As I was pursuing my pastry studies in Florence and Paris in 2006, I never imagined all of the adventures I would have, from being a stagiaire in a Parisian pâtisserie, to baking in a Maine café, to creating desserts in a Providence fine dining restaurant and, finally, to starting up and running my own petite pastry studio at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, RI.
Inspired by the many pâtisseries in Paris and the innumerable pastry books on the market, I’m always eager to learn more, try new recipes or even tweak some tried and true favorites. One never knows what great little tip or new technique you might come across as you explore the world of baking and pastry.
This is my way of sharing some of the things I’ve learned (and continue to learn!) along the way. Happy baking!
Inspired by Philippe Conticini’s pastry shop and book La Pâtisserie des Rêves, I hope to bake my way through his wonderful collection of recipes. I use the French edition, but it’s also available in English through Amazon.
First up is Kouign-amann léger. Ever since Chef Xavier Cotte at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris demonstrated his version of Kouign-amann to our pastry class, I’ve wanted to recreate this delectable caramelized, buttery treat. Over the past couple of years I’ve compared and tested recipes for this traditional Breton specialty from the likes of Alain Ducasse, Philippe Conticini and Pierre Hermé (just to name a few).
Below is my recipe copy with my notes and musings - seems to be a lot going on.
As Kouign-amann (hereafter referred to as K-a) becomes increasingly well-known and available in the United States, many recipes can be found on line and in print. You can find all sorts of variables in proportions of ingredients, kneading times, resting and rising times and even oven temps and baking times. My intent is not to present the recipe per se, but to highlight a few tips for success in making this laminated dough. It’s all about planning and timing!
If you’re not familiar with the techniques for laminated dough, there are many publications and online sources that will take you through the steps.
OK, so the first step is to make the dough: the key here is to mix the ingredients (flour, salt, yeast, water, a bit of soft butter and usually a bit of sugar) just until they come together, followed by 30-60 seconds of low speed kneading. Avoid prolonged kneading at this stage, since you don’t want to develop a lot of gluten and have your dough become tough.
Let the dough rest for 30-60 minutes, covered with plastic film at room temp, followed by 1-2 hours wrapped in plastic in the fridge. That gives it enough time to relax and cool before incorporating the butter.
Next comes the butter. Some chefs recommend using European style butter, which is higher in butter fat and lower in water content than our American butter (which is why the French refer to it as “dry butter”). I’ve been using Cabot’s standard unsalted butter for years with excellent results. Working with butter at about 65-68ºF is ideal for me. It still has a cool feel to it, and it’s malleable and able to be shaped easily. As long as your work environment is cool and you work efficiently, once your butter block is shaped you can even go right to the beurrage step (encasing the butter in the dough) without having to re-chill the butter. Just remember that if the butter becomes soft, warm and squishy, it’s time to chill it before you continue!
Once you’ve completed the beurrage, give your dough-butter package a 20-30 minute chill before starting the turns. Even after that short chill the butter can tend to crack a bit as you begin to roll, so I tap the dough with my rolling pin to make everything is malleable again before starting the turns.
On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out to a rectangle about 3 times longer than it is wide. Do one three fold (also known as a business letter fold), turn the dough 90º and repeat. Wrap the dough in plastic and rest for 30 minutes in the fridge. Do 2 more three folds, turning the dough 90º after each, this time rolling in sugar rather than flour. As you roll, continue to sprinkle sugar on your dough and keep rolling it in – and don’t skimp on the sugar!
Important tip: Chef Franck Geuffroy at Alain Ducasse’s école de cuisine in Paris was kind enough to share his K-a recipe with me, and this tip has made a huge difference: after the two turns with sugar let the dough rest at cool room temp for 30 minutes, NOT in the fridge (I wrap it lightly in parchment).
If the dough sits in the fridge at this stage, even for 30 minutes, the sugar starts to melt; the first time I made K-a I was faced with a soupy, sugary mess when rolling the dough out for the final shaping. You still have to work efficiently after a room temp rest, but there is much less of a syrupy mess to deal with.
Now, once the dough has rested, you’ll want to roll it into a rectangle for cutting. As you roll be sure to give it a break every now and then, so it’s relaxed before you actually cut it. Your squares will hold their shape better. Dredge both sides of your square with more sugar, fold up the corners and place them in your buttered rings or pans.
Rising times vary from recipe to recipe, anywhere from 30-90 minutes. I've found that a good 60 minute rise at warmish room temp (75ºF or so) is adequate. As is true of laminated doughs in general, if you let them rise at too warm a temp (over about 82-85º) the butter will start to melt out, pool on the baking sheet, and you'll lose some of the buttery layering you've worked so hard to achieve.
I’ve baked K-a in both open tart rings and traditional muffin tins, and I prefer the end result with the muffin tins. While the open tart ring version is still delicious, the sugar on the bottom of the K-a can over caramelize and burn if you’re not paying attention.
Which brings me to baking times and temps. Learn your oven and understand that recipes are guidelines. It is SO important to use all of your senses to help you determine when something is done: ahhh the aroma; ooohhh what a lovely golden crust; wow, that feels done! And, of course, taste is the piéce de resistance!
So choose a recipe and GO! Bon chance tout le monde!!