An Introduction to the Kouign Amann and Why You’ll Want to Eat It Right Now
Never had a kouign amann? Never even heard of one? C’est terrible! It’s also pretty understandable. Even in much of France, the buttery, flaky, caramel-y confection isn’t terribly well-known or widely available.
In fact, for a long time, you had to go to Brittany, the region in the northwest of France where the pastry hails from, to enjoy the croissant’s dense, sugary cousin. Nowadays, however, the kouign amann (pronounced “queen ah-mahn”) can be found in areas farther afield — which is to say, for Americans, closer to home. Bakeries in Montreal, Salt Lake City and New York, including Cronut mastermind Dominique Ansel’s famed Manhattan pastry shop, where the DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann) has its own fan base, are spreading the craving for the crispy, crusty breakfast-dessert item far and wide.
Though Ansel’s bakery has carried the DKA — and gotten attention for the treat — since it opened in 2011, Eater recently took the opportunity to wax enthusiastic about the kouign amann, calling the combo of “butter, sugar, and salt” a “near-perfect pastry experience.” And Eater noted that Food Network, which featured the kouign amann at Salt Lake City bakery Les Madeleine (where they spell it “kouing aman“) in The Best Thing I Ever Ate in 2010, played a key role in boosting the pastry’s profile in America.
“I’ve got the saltiness; I’ve got the crunchiness. It will lay you down,” Pat Neely said of the pastry, making viewers salivate and sparking widespread interest in the kouign amann. (Watch it here)
Here are a few things to know about the kouign amann:
It’s similar to a croissant in that it is made by layering butter and dough and then folding, rolling and repeating. But it is both denser and more caramelized. “The kouign amann has the addition of sugar sprinkled between the layers; in the oven, the butter-sugar mixture creates pockets of sweetness in the pastry’s soft, moist center, and a crispy caramel-like coating on the burnished exterior,” Eater notes.
Although the process of making the pastry is similar — layering “laminated dough” to maximize flaky deliciousness — the dough used to make a kouign amann is different. Eater notes that croissant dough contains milk and butter, but kouign amann dough does not. It is, rather, a “simple mixture of yeast, flour, salt, and water, with no fat or sweetener,” according to Eater.
Kouign amann means “butter cake” in Breton, a Celtic language spoken in Brittany. That and the fact that it is so dense, sweet, salty and wonderfully buttery should make clear that it’s no diet food. But should it be enjoyed at breakfast or for dessert? The answer to that question is … yes!
Want to make your own kouign amann at home? Here’s a recipe! Yum.
Photo courtesy of iStock