We’ll be honest: Making kouign amann pastries requires good butter, a willingness to use more sugar than you thought possible, some forethought and a positive attitude about steps.
Yet given how the pastry is popping up in more bakeries these days, it’s clear that the prospect of glorious amounts of butter and sugar is not a dealbreaker.
The need for forethought actually works in your favor. Preparing the dough the night before eases the next morning’s pre-brunch or breakfast work.
Which leaves us with the steps. For some, a long recipe with lots of steps is a cue to freak out. Others consider methodical steps a zen experience.
Kouign amann pastries strike a happy balance: There are multiple steps, but it’s really just the same step repeated several times. In other words, there’s only one technique to learn: rolling and folding the dough in thirds, like a letter.
Ah, there’s one more thing to learn: how to say kouign amann.
This French pastry, from the Breton region, is pronounced queen uh-MAHN and means “butter cake.” It’s reminiscent of a croissant with its flaky layers, but set apart by a sheen of sugar that results in a crackly, caramelized treat.
We’ve taken a few shortcuts to make preparation more accessible, and pared back some of the butter and sugar. If you want to explore authentic kouign amann, check out some online recipes and invest in a dozen pastry rings. Proceed to knock yourself out.
But if you’re OK with making a pastry that’s very near to authentic but far easier to master, read on.
We’ve opted for using pats of pliable butter instead of preparing the traditional slab, and using a muffin tin instead of placing each pastry in a ring.
There’s a little less caramelization with the tin, but the trade-off is an attractive pastry pinwheel that shows off its flaky layers and crackly corners.
Kouign amann should be eaten the day they’re baked, but by preparing the base dough the night before, the final steps of sugaring and shaping can be done in about 45 minutes. After a brief rest and 30 minutes in the oven, you’ll have a showstopper pastry that will make you feel like the queen of baking.
Note: This recipe needs to be started in advance. Make the dough the night before so it can chill thoroughly. Unlike many baked goods, kouign amann are made with salted butter.
• 2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
• 1 pkg. (2 1/4 tsp.) instant yeast
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 1/4 c. water
• Cooking oil spray
• 12 tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) good quality salted butter
• Additional butter to grease molds
• 1 c. sugar, divided, plus additional sugar for sprinkling on counter and dough
The day before you plan to serve the pastries: Whisk together flour, yeast and salt in a medium bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups water and mix to combine. (If dough seems dry, add 1 tablespoon water.) If using a stand mixer, continue mixing for 3 to 4 minutes. By hand, knead dough for 3 to 4 minutes until smooth and springy. Place dough in a bowl sprayed with cooking oil, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour. Place risen dough in refrigerator to chill for 1 hour.
Take out 1 1/2 sticks butter and let sit at room temperature. Just before you remove dough from refrigerator, cut butter into thin slices no thicker than 1/4 inch.
Turn out chilled dough onto a well-floured counter and roll into a 10- by 18-inch rectangle, keeping corners as square as possible. Arrange the butter pats evenly over two-thirds of the dough. Fold unbuttered third of the dough over the butter. Brush off excess flour, then fold over again to enclose all the butter, as if folding a letter. Pinch the seam closed.
Turn the dough so that the pinched seam is to your right. With the rolling pin, gently pummel the dough package for about a minute to make the butter more pliable.
Repeat the process of rolling to a rectangle, then folding dough into thirds. Pinch the seam closed, then wrap dough in plastic wrap. Place this in a plastic bag and chill overnight in the refrigerator. Your dough is done!
The next morning: Use additional butter to generously coat a muffin tin, then place on a rimmed baking pan. Set aside.
Generously sprinkle a counter with sugar. Place the chilled dough on the sugar and sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons sugar. Roll the dough to a 10- by 18-inch rectangle, checking that it’s not sticking to the counter, and keeping the corners square. Cover two-thirds of the rectangle with 1/2 cup sugar. Again, like a letter, fold the unsugared end over the sugar and again to completely enclose the sugar. Pinch seam closed.
Turn the dough so that the pinched seam is to your right. Repeat the process with remaining 1/2 cup sugar. The dough layers may slip a bit at first because the sugar crystals tend to act as “ball bearings.” Just keep squaring up the corners and rolling.
After the final fold, place dough on a plate and briefly return to the refrigerator. Wipe clean the counter and sprinkle again with fresh additional sugar.
Turn the dough so that the pinched seam is to your right and roll to an 8- by 22-inch rectangle. Take your time; this final roll may take 3 to 4 minutes. With a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut a slender strip of dough from all 4 sides to create a fresh edge of exposed layers. (Dough may spring back slightly.)
Mark 3 1/2-inch squares (6 across by 2 across) and cut with a pizza cutter or sharp knife.
Gather each square, bringing edges to the center (it will resemble a four-leaf clover), and place into muffin cups. Cover the pan with a cloth and let rest until slightly puffy, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place rack in center position.
When pastries are ready, place in oven and reduce heat to 375 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes, then carefully remove hot pastries to wire rack, using two forks or your fingers, placing them upside down to cool. Be careful; the caramelized sugar is hot! But don’t wait too long or they’ll be difficult to remove from the pan.
Turn right-side up to serve that same day.