The name is intriguing and is derived from the Breton kouign (cake) and amann (butter).
This famous pastry is thought to have originated in Brittany in the 1800s and is basically a puff pastry cake. In essence, it is a dough leavened with yeast and layered with butter – the same type of pastry used for making croissants and Danishes.
But what differentiates this dough from other similar styles is the addition of sugar to the final folds of the pastry. When finished, the pastry is shaped and placed into small muffin or cake forms. As the pastry cooks, it caramelises. It is this combination of caramelised pastry and buttery layers that is the attraction.
Various fillings are sometimes added to the kouign-amann – usually chocolate or some type of fruit compote – although I prefer this pastry unadorned. Simplicity is key, and therefore the quality of the butter used dictates the finished product. I like to use an organic salted butter.
Prepare yourself when approaching pastry. It requires a bit of time and discipline. I usually make this at the weekend when I have time pottering about at home. When making the pastry, take care not to let it get too warm. If the pastry warms during the rolling and folding process, the butter may become runny and the pastry may collapse. Resting time is needed in the fridge between turns.
Although this pastry is not a formal puff pastry (pâte feuilletée), it is based on a rough puff version where the butter is diced and gently incorporated into the dough. Puff pastry is made up of a dough that encases a single lump of butter and is rolled out and folded over itself. As this folding is done six times, hundreds (729, to be precise) of layers of butter develop, sandwiched between the thin dough. When rolled out and cooked, the butter in between the layers of pastry melts and steam pushes the layers to separate and rise. At the same time, the dough cooks and is suspended in its puffy state. Genius.
Makes 6-8 pastries
On a recent trip to Sweden I enjoyed the buttery cardamom-flavoured pastries, which is why cardamom has found its way into this version. The method of making this pastry is similar to rough puff pastry. This pastry is best cooked and eaten the day it is made.
- 2 tsp dry yeast
- 2 tbsp warm water
- 150g butter, diced
- 250g flour
- pinch salt
- 50g butter, melted
- 150ml cold water
- 125g castor sugar
- 15 cardamom pods (optional)
- 2 tbsp raw or muscovado sugar
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and set aside to activate and froth. Place the diced butter, flour, and salt in a large bowl and give it a toss to coat the butter with the flour and distribute it evenly in the bowl.
- When the yeast is frothy, whisk in the melted butter and then the cold water and pour this mixture into the bowl with the flour and butter. Mix everything until it comes together as a soft dough. Turn out on to a lightly floured bench and pat the dough into a rectangle. Cover in cling wrap and chill for half an hour.
- Meanwhile, lightly bash the cardamom pods using a mortar and pestle to release the seeds inside. Remove the husks and add a little of the castor sugar. Continue to grind the seeds with the sugar until they are powdered. Mix this cardamom sugar back into the rest of the castor sugar and set aside.
- Roll the chilled dough into a rectangle about 40cm x 20cm.
- With a narrow end facing you, fold the bottom third of dough over the middle, then fold the top third of the dough over that, like a letter. This completes one “turn” of the dough. Wrap the dough and chill for 15 minutes.
- Roll and fold again and return the dough to the fridge for another 15 minutes.
- Roll the dough into a rectangle as before, but this time sprinkle the surface with half the cardamom sugar, lightly patting it onto the dough. Fold the dough in thirds as before, wrap, and chill for 15 minutes.
- Roll the dough into a rectangle again, sprinkle with the remaining cardamom sugar and fold into thirds. Place the finished dough in the fridge to rest for half an hour.
- Roll the dough into a slightly larger rectangle and brush it all over with a little melted butter and sprinkle with 1½ tablespoons of raw sugar. Roll the dough into a log and cut into slices about four centimetres wide.
- Grease a large muffin tin with butter and place a slice of dough into each one. Gently squish the pastry down into its tin and sprinkle with the remaining raw sugar.
- Leave the pastries in a warm spot to rise for about one hour. Once the pastries have doubled in size, bake in a preheated oven at 180ºC for 35 minutes until deeply golden.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 16, 2015 as "All hail the kouign".
A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.