Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Kouign Amann

Photo by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times 8 August 2012
Move over macarons and cupcakes, it is the Kouign Amann that is taking the US by storm and infiltrating bakery shelves here in Australia. It’s been seen loitering in some of the trendy Sydney and Melbourne bakeries and it seems in the US the demand is outstripping supply. Just quietly, the French are way ahead of us by a few hundred years, but don’t worry all good things come to those who wait.

Unless you’re a competent cook, then waiting is something you might have to do, because this little slice of heaven is a tad time consuming, but not impossible to do. 

What is Kouign Amann you might ask? It’s sometimes been described as a cake or a pastry, but always sublimely addictive. It originates in Brittany, France and the pronunciation is something like ‘kween amon.’ The dead give away, is that in the Breton language it translates to ‘cake butter.’ Getting the idea now? In around 1860, pastry cook Yves Rene-Scordia opened a bakery in the coastal Breton town of Douarnenez and his speciality so impressed the locals that it soon grew into an obsession. 

If like me, you find a flaky, pure butter croissant or a pillowy and light brioche simply irresistible, expect to find yourself hooked on Kouign Amann. It is partly about the texture, but it’s more the crisp caramelisation of the outside shell of the cake with the flaky buttery layers that creates the desire to further indulge. It takes considerable willpower to stop at one piece.

You will need to set yourself an afternoon aside to create these buttery gems, and find a warm spot in the house to allow the dough to rise for a couple of hours before baking. If you don’t have a warm corner to allow them to rise, I placed the two dough-filled cake tins, covered in plastic wrap, under the doona in the spare bed with the electric blanket on low. This worked a treat. In actual fact they kept my rye mother company which was fermenting and bubbling away between the sheets.

Don’t be put off by the difficulty, Kouign Amann is not only incredibly satisfying to make, it is even more satisfying to eat.

500g plain flour
320ml cold water
15g salt
8g of dried yeast
350g unsalted butter at room temperature
300g sugar

In a large bowl, place the flour, water, salt and dried yeast. Mix the dough until it forms a combined mass. Alternatively, you can use an electric mixer with a dough hook. Form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic film and refrigerate for about one hour.

On a floured bench, roll the dough out flattened to a square about one centimetre thick and dust with flour.

Place the butter between two sheets of baking paper and using a rolling pin, bash the butter to flatten to about one centimetre thickness and place it centrally on top of the rolled out square of dough, so it doesn’t quite reach the sides of the pastry. Fold the four edges of the dough into the middle to completely envelop the butter. Roll the top of the dough slightly to seal the folded edges to stop the butter from escaping.

Roll the pastry out to a rectangular strip about one centimetre thickness. Take the shorter and lower end of the strip and fold it up one-third of the way toward the top. Now fold the top down to fit over the first fold to form a neat rectangle with no overlapping sides.

Place the folded dough onto a baking tray and cover with baking paper, and again refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and with the outside fold facing to your right, roll it out again to a long rectangle about one centimetre thickness.  Sprinkle with a generous amount of sugar, then fold it again as before, coating all sides with sugar. Place in the refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes.

Repeat the previous step of rolling, coating with sugar and folding one more time, then rest the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. For each roll, place the outside folded seam to your right before rolling. This technique will give you the flaky and buttery layers.

When refrigerated, roll the pastry out to a rectangle of one centimetre thickness. Cut it in half, then fold the four corners of the dough to meet in the centre, so you have a smaller square. Roll lightly over the folds to seal and sprinkle with a little more sugar. You should have used most of the 300 grams of sugar. Place the two pieces of dough in two buttered cake tins, pressing slightly so the dough fits the tins well.

Cover the cake tins with a tea towel and leave to rise for two  hours in a warm place. Or place in your heated bed with the electric blanket on low.

Bake in a preheated oven at 200°C for about 30 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a rack. Don’t undercook the Kouign Amann, it needs to be very dark and caramelised. The outside should be dark

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