What I Did During Snowzilla, Part V: Kouign Amann

A few years ago I watched a Food Network episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate with the theme "Salty Goodness." Gina and Pat Neely raved about the kouign amann pastry at Les Madeleines in Salt Lake City. I was intrigued. I had never heard of kouign amann or seen one in a bakery, ever. In the years since, kouign amann -- a pastry from Brittany made from yeasted laminated dough with granulated sugar rolled between the layers -- has taken on a higher profile in the United States. It's even gaining a foothold in Washington, D.C. But I never thought about trying to make it myself. That is, until I realized that Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Baking Bible includes a kouign amann recipe, and I found myself with lots of free time to bake during Snowzilla.

One thing I love about Beranbaum's recipes is that they are so precise. She is clear from the outset that her kouign amann recipe is a six-hour project. But the directions are not particularly difficult, just long. You make the dough by mixing together all of the ingredients (bread flour, instant yeast, salt, cool water, and melted butter) and kneading with a dough hook until you get a silky dough. You let the dough rest for 30 minutes before rolling it out into an 8-inch square and enclosing a square of high-fat butter inside (I used Plugrá).

Then you go through the standard laminating process: roll, fold, chill, roll, fold, chill, etc. The key to this recipe is that for the third turn, you roll out the dough on top of a layer of granulated sugar and also sprinkle sugar on top so that the entire piece of dough is coated with sugar on both sides. You fold the sugar-coated dough, freeze it, chill it, and roll it out on sugar again before cutting the dough into eight 4-inch squares. You roll out each individual square, fold in the corners twice (to understand the shaping process, it helps to look at the photos accompanying the online recipe -- they are the same photos that appear in the cookbook and they illustrate the process clearly), pinch the edges together, and place each shaped pastry inside a 4-inch diameter pastry ring. After a brief rise, you bake the kouign amann until golden; it took 27 minutes for my pastries to reach an internal temperature of 212 degrees.
Bernabaum advises that the kouign amann taste best when freshly baked and still warm, so I didn't wait. I ate one fresh from the oven. It was glorious. The entire pastry -- including all of the beautifully browned exposed layers on top and even the bottom -- was covered in a layer of amazing caramelized sugar that created an audible crunch with every bite. There were even a few pockets of liquid sugar syrup inside. My description might make the pastry sound like a sugar bomb, but the sweetness level wasn't overwhelming -- maybe all of the butter balances it out. It was better than a croissant, and quite possibly better than anything else I've ever made. 
I made a double batch of kouign amann, which should have yielded 16 pastries that were four inches in diameter. But while I own more than 100 pastry rings, I only have a dozen 4-inch rings, and they are all one inch tall. The rest of my pastry rings are smaller in diameter, but taller. So I ended up making twelve 4-inch kouigns, and a half dozen that I baked in 2.5-inch diameter rings. The two photos in this post show the larger 4-inch size pastries, which were clearly superior. (I think my kouign amann cross section compares favorably to Beranbaum's; hers is shown in photo on the cover of The Baking Bible.) The smaller pastries were taller but had less surface area of exposed dough layers on top, which meant less crunchy caramelized sugar goodness.

This was the final recipe I made during Snowzilla and it was the absolute perfect way to cap off a weekend of yeasted bread baking. I gave most of the kouigns away to neighbors and managed to save a couple for us that were still delicious on the second day after a quick reheating in the oven. These beautiful golden pastries were simply extraordinary.

Recipe: "Kouign Amann" from The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, recipe available here at Leite's Culinaria.

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Louise said…
These look terrific. Way to go to gain points with the neighbors. I snowblow their whole driveways and don't even see a cup of coffee until my husband brings me one.
Robyn said…
I'm obsessed with your entire series of Snowzilla baking!!! Now I wish we'd get a snowstorm in Toronto! I think I have to try the Japanese Milk Bread Rolls!
I wish I had a neighbor with a snowblower and I would gladly exchange baked goods for snow removal! I must have built up some extra goodwill, though, because two neighbors took it upon themselves to come over and help me with shoveling! :)
Thanks, Robyn! Mmmm, Japanese Milk Bread Rolls... I can't wait to make those again. I hope you give them a try!
Louise said…

This came in my email today.