouign Amann which the French call Kouignette. If you ask me, I prefer these mini versions because they’re much much prettier and obviously easier to eat in muffin size (and no hassles of trying to cut out neat and equal portions)
So make them I did, using the full recipe that Lien provided and my only regret is that I made the full batch knowing that these Kouingettes are so not good for the husband and me. In every other way, they’re just too good. My husband bit into one, crunched his way through it, and then asked me for a couple more of them. He then told me that he only wished these pastries had a name easier to say and remember so he could ask me to make them next time.
If you love croissants then think of these as a variation on them, and you will perhaps understand why they are so difficult to resist. Watch this video on making Kouign Amann, and towards the end you’ll see the smile on the face of one the men who takes a bite of the pastry. Once you have eaten one, you will most probably have a smile like that on your face, I promise!
Please don’t go by my photographs of these Kouignettes which don’t do them the justice they deserve. I only know they’re just too good not to make again. My daughter would absolutely love them but she’s not coming home from college till well into summer. Since the Indian summer is not a good time to make laminated dough (the heat and the humidity just melts the butter out!), the next batch of laminated dough is resting in the refrigerator as I write this post, and shall be frozen to bake in summer.
While making the laminated dough is really not difficult if one follows the recipe properly and makes sure the butter and dough is always chilled, the whole process will take a large part of the day as the dough needs to be refrigerated a lot in between. A few more precautions, and you’ll have a batch of flaky, buttery little pastries that are barely sweet, crunchy on the outside and slightly chewy in the middle.
Like with all laminated dough, the quality of your pastry will depend on the quality of the butter you use to make them. Ideally, you want butter with a lower water content. I always the Amul brand (an Indian butter), as it compares with the best in the world and I find it works extremely well.
As to whether to make the full recipe or half, I’d say make the full recipe because the effort is worth it. You can freeze the extra Kouignette and then warm/ crisp them up in the oven whenever you desire one.
I did a little research into the Kouign Amann and what I found is that though a lot of recipes ask you to use unsalted butter, those who really know the Kouign Amann suggest that the best butter to use for making this pastry is the salted kind.
It can’t be said enough that the butter and the dough need to be chilled throughout. The slightest rise in temperature means melting butter, no lovely layers, leaky and greasy pastry when it’s time to bake it. So work quickly and in as cool an environment as possible. Work the dough minimally, and put the dough back in the refrigerator at the slightest hint of it warming up.
Finally, and this is perhaps the most difficult to do, do let the baked Kouignette cool down for at least about 30 minutes for it to develop its signature crunchy texture.
One final bit of advice – if you’re new to the Kouign Amann, then this video which shows how tomake it, would be extremely useful before starting on the recipe. If you’re new to laminating dough, please see this tutorial which explains the procedure in detail.
(Slightly adapted from Paul Hollywood – BBC “The Great British Bake Off”)
Kouig Amman/ Kouignettes (Absolutely Awesome Mini Breton Butter Cakes)
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups bread flour *
- 1 1/2 tsps yeast instant
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 200 ml water warm
- 25 g unsalted butter , melted
- 250 g salted butter for butter cold block
- 1/4 cup caster sugar for sprinkling (+extra)
- *If you cannot find bread flour then you can make your own substitute by adding vital wheat gluten to all-purpose flour. 1 tbsp of vital wheat gluten is good for 2 cups of all-purpose flour. Add the gluten to your measuring cup and then top up with the flour.
- You can knead the dough by hand but machine is easier and I used my food processor as usual. Put 2 cups of bread flour into the bowl and add the yeast. Add the water and melted butter and run the machine on slow speed till mixed. Add the salt and as much more of the flour as is necessary and knead until you have a soft and elastic dough that is not sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and put it into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover loosely and leave to rise for one hour.
- Place 250gm of cold butter between two sheets of greaseproof paper and bash with a rolling pin, then roll it out to a 14 cm square. Place in the fridge ( not freezer) to keep it chilled.
- Take the proofed dough and gently deflate it. Lightly flour your working surface and roll it out to a 20 cm square. Place the butter in the centre of the dough diagonally, so that each side of butter faces a corner of the dough. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter to enclose like an envelope.
- Gently roll the dough into a 45cm x 15 cm rectangle. Fold the bottom third of dough up over the middle, then fold the top third of the dough over, like you would a letter. You will now have a sandwich of three layers of butter and three layers of dough. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. This completes one turn.
- Repeat this process twice more, so you have completed a total of three turns, chilling the dough for 30 minutes between turns. After chilling, the dough and butter should be cold but still pliable enough to roll out easily.
- Now, roll the dough into a rectangle as before. Sprinkle the surface of the dough uniformly with the caster sugar and fold into thirds again. Chill if necessary otherwise, work quickly and roll the dough into slightly larger than 40cm x 30 cm rectangle. Now trim off the rough edges so that your dough rectangle measures exactly 40cm x 30 cm.
- Sprinkle the dough with caster sugar and cut the dough into 12 squares each measuring 10cm x 10cm. I cut mine into smaller squares (8cm x 8cm) because my muffin tins are on the smaller side.
- Grease a 12-cup muffin tray well with oil. Gather the dough squares up by their four corners and place in the muffin tins, pulling the four corners towards the centre of the muffin tin, so that it gathers up like a four-leaf clover. Press these corners well together; they can open up when unattached to each other. I thought I had pressed mine well, but they still opened up while baking! Sprinkle the tops with caster sugar and leave to rise at room temperature for about 30 minutes, covered with a clean tea towel, until slightly puffed up.
- Bake the shaped dough at 220C (425F). Bake the pastries for 30-40 minutes, or until golden-brown. Cover with foil halfway through if beginning to brown too much (and they will). Itu2019s alright if some parts of your Kouignette are a little darker from caramelisation of the sugar.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a couple of minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Be careful not to burn yourself on the caramelised sugar, but if you leave them to cool for too long, the caramelised sugar will harden and they will be stuck in the tin. Serve warm or cold, though they taste best slightly warm. They also taste best the same day theyu2019re baked.
- If you donu2019t want to eat them all in want go (of just if you want to, but shouldnu2019t), bag and freeze them. When you want warm them up, defrost them and place them in a warm oven (180C/ 350F) for about 5 minutes or until warm. They will crisp up again.
- This recipe makes 12 pastries or more if you cut smaller squares from the dough.