Recipe: kouign amann
More snow in Nederland over the weekend meant more skiing – because you don’t pass up good snow and low winds around these parts. We did some ski touring Friday and Saturday, then caught lots of turns in 12 inches of fresh powder at our local hill Sunday. Normally we forgo weekend skiing at the resorts, but 12 inches of powder and calm winds is a major green light despite the crowds.
jeremy glides along the trail
a lone aspen
When I get home after an outdoor activity, I am hungry. That’s mostly because I don’t tend to eat much when I’m hiking, skiing, or whatever it is I’m doing in the backcountry. And I’m definitely hungrier in winter. The cold and wind can really suck the calories right out of you (which I think is great for my ass reduction plan). After our ski tour Saturday, I had an hour or more of prep before dinner would be ready, but we were really hungry right then. So Jeremy and I split a pastry – a kouign amann. It’s not that big, but it’s full of butter and caramelized sugar such that a little goes a long way.
all you need: water, flour, yeast, salt, butter, and sugar
I’ve been obsessed with kouign amann for a couple of years. I first picked one up at the Whole Foods bakery to share with Jeremy. The flaky pastry lures me in EVERY TIME. I took a bite and wondered where this kouign amann had been all my life. It quickly replaced the chocolate croissant as Jeremy’s pastry of choice. Each time I purchased one for him, I would think to myself, “You have got to be able to make this yourself.” Kouign amann is in essence, puff pastry dough made with lots of butter (obviously) and loads of sugar (woohoo!). It’s such a simple list of ingredients and yet the results are the stuff of dreams. The technique doesn’t require skill so much as patience and time – it takes time and makes a lot of layers through a series of folding and flattening and folding and flattening again.
dissolve the yeast in the water
stir in the flour and salt until you form a shaggy dough
knead the dough until smooth
cover and let rise until double in size
While the dough chills, pound the cold butter into a flat sheet. The butter needs to be cold or else it will absorb into the dough and you won’t get that nice flaky pastry. A sprinkle of flour on and under the butter keeps it from sticking to your work surface and your rolling pin (and trust me, it will stick). When the butter is a flat sheet, fold it in half. Then pound it some more and fold it in half again. You’ll do this flattening/folding a total of 4 or 5 times. Avoid handling the butter too much with your hands as you’ll melt it. If it sticks to the work surface or rolling pin, add a little more flour.
beating the cold butter down
folding the flattened butter
beating the butter flat again
let it chill on a baking sheet
You will want a large work surface that can accommodate more than 12 inches by 24 inches. When the dough is ready, roll it out to about 12 by 20 inches. It doesn’t have to be exact, nor does it have to be a precise rectangle. Just try to get it as close as you can. Place the butter in the center of the dough and fold the dough over the butter in thirds (like a letter).
roll out the dough
place the butter in the center
fold the dough in thirds over the butter
What you wind up doing is making “turns” with the dough. A turn is rolling the dough out and folding it in thirds. As you do this (four times in total), you are layering dough and butter thinner and thinner to make a sort of puff pastry. But you can’t do all of the turns at once because the friction of rolling the dough out warms the butter. Should the butter get too warm, it will begin to incorporate into the dough. We want to keep the butter and dough as distinct layers if possible. The recommendation is to refrigerate the dough after two turns, but if your work area is warm, you may want to refrigerate after each turn.
rolling out the dough (this time with butter in the center)
cover and refrigerate
After the first two turns the dough goes into the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. Refrigerating the dough for longer than 30 minutes could result in a brittle butter layer, which we don’t want. When the dough is chilled, remove it to your work surface and start with the shorter end of the rectangle closest to you. Roll it out as before, but this time you will sprinkle a lot of sugar over the dough. Use the rolling pin to press the sugar into the dough. A lot of sugar will still be loose. As you fold the dough in thirds, try to keep the sugar in an even distribution. The sugar will bunch together at the crease as you fold, so use your hand to brush it evenly across the base surface and place the folded layer on top. And yes, sugar will get everywhere.
always start rolling with a short open end toward you
sprinkle sugar over the dough
use a rolling pin to press the sugar into the dough
roll it out again for a second turn
The sugared dough chills for another 30 minutes before a final sprinkling of sugar. Then the dough is rolled into a long 8 inch by 24 inch strip. Cut the dough into 4-inch squares. I cut eight 4-inch squares and one 8-inch square because I wanted to try making a larger kouign amann with my 6-inch ring mold. The rest were stuffed into 3-inch ring molds or large muffin tins.
dust with sugar
roll the dough out one last time
cut into squares
The traditional method of baking kouign amann is in a ring mold with no bottom. You can also bake the pastries in large muffin tins. My large muffin tins had a similar capacity to the 3-inch ring molds – standard muffin pans would have been too small. Make sure to butter the insides of your ring molds or muffin tins to help the release of the pastries when they are done baking.
butter the insides of the ring molds
fold the corners of the dough square toward the center
stuff the dough into the ring molds
or muffin tins
It’s okay to squish the pastry into the mold or muffin tins, just don’t squish so hard that you smoosh the layers together. The pastries will rise quite a bit in the oven. Butter will definitely leak out from the bottoms of the ring molds and possibly over the tops of the muffin tins, so it’s best to set them on rimmed baking sheets to avoid smoking messes in your oven. Once the pastries are done (golden) remove them from the oven. Let them cool just enough so you don’t burn yourself on the caramelized sugar. Remove the kouign amann from the molds. If you let them cool completely in the molds or tins, the caramelized sugar becomes rock hard and you may not get the pastry out in one piece.
cooling on a rack
compare: muffin tin on the left, ring mold on the right
My first attempt was pretty successful. I think my layers could have been more distinct, but they were fluffy, flaky, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth tender. The caramelized sugar is the very best part. That’s why I prefer the ones baked in muffin tins as opposed to the ones baked in the ring molds. The muffin tins allow the caramelized sugar to pool at the bottom and form a chewy, sticky, almost crunchy base. Because the ring molds have no base, a good deal of the sugar flowed out onto the parchment and left the pastry with a less sugary and more dry base.
layers of buttery sweet goodness
my favorite part
Would I make these again? Absolutely. You can add chocolate, cinnamon, fruit, or nuts to your kouign amann. It’s not something I’d make everyday, but certainly worth the effort for a special occasion, gifting to someone, having guests over, or when I feel like baking a simple and elegant treat. While the larger kouign amann is nice to share, I prefer the individual pastries for the increased surface area of caramelized sugar. But really, they are all fantastic.
flowers of butter, sugar, and dough
from David Lebovitz and The Kitchn
1 cup water, room temperature
2 tsps active dry yeast
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
8 oz. SALTED butter, cold
1 1/2 cup sugar
extra butter for greasing the molds or tins
Make the dough: Combine the water and yeast in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer (or a regular mixing bowl if you plan to knead by hand). Let the yeast stand for a few minutes to dissolve. Add 2 1/2 cups of flour and the salt. Stir together until the dough looks shaggy. Knead the dough on low speed with a dough hook for 3-4 minutes or knead by hand for 5-8 minutes until smooth and slightly tacky to the touch. Place the dough in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (about an hour). Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes up to overnight.
Pound the butter: Sprinkle your work surface with a tablespoon or more of flour. Set the cold butter block on top. Sprinkle more flour over the butter. Begin gently tapping the top of the butter with your rolling pin (flour will fly around, you’ve been warned) until the flour begins to adhere to the butter. Using more force, pound the butter down into a flat sheet about 1/4-inch thick. Fold the butter in half (use a pastry scraper if it sticks to the work surface). Pound the butter flat again, sprinkling additional flour as necessary to prevent the butter from sticking. Fold the butter in half. Repeat pounding flat and folding 2-3 more times until the butter is supple and folds easily rather than breaking. After the last fold, pound the butter into a 6×10 inch rectangle (as best as you can get it). Set the butter on a baking sheet, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Make the pastry: Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out to a rectangle 12×20 inches. Set the chilled butter sheet in the center third of the dough. Fold one third of the dough over the butter and then fold the remaining third over the butter. Roll the dough out a little and fold in thirds again. Rolling the dough and folding it in thirds is called a turn. Rotate the dough so the shorter length of the rectangle is closest to you. Roll the dough to 12×20 inches and fold in thirds. Repeat the turn once more. Place the dough on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Place the dough on your work surface with the shorter length closest to you. Roll the dough to 12×20 inches and sprinkle the dough with 3/4 cup sugar. Press the sugar into the dough with the rolling pin to help it stick. Fold the dough in thirds. Turn the shorter length closest to you again. Roll the dough to 12×20 inches and sprinkle with 3/4 cup sugar. Press the sugar into the dough again with the rolling pin. Fold the dough into thirds. Place the dough on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Butter the insides of the pastry rings or muffin tins (I recommend using large muffin tins, not standard muffin tins). Arrange the rings on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Place the muffin tins on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any spills).
Sprinkle the work surface with sugar and set the dough on top. Sprinkle more sugar on the dough and roll it out to 8×24 inches at about 1/4 inch thickness. Slice the dough into twelve 4×4 inch squares (or three 8×8 inch squares or however you want to do the math). Fold the corners of each square in toward the center and set pastry in a ring mold or muffin tin. It’s okay to squash it in a little. [At this point, you can cover the pastries and refrigerate them overnight. If you do this, let them come back to room temperature and let rise for an hours before baking.] Cover the pastries loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until slightly puffy (about 30-40 minutes).
Bake the pastry: Preheat oven to 400°F with the rack in the center. Place the muffin tin on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips. Place the pastries in the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Bake 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. The pastries are done when the tops are deep golden and look as if they’re just beginning to burn. If making a larger kouign amann, give it a few more minutes to bake. Remove from oven and let the pastries cool slightly. Taking care not to burn your hands (I used oven mitts and a knife), loosen the pastries from the molds while the sugar is still hot and cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. These are best eaten fresh. Makes 12 3-inch pastries or 8 3-inch pastries and a 6-inch pastry. Store in airtight container for up to 2 days.
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