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.