Hi guys – Em here. Just a heads up: this is one of my longer posts, but ironically, it’s all an attempt to explain how I’ve actually shortened a rather laborious recipe. Hope you’ll bear with me. These little guys are, like, sooooooooo worth it. xoxo!So, I’ve been obsessing over the idea of a salted kouign amann for a few years now.
I think it started back when I heard The Neelys talk about a notably salt-flecked version from Les Madeleines in Salt Lake City on The Food Network’s program The Best Thing I Ever Ate. I don’t know about you, but back in my cable days, I was mildly infatuated with that show. But that’s when we were doing our four-year stint in the Midwest, and things like sleet and snow were very, very good excuses to veg out in the basement with a sleeve of crumb donuts and questionably gluttonous programming.
Ok, who am I kidding — I’d still happily plop down on the sofa with a Food TV marathon right this second if it didn’t mean I had to sign my first child over to Comcast.
But you know. I’m making do.
So, ever since learning of that deeply crevassed, caramelized and — most critically — salt-studded pastry years ago, I’ve longed to experience the real deal for myself, or at least a close approximation. I haven’t yet made it to Salt Lake City. And, in fact, I’ve never taken advantage of Les Madeleines’ mail order program, though that now seems to to be a major oversight.
But I did I scour the Bay Area for a strong regional contender. Because, well, research, duh.
I enjoyed the superbly sticky version offered by Satura Cakes in Los Altos; the seasonally stuffed varieties of San Francisco’s b. patisserie; and the occasional coffee shop KA on my travels here — and abroad. And they were good, you guys. In many instances, they were downright delicious — in the way that an essentially sugared-up croissant has to be delicious. But they were all missing that critical element that had me oh-so intrigued. That mouth-watering kick of salt that Pat Neely claimed “will lay. you. down.”
Now, I’m not trying to lay down with the Neelys, you guys, but in a way, I’m totally trying to lay down with the Neelys because I have been cuh-raving this elusive pastry for longer than long. So, in a move that is completely out of character for this little piggy, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
And I created a kouign amann cheat that I’m frickin’ giddy to share.
1) I don’t bake.
2) I DON’T BAKE. (Ok, like maybe a cookie or a drop biscuit, but not without anxiety.)
3) I’ve never opened a packet of yeast in my life. See: #1.
And that’s where my friend puff pastry comes in.
Traditionally, kouign amann starts with a laminated dough, whereupon a whopping hunk of flattened butter is wrapped (literally) in a somewhat elastic pastry dough and folded and rolled and folded and rolled until a multitude of layers — pastry, butter, pastry, butter — have magically developed and beams of golden light break through from the heavens and a booming voice loudly proclaims that on the eighth day there were croissants. Or something. And in the case of the kouign amann, that same layered dough is then sprinkled with copious amounts of sugar and folded and rolled and folded and rolled again until it’s embedded through and through with glittering cane crystals just waiting to melt into caramelized oblivion.
(I might not bake, but I do my research.)
So, I figured, why not shortcut the complicated (read: scary) pastry part of the process and start with a very similar, premade laminated dough — puff pastry. Then, we could just join the fun when the sugar is introduced! It’s probably not completely legit, and puffy-hatted bakers in Brittany, France, are undoubtedly claiming blasphemy right this very moment — BUT YOU GUYS. IT WORKS.
And the biggest bonus for homemade kouign amann? You can add all the sea salt you want. (I wanted lots.)
I have to thank Emma Christensen from The Kitchn, who wrote this spectacular piece on homemade kouign amann, for her extensive research and wonderfully dissected process, which was in every way the inspiration for the recipe you see below. (If you read the original recipe, you’ll see that we join Emma at about Step 12, at which point her from-scratch product is somewhat akin to a store-bought puff pastry dough.)
Some important notes before you begin this honestly simple process are below, but I can’t emphasize enough just how simple these treats can be. Here we go:
1) Yield. This recipe uses one sheet of thawed, store-bought puff pastry and makes about six (6) petite kouign amann. Not bite-sized, but fit-in-the-palm-of-your-hand petite. I think they’re actually quite an ideal size, but I didn’t plan it that way. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that we’re doing so much with so little pastry — and who knows if puff pastry is even designed to rise as much as a classic kouign amann dough? Not me. Anyway, most boxes of puff pastry come with two sheets of dough, so for about $3 (and some sugar), you’ve got the goods to make 12 lovely pastries. Note that I have not experimented with actually combining the two sheets of dough to make 12 pastries all in one batch, but I don’t imagine it’d be that hard to work the two pieces of dough somewhat simultaneously.
2) Process. Read the entire recipe through first. While the steps are truly easy peasy, there are some items worth noting, like the pocket of time you’ll have while the dough is resting and reducing the oven temp just after the pastries go in.
3) Salting. I realize it’s possible that the fair lot of you out there just don’t crave a salty pastry. As much as it pains me to say this, you can completely omit the salt if you like — or just scale it back to taste. Given that the whole salted-caramel concept is what drove me to the precarious task of home baking in the first place, I find the discernible taste of salt to be essential. But feel free to do your own thing.
4) Enjoying your kouign amann. I will say this again later, but remove your kouign amann from the pans as soon as they come out of the oven as the sugar will begin setting almost immediately. Enjoy them right away, if possible. A cold kouign amann is, of course, still delicious, but the candied exterior becomes shatteringly crunchy and the layers far less delicate. (She says, as she takes another bite.)
5) Thank you! Again, tremendous thanks to The Kitchn’s phenomenal tutorial, which guided me so clearly through this experiment. I highly recommend clicking over there and at least browsing through the pics. If nothing else, it’ll make you extra grateful for the first 11 steps we avoided. Or you’ll just be reminded what a lazyass I am about baking. Which I freely admit with zero shame.
Ok friends – out in the world you go! Snag a box of puff pastry, crank out some embarrassingly simple French pastries and let me know what you think.
Shortcut Salted Kouign Amann
By Emily Stoffel (heavily influenced by this recipe from The Kitchn)
Cook time: about 2 hrs, with lots of down time | Makes 6 petite pastries
Note: I’ve already given away most of my tips up above, but here are just a few more. When it comes to sea salt, choose something of a finer grain or a delicate, flaked version. Coarse salt will be too overwhelming in this application. Remove the kouign amann just as soon as they come out of the oven, because once that sugar sets, they’ll be a nightmare to pry from the pan. And please don’t be overwhelmed by the 12 steps you see here. (Only in the baking world would 12 steps be considered a shortcut!) These treats are ridiculously simple. And that’s coming from me, the pastryphobe.
- 1 sheet frozen store-bought puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator (I used Trader Joe’s)
- 6 T sugar, plus extra for the counter and sprinkling (I used Trader Joe’s Organic Sugar)
- about 1/2 tsp good sea salt (more or less, to taste – see note)
- salted butter for greasing your pans
- Prep the dough. Sprinkle your counter or work surface lightly with sugar and unroll/unfold prepared pull pastry. Lightly roll out to a square shape. Fold pastry in half to create a rectangle and roll out to about 8″ x 12″.
- Add the sugar. Sprinkle 3 T sugar evenly over the surface of the pastry, lightly pressing sugar into dough with the rolling pin. Fold the top third of the dough down and the bottom third of the dough up, like you’re folding a letter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees so the open end is facing you, like a book. Roll dough back out to a rectangle about 8″ x 12″.
- Add more sugar. Repeat Step 2. You’ve now incorporated two rounds of sugar.
- Chill the pastry. Lay rolled-out pastry on a baking sheet and press plastic wrap lightly to the surface to prevent it from drying out. Refrigerate 30 mins.
- Prep the muffin tin. Meanwhile, grease a 6-cup muffin tin with salted butter.
- Form the kouign amann. Sprinkle your counter or work surface lightly with sugar and lay out chilled pastry. Dough will feel sticky from the sugar that’s beginning to dissolve. Sprinkle top of dough very lightly with additional sugar. Roll back out to 8″ x 12″ if dough has shrunk at all. Using a pizza wheel, pastry cutter or sharp knife, cut dough in half lengthwise to create two strips approximately 4″ x 12″. Cut each strip into three 4″ x 4″ squares, trimming ends, if necessary. (Save scraps to bake later!) Fold the four corners of each pastry square toward the center to create the kouign amann shape and tuck into the muffin tin. (This is the idea, though our dough will not be as thick or fluffy.) Remember, these guys are on the petite side, so they should be an easy fit.
- Let the dough rise. Cover the muffin tin with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot where dough can “rise” for 30-40 mins. (Note: the two times I did this, my dough rose just barely, if at all, but I’m too wussy to skip this step. There is yeast in the puff pastry, so I can only assume something might be happening during this time…)
- Preheat the oven. About 15 or 20 mins before your dough completes its rise, turn your oven to 400F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
- Add the salt. When rise is complete (immediately prior to baking), sprinkle the top of each kouign amann generously with good sea salt — about 1/2 tsp total for all six pastries.
- Bake the kouign amann. Place kouign amann in the center of your middle rack and immediately TURN OVEN DOWN TO 350F. Bake for 35-45 mins, turning once, until pastries are deeply caramelized and golden brown.
- Serve. While caramel is still bubbling, carefully remove pastries to a plate or cooling rack and allow to cool slightly.
- EAT THAT ISHT. Enjoy kouign amann as warm as possible to ensure a slightly candied exterior and a tender, chewy interior. Consider yourself a rockstar. I know I do.
This post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge, an event that aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things (like baking, gah). This month is hosted by Becky at My Utensil Crock. Thanks for having me, Becky! Hope to be back soon with another edgy contribution.