How can I make you understand the incredible deliciousness that is the Kouign Amann? I could tell you that the name comes from the Breton words for cake ("kouign") and for butter ("amann"). One bite and you can see why those Bretons didn't feel they had to come up with a name more descriptive of fanciful than "butter cake." I could also tell you that it's the specialty of the tiwb Douarnenez in Brittany, which should certainly give you a heads up in a trivia game, if the topic ever came up. But that doesn't explain how wonderful this cake/pastry is.
Let me try by giving you the reaction of my co-workers when I brought some to work. "Oh, look, Marie stopped at that fancy patisserie in her neighborhood and brought us some treats." "No, you did not make these. I don't believe it." Because they kind of do look pretty professional, don't they?
Day 2 at the office. One-half of one lonely Kouign lies on the plate (because Minnesotans can never take the last piece of anything). It wasn't covered or wrapped overnight, but my co-worker announced that she'd nuke it for 10 seconds and it'd be better than anything she could buy fresh.
Okay, I'm not going to tell you that you can put this together in 10 minutes or that it's carefree and easy to make, or even that you won't have moments when you seriously doubt this will all turn out right. But I am going to tell you that it's not nearly as hard as it looks and you can certainly do it.
Mise en Place: Note the expensive French butter. It's not necessary to have French butter, but if you can find it, it's a good idea to use high-fat butter. The folks from Brittany pride themselves on having the best butter in the world, and they might be right--theirs has a little salt in it, but American salted butter is way too salty to substitute.
This is my dough square. Woody was with me when I was making these, and he helped me a lot. In return for his help, he yelled at me. Maybe "yelled" is too strong. Maybe he gently remonstrated. "Marie, where's your ruler?" "I don't know, Woody, why would I need a ruler? I'll just guess." I got the dang ruler.
Butter package in middle of dough package. Woody is still fretting that my corners aren't very corner-y.
But it didn't really make any difference because the corners all get pulled out anyway, and turn into flaps with which to cover the butter.
This is the first dough package.
This picture's for you Woody! See how precise it is? It's a 13 x 7-inch rectangle.
Sprinkling superfine granulated sugar on the work surface.
First you roll the dough into a rectangle, then you measure it with a ruler, then you straighten it with a dough scraper.
The corners are square! The rectangle is perfectly accurate! The sides have been neatly patted into place. Even Woody is pleased.
Everything has gone smoothly so far, but you can see that sugary butter juices are starting to ooze out. The best solution is to ignore it.
Because you're not done rolling, measuring, and primping. Now the rectangle has to be 14 x 8 inches, and of course it's getting increasing difficult to roll out. But not too difficult! Trust me--I have not felt the slightest urge to swear.
Now you have to cut the rectangle into eight squares, which you would not be able to do properly if you didn't have a neat rectangle. I feel like I'm channeling my old Home Ec. teacher, who thought I had slipshod tendencies.
Shaped, tucked into the metal rings, and ready to go into the oven. Fortunately, there are excellent pictures of the shaping process in the book. Mine didn't turn out that well. But the shaping is not difficult at all once you get the hang of it.
Baked! A couple of them are a little small (perhaps my rectangle was not as perfect as I thought), but all in all quitie photogenic. You may notice that the sugar on the foil is actually what you might call burned rather than caramelized. Now here's the point where I would have started to swear but Woody just said, "It looks like we'll be doing a little scraping." Heart-warming words to me, and, sure enough, a little scraping of the burnt bottoms was all that was needed.
I think this is the one that caused my colleague to accuse me of buying this at a fancy Patisserie.
Yes, it's a long, occasionally tedious process to make these. But it's long and tedious to play 18 holes of golf, too, and I can tell you that Jim was in a much better mood after eating one of these (heck, he even scarfed up the burned scrapings) than he is after he plays golf. Apples and oranges you say? I say Kouigns Amann.