About a month ago, I saw a rerun of a Julia Child Baking show in which the guest made a Danish Pastry Braid. That looked interesting, and I thought it would be fun to learn Danish Pastry, and how it differs from what I have been making.
As I started talking about it, my neighbor suggested I try a Challah bread which is also braided. And then my Seattle Muse said that rather than Danish Pastry I should learn to make the Kouign Amann (pronounced Queen Amahn). So I had another three projects ahead of me in almost no time. I was already trying new recipes for Chai Chocolate Truffles and Indian Butternut Squash Soup.
Kouign Amann comes from the Brittany region of France. The words mean ‘Butter Cake’ in the Breton language. It seems to be a somewhat catch-all name for a type of dough which people make into many different types of pastry; on the Internet, I find images that show it as flat pastry as I want to make, as taller pastry made in a muffin tin, as a large pie shaped pastry from which individual pieces are served like pizza slices, and as rolls much on the order of morning buns.
In Seattle, we had tried Kouign Amann at two bakeries- Bakery Nouveau and Le Reve. The former made their Kouign Amann in the form of the flat pastry, while the latter had the taller form. We decided that we liked the flatter pastry better and it is that experience I am trying to create. The only difference seems to be the container in which the pastry is cooked; a muffin tin or a pastry ring.
After researching the Kouign Amann, it appeared that I could use my Croissant Dough recipe, but stop at the third turn and switch to the Kouign Amann recipe. It is at the third turn that the Kouign Amann starts adding sugar to the dough. And while I wanted to make the Kouign Amann in pastry rings, I didn’t have those and most of the recipes said you could also make it in muffin tins. So to get started with the learning experience, I used my muffin pans. Finally, some of the recipes said to put the muffin tins on a sheet pan to catch the melted butter and caramel drips.
So that was what I did for the first iteration. And many things were not right. I didn’t like the squashed look that the muffin tins gave the Kouign Amann; they looked like poorly constructed buns. I did more research, and started looking for something to use as a pastry ring; most of the research I did implied that the 4 inch pastry ring was the standard.
Using the muffin tins created a couple other problems besides just looks. If the Kouign Amann aren’t removed from the tins while they are still very hot, the sugar will harden and they can not be taken out in a single piece. And by putting the muffin tins on a sheet pan to catch the drips, the bottom of the Kouign Amann are insulated from the heat and do not cook as fast as the tops, so when the tops start to burn, the bottoms are still doughy.
Also in my research, I found one chef who indicated that the dough for the Kouign Amann should not be milk based as milk (and egg used in Danish pastry) promote browning and there is already enough sugar and butter in the dough to cause browning. That means I shouldn’t use the Croissant Dough recipe directly, but should switch to a different ingredient list. It also appears that unlike most pastries, the Brittany pastries are made with salted butter. Interesting.
Finally, I experimented with making disposable pastry rings with aluminum foil and found they work without any problem. I will give directions for making the rings when I post the recipe. (It appears that commercial pastry rings are a little more expensive than I wanted to invest; they are multiple dollars each. So foil rings are the way to go!)
But, using 4 inch pastry rings raises a different problem. It is easy to fit 12 muffin tins in the oven, but I can only get 6 of the larger pastry rings in the oven, so I needed to create a way to make the 12 Kouign Amann in two baking cycles.
After making my second batch of Kouign Amann with foil pastry rings- they worked great- I shipped a couple pastries to my Seattle Muse and got taste-test criticism back. She suggested that I find a local bakery making the pastries and see where the best were. So I located three Portland bakeries that make Kouign Amann, visited them, and bought some product. With the photo of Bakery Nouveau’s product above this article examines those other three versions of Kouign Amann; I am sorry to say up front that I was disappointed in all of them. I then asked my Muse to stop by Bakery Nouveau and buy a Kouign Amann and examine it carefully so I had a better understanding of what I was trying to accomplish.
St. Honore Bakery.
While I said that Kouign Amann seems to be a dough that is shaped in many ways, this one really surprised me; I can’t quite see what the shape is. I almost appears to be a roll that has had the center poked down to make a nice soft spot. The pastry is made with a 3 inch base, and then is sprinkled with salt. In the words of the bakery, “Buttery and flaky pastry, caramelized and finished with a touch of French sea salt.” I feel that there has been too much heat, and so the whole pastry is caramelized to the point of being uninviting; very crunchy! There is only a small amount of sticky caramel on the top of the pastry.
I think the dough is a good puff pastry that has only been cut into a cake-like piece, and then sprinkled with sugar and salt. The only sweetness in the pastry is in the caramel crust; there is none in the dough, and the dough is cooked very evenly except for the crusting on the exterior.
Little t Bakery.
This is an interesting version of the Kouign Amann. It shows the corners of the pastry, but doesn’t have the soft center spot. It was made in a 4 inch ring. The top -corners- are caramelized nicely, but they are flat against the pastry. And the bottom is rounded. It appears to me that it was baked upside down and the bottom rose like a roll would when baked, thus the round bottom and flat top. The bottom is very dry, and there is a small amount of sticky caramel on the top of the pastry.
Roman Candle Bakery.
This pastry comes the closest to what I am looking for, but has been ruined by having a lot of salt sprinkled on the caramel. The salt is overpowering. It is a 4 inch base, and the corners do stick up. I don’t totally understand the cooking as the bottom has a very deep concave shape that also shows the soft center spot. The bun is very sticky on the bottom but dry on top. The sticky bottom is different from what I am trying to produce
Reexamination of the Bakery Nouveau Kouign Amann
The photo at the top of this article shows the pastry in the same type of view as the other three bakeries’ products. More interesting is that the base of this pastry only measures 3.5 inches. There is a puddle of sweetness in the center of the pastry. My Muse reports that the outer layer of pastry is not overly sweet, but tastes more strongly of butter. The pastry is not sticky from caramel either on top or bottom. The crust pulls away easily and as you work your way into the pastry, it appears more moist in the center.
My Current State.
Errol’s Third Attempt
At this point, I have got a very sweet taste with the soft center. It appears that I need to increase the rise during the proofing of the pastry, and then cook at a hotter temperature to more quickly caramelize the outside without overdoing the center. What is still an issue is the need to get the corners of the pastry to stick up and show off more. Perhaps the smaller pastry rings (3.5 inches) and the greater rise in proofing will eliminate that problem.
My next report on Kouign Amann will hopefully be a recipe with directions for making the Bakery Nouveau experience.