I am currently day dreaming about Paris, longing for a lazy morning drinking coffee at my favourite coffee shop in Belleville, wandering the streets of Le Marais going from patisserie to patisserie, finishing the day with a carafe of rosé at my favourite street side wine bar. I get this same feeling every time spring starts to rear its head, when the sun starts to show itself and flowers appear everywhere. Maybe it is because Spring is one of my favourite seasons in Paris or maybe it is when I grow weary of London and need to escape for a while, either way without a trip planned anytime soon I will have to get my francophile fix by making some pastries.
What do you get when take a croissant but as you roll and fold the dough you liberally sprinkle in a layer of sugar? This magical sounding pastry is the kouign amann, which is Breton for butter cake. Butter cake, does anything sound better than that? The folk in the north of France, in the Brittany region, are known for their love of, and the production of, wonderful butter and salt and they put it to very good use in their pastries and confections. If you've had anything salted caramel flavoured then you have Brittany to thank. I happen to think it is the kouign amann though that shows off the flavours of Brittany best, a sweet caramel laced pastry laminated with butter, simple but absolutely delicious. I would say they were elegant but really this is a rustic pastry, that has over the last few years slowly become a trend with the pastry becoming the trademark offering at more than a handful of bakeries (if you ever go to San Francisco both Jane The Bakery and B.Patisserie make world class versions), and these bakeries dont just make the classic version, they have peppered them with flavours as simple as chocolate or apple and flavours as unusual as black sesame. The version below is from my book Patisserie Made Simple and uses a version of my simplified croissant dough, although these are quicker to make than the croissants themselves, if you want to dig further into French baking then make sure you check out my book.
60ml whole milk
125g plain flour
125g strong white bread flour
7g active dry yeast (1 envelope)
150g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
225g unsalted butter, chilled
Put the milk plus 60ml lukewarm water in a medium bowl and mix to combine, then let sit. Put the flours, yeast, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt into a large bowl and mix to combine. Dice 125g of the butter into cubes. Add to the bowl and using a pastry blender cut in the butter briefly to form large chunks. This is the most important stage: if the butter is mixed too much into the flour, the dough won’t expand and puff up as it bakes, so it is better to err on the side of caution. If you can’t see chunks of butter, you have blended in the butter too much.
Transfer the butter and flour mixture into the liquid, and using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the liquid, trying to combine everything without making the butter pieces any smaller. Once you have formed a rough dough, transfer to the countertop and very lightly work it into a ball of dough. Form the dough into a flat rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for 45-60 minues or until cool and a little firm.
Meanwhile, put the remaining chunk of butter in the freezer to chill it thoroughly (it needs to be hard). Lightly flour a countertop and roll the dough out with the short edge facing you into a long rectangle, about 20x50cm (although the exact measurements are not crucial). Brush off any excess flour. Take the butter out of the freezer and coarsely grate it over the bottom two-thirds of the dough. Fold the top third of the dough over the middle third, then fold the bottom third over the other two-thirds, as if folding a business letter. This is known as the first turn. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and turn the dough 90 degrees so that the open ends are facing you, with the seams on the right.
Repeat the rolling process, and before folding, sprinkle the dough with half the remaining sugar. Fold the dough into thirds as before and repeat this a second time. Wrap the finished dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes before using. Any longer and the sugar will start to liquefy and the dough will become difficult to work with.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cover the countertop with a small amount of caster sugar. Roll the dough out as before. Using a sharp knife, trim the edges of the dough, then cut the pastry into two strips, and divide each strip into five equal squares. Fold the corners of each square into the centre and press gently to secure in place. Put each pastry on the prepared baking sheets, preferably inside lightly buttered tart rings (these help to give the pastries a better shape; if you don’t have them, you can bake the pastries inside buttered muffin tins although I find them to a little on the denser side this way). Leave the pastries to rest for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown and the sugar has caramelised. Remove from the oven and remove the tart rings, if using, then leave the pastries to cool on the baking sheet. I prefer to serve these at room temperature when the sugar on the outside has set, giving you a wonderful texture. They are best served on the day they are made.
From my book Patisserie Made Simple - buy here!