Fans of the Great British Bake Off may be familiar with the kouign amann [queen-a-mahn], first introduced on the show in 2015 in the nerve-wracking technical challenge. The buttery pastry originates from the Brittany region of France and literally translates to cake butter (A+ translation). The finished product delivers just that.
The kouign amann
I can't get over this pastry. It's just so good. As a puff pastry/croissant hybrid, the kouign amann delivers the butteriness and flakiness of a croissant in much less time. But what really takes things to the next level is the addition of sugar, neatly packaged into the middle of the pastry. The sugar then liquefies in the oven. I can't stress enough just how delicious kouign amanns are, but by this point you're probably starting to get the idea.
I get semi-regular requests to make these. It's the perfect morning coffee or afternoon tea accompaniment but also works great as a light (interpret that as you will) dessert. Okay let's be honest it works well all the time.
In early April, I had the opportunity to audition for the Great Canadian Baking Show, and this was my signature bake. Baking kouign amanns is an excellent way to hone some crucial dough lamination skills. Once you've mastered this pastry, you should feel quite comfortable with the technique.
Shaping the dough is up to you. Based on my experience, folding the corners of the dough down into the middle rather than gathering them up into florets as per Paul's instructions has worked better for me. I find that the florets end up puffing up quite a bit in the middle, exposing the sugary centre rather than keeping it contained. Folding the corners down is my go-to method now.
Sweet sweet caramelization
Something Paul's recipe doesn't emphasize is getting that caramelization on the bottom of the pastry. Increase the amount of butter and sugar around the outside of the pastry before the bake, and you too can achieve caramelization. Traditionally, kouign amanns are baked in pastry rings, and this really encourages that process.
Butter will start to burn quickly at temperatures higher than 375ºF. If you don't have pastry rings at home but want to try to get that gooey caramelization, try sprinkling some sugar into the cups of a muffin tin. You'll have to play around with this - it is very much dependent on your oven and the oven temperature. Does your oven run hot? I've found that putting the muffin tin on top of a baking tray during the bake helps ease the intensity of the heat on the caramelization process and prevents burning.
Ovens - best friend or arch nemesis?
I baked something like seven batches of kouign amanns in a week once. The batch that didn't work as well as the others was one that was baked in a convection oven. I was surprised. Convection ovens are great: the heat is consistent, and whatever you're cooking tends to brown evenly. For some reason, it didn't work well for me. Convection heat dried out my kouign amanns, and they lost their delicious butteriness. My tip would be to use surround heat when baking these pastries.
I've also been experimenting with the butter block (the beurrage). There are three techniques that I've come across in my dough lamination experience:
You can pound the bejeezus out of the butter and put that directly into the dough. This process is highly dependent on the temperature of the butter. It has to be cold enough not to melt but warm enough to be pliable. If it's not pliable, the butter will break up into pieces in the dough. This is a potential problem because if the butter breaks up in the dough, you won't get those nice and even layers.
The second method I've come across is adding flour to the butter, one tablespoon at a time, and kneading the butter until you get a perfectly pliable brick. This process makes dough lamination much easier. The butter folds nicely and stays in one piece. However, the pastry typically ends up being denser because of all the additional flour. This is a good option if you're just starting to get the feel of dough lamination but not ideal to achieve a light, flaky pastry.
One afternoon, I was enjoying a kouign amann from Macarons et Madeleines, a lovely bakery in the west end of Ottawa, when I noticed the bakers in the kitchen using soft butter for their beurrage. After trying this myself, I find this method to be the best alternative to the other two techniques mentioned above. Place softened butter in between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out to the size needed. You then refrigerate the butter until it has solidified slightly before encasing it in the dough. This is by far the easiest method and solves both the problem of butter that is too cold (option 1) and butter that creates dense layers (option 2). For this recipe, I'm providing instructions on how to laminate with softened butter.
I found dough lamination overwhelming when I first started, so here are the basic steps in this recipe to get you organized:
You will doing three book folds, all of which involve the same steps. Between each fold, you'll be turning the dough by 90 degrees (check out my dough lamination guide for some visuals).
You will do a fourth book fold, but before folding, sprinkle sugar onto the surface of the dough.
You will then roll the dough out to a rectangle and sprinkle sugar over it before cutting and shaping the pastries.
Adapted from Paul Hollywood
Total active time: 30 minutes
Total time before consumption: 3 hours
Servings: 12 kouign amanns
300g all-purpose flour
5g instant yeast
25g salted butter, melted
250g salted butter, room temperature - I use Stirling Creamery 84% butter
100g granulated sugar
Tools & equipment
stand mixer fitted with dough hook, optional
lightly oiled bowl for proofing
buttered (and sugared, optional) muffin tin or pastry rings
Put the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other.
In a saucepan, heat the butter and water until the butter has melted and the mixture is between 120ºF and 130ºF.
Add the water mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients and using the dough hook attachment, turn the stand mixer on to low speed for 2 minutes.
Once the ingredients are roughly combined, turn the speed up to medium for 6 minutes.
Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl for about an hour or until doubled in size.
Start preparing the beurrage, the butter block, about 15 minutes before your dough is ready.
Place the softened butter between two sheets of parchment paper, and using your rolling pin, roll it out to an 15cm x 15cm rectangle.
Place the butter in the fridge to chill for 15-30 minutes, until solidified slightly.
Once the dough has proved, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface into a 30cm by 15cm rectangle.
Place the butter block in the middle of the dough with the short end facing you. Fold either side of the dough over the butter so that the ends meet in the middle. Gently pat the seam closed with the rolling pin.
Roll the dough out to a 45cm x 15cm rectangle. Fold the top third of the dough down over the middle and the bottom third up over the top fold. You have your first few layers: three layers of dough and three layers of butter. This is your first book fold, and it only gets better from here. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes (and as long as the butter is cold), roll the dough out again to a 45cm x 15cm rectangle. In order to have consistent layering, the key to these folds is to make sure that the book opening is facing the same direction every time you do a turn (you’re rotating the dough 90 degrees after each turn). Fold the top third of the dough down over the middle and the bottom third up over the top fold. This is your second turn. Chill the dough for another 30 minutes, and repeat this process a third time. Chill the dough again for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough out to a 45cm x 15cm rectangle as before, but this time, sprinkle the dough with 30g sugar and fold the dough into thirds once more.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Clear off your counter and sprinkle your workspace with sugar. Now roll the dough out to a 40cm x 30cm rectangle. You need to work quickly here. The butter will be warming up more easily now that the dough is thin. If you feel that it’s melting, feel free to put the dough back into the fridge at any point.
Sprinkle 50g sugar onto the rectangle and cut the dough into 12 squares. If you’d like smaller kouign amanns, you can try cutting the dough into 14 or 16 squares instead.
Fold down the corners of each square into the middle and place the pastries in the buttered (and sugared, if you chose this option) muffin tin.
Cover with a clean tea towel and let proof for approximately 30 minutes, until puffy.
Sprinkle the prepared pastries with the remaining 20g sugar.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, covering with foil if you find the pastries are browning too quickly. A good test of done-ness is popping one of the pastries out of the tin and checking the bottoms. You want them to be a nice caramelized brown colour.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 2 minutes.
Take the kouign amanns out of the tin. If you don’t remove them while they are still warm, they will cling to the tin like their lives depend on it (which they do).
Kouign amanns can be served warm, cold, rain, or shine. Just beware the molten hot sugar inside the pastry if you, like me, are too impatient to wait for the pastries to cool down to a reasonable temperature before consuming them!
Kouign amanns can be left out at room temperature for up to 8 hours. Then store in an airtight container for up to 4 days. They won’t maintain their crispness after day 1, so warm in the oven to crisp them up.