Kouign Amann is similar to a croissant as they both start with yeasted dough which is folded over a butter block, then rolled and folded over and over to create delicate, buttery layers. The unique aspect is sugar is also rolled into the layers, and the little pastries are coated in sugar before baking which caramlizes into a a crunchy, sugary shell that shatters when you bite into it. Sound amazing? It is.
My first foray into making kouign amann at home was with a recipe tutorial that called for sugar to be stirred in with the butter for the butter block. This caused trouble because sugar has a habit of liquefying in the fridge which meant from the very first fold I was dealing with damp and progressively stickier dough. The resulting pastry looked just like their photo, but I wanted something lighter, with more layers, and above all I wanted it to be easy enough for a home baker who wasn't experienced with laminated doughs.
So I wrote to my friend Scotty who works on the pastry team at Del Posto with questions about the recipe, and he graciously provided me with tips, tricks, sample recipes and some photos. I took his advice, read every recipe I could find, and after a few test runs I now have something that behaves itself, doesn't take all day, and still gives you those sweet and flaky layers.
The ingredients list for kouign amann is short and sweet. However, in order to get those lovely layers you need a butter with a butterfat content at 83% or higher. Butter makes the difference between a good pastry and a great one, so track down a high fat butter if possible. I used Stirling's Churn84 which has 84% butterfat.
Aside from having the right butter, another trick to getting good layers is keeping everything cold so the butter doesn't melt into the dough.
I had the genius idea (if I do say so myself) of using an empty wine bottle with a screw cap as a rolling pin. I filled it half full with water, lay it on it's side in the freezer, then once the water was mostly frozen, added a bit more water and turned it on it's other side. TA DAH! A frozen rolling pin. It's so simple and makes a huge difference to the temperature of the dough.
Once the wine bottle is frozen (I make mine the night before) it's time to mix up a batch of dough. This recipe sticks with the advice from Scotty, so the dough is made with cold water, just a little bit of butter, and kneaded until tight and smooth.
While the dough is chilling, the butter block that gets placed inside the dough is made. Some recipes call for the butter to be beaten, then spread on a parchment sheet. Other recipes involve using a rolling pin to beat a large stick of butter into a square.
Personally, I find cutting the chilled butter into cubes and arranging them on the parchment into roughly the size of square I need ( 8 x 8 inch) and placing another piece of parchment on top ....
.....make it simple to pound the butter down into a flat, even block. The butter then goes in the fridge to keep cold until the dough is ready. You want the butter and dough to be of similar firmness so they'll roll out nicely together.
Once the dough is firm, but not frozen (check the edges! They freeze first) it gets rolled out into a 10 x 10 inch square and the butter block is placed inside it so that the dough is square shaped, but the butter is diamond shaped. That way, you can fold the corners of the dough down over the butter and pinch to seal it in. Then you take your frozen rolling pin and lightly pound the dough to set the butter into it before rolling.
Next, the process of rolling, folding, chilling, and turning the dough is completed. The rolling pin returns to the freezer after each fold along with the dough to keep everything cold before repeating.
There are 4 folds total and you have the option of adding the sugar at the 3rd or the 4th fold. Adding the sugar during the 3rd fold makes the pastry sweeter, but it also makes it harder to roll out the final turns because the sharp sugar crystals are prone to tearing up the delicate layers. If you're new to laminated doughs I'd say just add the sugar for the final fold to preserve your precious layers.
To form the pastries, the dough is rolled out to a little less than a 1/4 inch thick (roughly a 19 x 15 inch rectangle) and divided into 16 squares. The corners of the square are folded in to make a smaller square, and then the corners of that square are folded in again to make a little bundle
Once baked, they need to be carefully taken out of the pan immediately. The hot sugar syrup that caramelizes the bottom will harden as it cools and your beautiful pastry babies will be trapped in the pan forever if you leave them too long. So brave the bubbling hot sugar and save them!
I cool the kouign amann with the bottom up so the sugar doesn't harden to the rack and because the tops are a little more sturdy when hot than the bottoms while warm.
I'm completely obsessed with the layers..get in my mouth.
500g bread flour
6g instant yeast
25g unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temp
310g cold water
For butter block:
370g Churn84 butter (or other high-fat butter), chilled in the fridge
Ahead of time Make a frozen rolling pin: Fill a screw cap wine bottle half full of cold water. Lay the bottle on it's side in the freezer until mostly frozen. Add a little bit more water, then lay the bottle on it's other side until completely frozen. Store in the freezer until needed.
1. Make the dough: Add the flour, salt, yeast, melted butter, and cold water into the bowl of a mixer. Stir with the paddle until a shaggy dough forms, then switch to a dough hook and knead until the dough comes together and smooths out. Continue to knead until a tight, smooth dough is formed. If there is any flour still at the bottom of the bowl after kneading, add a little water just a teaspoon at a time to help it come together.
2. Roll the dough out to a 8 x 8 inch square, wrap in plastic wrap, place on a baking tray and chill in the freezer until firm. Check the edges to make sure they are not frozen (approximately 15 - 25 min)
3. Make the butter block: Cut the butter into chunks and arrange close together on a piece of parchment paper into a square slightly smaller than 8x8 inches. Cover with another piece of parchment and use a rolling pin to beat the butter flat. Occasionally turn the butter block over to get both sides even, or roll with even pressure to fill any gaps. You want to get the butter to an even thickness, but try to keep things cold by not having it out for too long. Once the butter is a flat, solid square place in the fridge on a tray until needed.
4. Once the dough is firm, lightly dust your counter with flour and unwrap the dough. Use a paper towel to wipe off any moisture formed from the freezer then use your frozen rolling pin to roll the dough out to a 10 x 10 inch square and place the butter block inside as pictured here. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter block and pinch to seal. Use the rolling pin to hit the dough with light, even pressure to help set the butter into the dough. Wrap the square in the plastic and return to the freezer for 12 minutes along with the rolling pin
Now we're going to roll, fold, and turn the dough to create layers.
5. Remove the dough from the freezer, wipe off any moisture, lightly flour the counter and the dough, then roll the dough out to a 14 x 10 inch rectangle (roughly 1/2 an inch thick) and fold rectangle into thirds like a letter bringing lower third up, then upper third down. Wrap in plastic and return to the freezer along with the frozen rolling pin for 15 - 20 minutes until firm, but not frozen. You don't want the butter to get too hard because that makes it difficult to roll out. This is the first fold
6. Remove the dough from the freezer and place on the lightly floured counter with the opening of the top flap to your right (as pictured here). Roll out to a 14 x 10 inch rectangle and fold like a letter bringing the bottom third up away from you and the upper third down towards you. Wrap in plastic and chill along with the rolling pin for 15 - 20 minutes. This is the second fold.
7. Remove the dough from the freezer and place on the lightly floured counter with the opening of the top flap to your right (as pictured here). Roll out to a 14 x 10 inch rectangle and fold like a letter bringing the bottom third up away from you and the upper third down towards you. Wrap in plastic and chill along with the rolling pin for 15 - 20 minutes. This is the third fold.
8. Remove the dough from the freezer and lightly dust your counter with sugar. Roll the dough out to 14 x 10 inch rectangle and coat the entire rectangle with sugar. I used a bit less than a 1/4th cup. Use your rolling pin to roll the sugar into the dough, then fold like a letter bringing the bottom third up away from you and the upper third down towards you. Wrap in plastic and chill along with the rolling pin for 15 - 20 minutes. This is the fourth/final fold.Lightly grease the muffin tins and coat with sugar while the dough chills
Preheat the oven to 350
9. Remove the dough from the freezer, lightly dust the counter with flour and roll the dough out to a 19 x 15 rectangle (a little less than 1/4 inch thick) and slice into 16 equal sized squares. Fold the corners of the square into the center to form a smaller square, then fold the newly formed corners in again and press to form a little bundle. Press the top of the bundle into a bowl with sugar in it, then place in muffin tin and gently squish down to ensure that the pastry is seated at the bottom of the tin. Repeat with the remaining squares.
10. Place the muffin tins on baking sheets to protect your oven from melted butter drips, then bake at 350 for 25 - 35 minutes until the tops are dark golden/caramelized and the centers are no longer white or wet. Do not under-bake.
My oven only fits one tray at a time (otherwise the lower tray ends up with burnt bottoms) so I just store the second tray in the fridge, loosely covered with plastic wrap until the first tray is done baking.
11. Remove the kouign amann from the muffin tins immediately to prevent them from sticking to the caramel, then place upside down on a wire cooling rack to cool. Be careful of the hot, bubbly sugar while removing them!
Allow to cool completely, or enjoy while still slightly warm.
Full Disclosure: Stirling Butter provided me with butter, but I bake with it because I genuinely enjoy the quality. I did not recieve any payment for this post