Being a bit tired of profiteroles and eclairs (hard to believe but it’s possible), I’ve decided to make some Kouign Amann today. They are a bit like a croissant, and a bit like puff pastry and they are all kinds delicious. You get the soft crumb from the croissant, but the flaky, crisp, buttery layers from the puff. Best of both worlds, you might think but actually when combined they join, synergistically, to form buttery, yeasty bites of heaven.
If you saw Mel and Sue on Bake Off, you’ll recall their attempts at pronunciation. Wikipedia tells me it’s something like “kween aman” so that’s how I pronounce it. They are originally from Brittany, and apparently (by which I mean again ‘according to Wikipedia’),
The name derives from the Breton words for cake (“kouign”) and butter (“amann”). Kouign-amann is a speciality of the town of Douarnenez in Finistère, Brittany, where it originated around 1860.
That fount of all knowledge also tells me ‘The strict recipe of Douarnenez requires a ratio of 40 percent dough, 30 percent butter, and 30 percent sugar’. That may well be true, but today I’m just going with Mr Hollywood’s recipe because I know it to be delicious. Possibly I should have gone with Mr Bertinet’s seeing as he’s actually from Brittany, but I’ve only just thought of that and the dough is already partly made, so hey ho.
Traditionally, they are made as one large cake, but I like them as little cupcake-sized buns, mostly because the layers come up over the edges and become golden and crispy. They also look like little flowers, which is rather sweet. Now here’s how to make them, step-by-step.
First, flour, water, yeast, salt and 25g of butter into the bowl for kneading. Paul says 2 mins slow then 6 mins medium. While that’s happening, bash the butter into a flat square 15cm x 15cm. There are many ways to do this. You can hit the pat of butter (sandwiched between baking paper) with a rolling pin (satisfying but wakes the children), you can cut it into pieces and squish them together (Holly Bell’s rather cunning method which I’ve used with success before), or, if you’re me, your butter is so soft because it’s actually warm today, you can put it between two sheets of baking paper and press it out. It needs to be even in thickness and square square square. Take time over this part as it makes a real difference later. Lamination (for that is what we’re about to do) needs sharp edges and precision. If the dough is not even in thickness, or things aren’t square, you won’t get proper layers and this will lead to sad, doughy kouign amann with no lovely flaky bits.
Once your butter is the right shape, put it in the fridge to chill it down. You don’t want it frozen or too hard. It needs to be pliant because it has to roll with the dough, which will be quite soft. But if your butter is soft, they will smoosh together and… yes, no layers. Baking Matters says
The ideal working temperature of the fat should 16-18C (61-65F) If the fat is too cold it will rupture the dough layers, if it is too soft it will be be squeezed out so preventing the formation of layers.
If you think about it, your fridge is about 4C and your freezer is obviously less than 0C so if you chill everything too long, your butter will be very hard and will break as you roll. So chill, but don’t chiiiiiiilllllll. Being nervous and trying to hard will be your undoing. You can, of course, get out your Thermapen like me and check. But the best thing is to think about the ambient temperature in your kitchen and then consider how long it will take you to roll. If it’s really warm and you’re slow, then perhaps you want your butter a little cooler, but that will make it harder to roll. The best approach is to have it chilled enough and then work quickly once it’s out so that it doesn’t have time to warm up and soften. Therefore, have courage! Confidence! Roll with a sure, light stroke.
Right, but I’m getting ahead of myself. At this point, you’ve let the dough rise for an hour, it’s soft and slight. Gently inch it out of the bowl using a dough scraper. Don’t bash it or rip it.
Roll it out to a 20cm square. I find a tapered rolling pin helps to get a nice square as you can use it to ‘push’ thicker bits of dough to where you need them. Take time to roll evenly so the dough is the same thickness throughout.
Now take the square of butter and place it in the middle of the dough like so.
You can see that there’s a little bit of an edge but not a lot. You want it this way so that when you now fold up the corners, there is a bit of overlap to seal all the butter in. You will get a lump of dough in the middle where it all overlaps. That’s ok, it will sort itself out. What you don’t want is the dough stretched around the edges because then when you roll more later, the butter might escape, which you really don’t want.
Bash the dough a bit so that the butter reaches the edges.
If it all feels quite cool still, then roll it. If it’s starting to feel warm and too soft, chill it briefly (see above). Once done, roll the whole thing out to 15cm x 45cm. Roll firmly but not too hard. Always think about the layers. You don’t want to crush them, but you do have to actually roll it so careful but confident.
Once its rolled out, do what’s called a ‘single fold’ (compared to a ‘book fold’ which is described here). Fold the bottom third up, then the top third over. Wrap this up in baking paper and into the fridge to chill.
Repeat this twice more. Throughout the rolling, try to keep the thickness even and the edges square. I use the tapered rolling pin again and also push things back into shape if it all goes horribly wrong. Taking it slowly helps, so small strokes rather than one or two huge rolls.When that’s done, roll out one more time and sprinkle two thirds with the caster sugar. Fold up in thirds once more and gently roll the whole thing out to 30cm x 40cm.
Trim it and cut into 12 pieces. Try to keep them as square as possible.Fold two opposite corners of a piece together, then fold up the other two between them. It’s easier if you just look at the picture.
Pop each one into a well-buttered muffin tin. Make sure you butter around the edges as that’s where the sugar runs out and can stick them to the tray. Let them rise for about 20-30 minutes. They need to puff up a bit, but don’t let them get too warm as the butter in the layers will melt and spoil all your hard work.
Into the oven for 30-40 minutes at 200C (fan) and here they are…
I photographed these ones while they were warm so you can also see a little melted bit of sugar and butter inside. The ones below were photographed once cooled. Here it is looking like the classic ‘flower’ shape.
And here is the lamination and the bubbles from the yeast.
These aren’t as tricky as they might seem, and in fact the yeast aspect makes them quite forgiving if your lamination isn’t perfect (mine certainly isn’t). Plus, there’s so much butter and sugar in them that even if you make a stodgy lump, it will still be delicious.