The restless, longing soul of a food obsessed epicure wandering somewhat aimlessly through her early 20s found comfort and excitement in the discovery of the humble Kouign-Amann (pronounced queen-amahn).
First experienced as a gift for my 22nd birthday, I was struck by the unassuming yet clearly complex creation that didn’t appear to be anything more than a simple yeast dough met with copious amounts of butter and sugar. How these components were metamorphosed into a dreamy and sophisticated — not-quite-a-croissant-but-definitely-not-a-canelè-either — with the secret ingredients of temperature, technique, and time, was what I desperately wanted to know.
Ive since learned a bit of its history: a regional delicacy of Douarnenez Brittany born around 1860, with a name that literally translates to cake (of) butter. While I can’t say i’ve ever experienced a slice of the traditional Breton cake (though I want to!), I have fallen in love with the American take on the Kouign-Amann, which most often resembles a child’s paper fortune teller in delicate pastry form. With corners curling rather than pointed, its folds have the buttery laminations and flaky texture of a croissant. Simultaneously, a richly caramelized exterior — formed from the marriage of butter and sugar — encase the fragile interior structure, a characteristic reminiscent of the canelè of Bordeaux. In the case of the canelè, baking slowly at high temperatures in a tinned copper mold is a crucial part of the perfected, paradoxical end product of caramelized exterior and custardy interior. This is because of how the copper absorbs and conducts heat. I am left wondering if the same is true of the Kouign-Amann, where the heat conductivity of the mold should be treated as an ingredient crucial to the end result. I am yet to get a good answer for this.
The pastry has queen in its name for a reason, and it is, in my mind, best enjoyed with a latte (for dipping, of course) on a chilly fall day in the cozy comfort of a patisserie with Ella Fitzgerald (another queen) playing softly in the background.
I have tried and failed to make these wonders at home, but goddamnit one of these days ill get it right. Kouign- Amann sits, in my mind, right next to the Negroni and Cacio e pepe. The highest of ranks for deceptively simple perfections.