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”)