by Heather Harris-Brady
I was reading yet another story on the cronut craze last week and Grub Street recommended that queuers buy a piece of the Kouign Amann as a consolation prize at the Dominique Ansel Bakery if you get to the counter and the cronuts are sold out. Whaaa? Undiscovered pastry? It may be due to the fact that I live on the periphery of civilization, but even being the avid cookbook reader/collector that I am I had never heard of Kouign Amann before. Thanks to the magic of the internet, in a few seconds I learned that is a butter cake from France, a specialty of Breton. A few seconds later I determined to give it a go and had a few recipes at hand. I relied on David Leibovitz’s excellent tutorial – my step-by-step is below.
The finished product reminded me of a danish’s sturdy country cousin. It has a fabulous crunchy caramelized top, hiding yeasty layers of dough neatly separated by the melting butter and sugar. I served it for brunch and while the flavors had blended nicely the next day, the top lost some of its crunch. Since sadly I don’t have ready access to Breton butter, I bought a package of Plugra.
Breton Butter Cake – Kouign Amann (David Leibovitz), 8 to 10 servings
1 T. active dry yeast (I used fast-rising)
¾ c. tepid water
2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ t. sea salt
1 c. sugar
1 stick (110 g) salted butter cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled
2-3 T. additional salted butter, melted
In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water with a pinch of sugar. Stir briefly, then let stand for 10 minutes until foamy.
Gradually stir the flour and salt. The dough should be soft, but not too sticky. Lightly dust your countertop with flour and transfer the dough onto it. Knead the dough it’s smooth and elastic. If the dough is very sticky, knead in just enough flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands.
Brush a medium bowl with melted butter, put the dough ball into the bowl. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for one hour. Line a dinner plate with plastic wrap and set aside.
On a lightly floured countertop, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12″ x 18″ with the shorter sides to your left and right. The dough may be sticky and difficult to handle. Use a metal pastry scraper to coax the dough into shape, and a minimal sprinkling of flour, as necessary. Mine actually wasn’t too sticky at all, maybe due to the differences in flour between Europe and the US. Spread the butter cubes down the center of the dough and sprinkle with ¼ cup of the sugar.
Lift the left side of the dough over the center, than do the same with the right side – like you’re folding a letter to slide into an envelope.
Sprinkle the entire length of the dough with ¼ cup of sugar and a touch of salt. Without rolling fold again into thirds, as before. I swear I took a photo of this but it’s not on my card – it will be a thick, square shape after the last fold. Place on the plastic wrap-covered dinner plate and chill for one hour. While it’s resting wipe any excess flour from the countertop and dust the countertop liberally with sugar.
Remove the dough from refrigerator, ease it away from the plastic onto the sugar-covered countertop. Top the dough with ¼ cup of sugar and a touch of salt, press it in a bit with your hands, and roll into a rectangle for the last time.
This is where things started to get sticky, from the sugar. Again, fold into thirds and let rest in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425° F and brush a 9-inch pie plate, preferably non-stick, with melted butter. While a round pan seems traditional, I was giving one of these as a gift so I will be dividing the dough between two loaf pans. Remove dough from refrigerator.
Roll it out to fit your pans. It will be VERY sticky! Dusting the top with a sprinkle of sugar will help.
Lift the dough and coax it into the pan. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and drizzle with the top with one T. melted butter. (I melted mine with some lemon zest, just for kicks.)
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is deeply caramelized. Let stand a few minutes, then run a spatula around the edges to release it and slide the cake from the pan onto a cooling rack.