Itâ€™s in Ji-Pan where I first come across kouign amann (KWEEN-ah-man; KOO-ine ah-MAHN).
Iâ€™ve encountered it many times in my cookbooks but never â€œlive.â€ Looking remarkably like a Danish save for its cobbled sugary top, it reminds me of a tough otap, that crackly puff pastry from Cebu that makes marvelous â€œmesses.â€
Apparently, Iâ€™m not the only one whoâ€™s discovered the sticky wonder. On my Facebook page, a foodie friend whoâ€™s especially enamored with the pastry posts a picture which results in a flurry of enthusiastic unanimity on the kouignâ€™s deliciousness.
Kouign amann (also kouing-aman, both pronounced the same) is a French pastry from Bretonâ€™s Douarnenez region. Literally, â€œbread and butterâ€, it was invented in 1860 by a baker who experimented by adding sugar to his laminated dough. Itâ€™s whatâ€™s used to make croissants, strudels, and other pastries whose layers are vividly seen and can be pulled apart. Itâ€™s a terribly time-consuming exercise to make such doughs, but oh, how quick and easy they are to eat!
So just why I decide to make kouign amann is beyond me. Baking is hostage to my mercurial moods: when I decide to make something, I want to eat it now, never mind that itâ€™s three in the morning. I do need that occasional baking challenge, however. Concentrating on just cookies and cakes can be mind-numbing.
- blown open by puff. Oy!
The actual hands-on work for this pastry is short. Itâ€™s the chilling time between â€œfoldingâ€ and â€œturningâ€ the dough thatâ€™s lengthy. Iâ€™m using the recipe from Martha Stewartâ€™s Baking Handbook and everythingâ€™s going swimmingly. But itâ€™s the pinwheel-shaping technique that does me in. Suffice it to say that my â€œpinwheelsâ€ blow open and Iâ€™m forced to shape another batch into simple rounds. Cursing Martha for her blasted shaping technique, I flip through my cookbooks and realize that I couldâ€™ve saved myself the agony.Â Several kouign amanns are baked in cake rounds.Â Ay!
The beauty of the kouign amann is its sugary top fusing with the butter in the pastry to create caramel, or a caramel lacquer. When my pastries come out of the oven, beauty queens theyâ€™re not. But ah, their taste! their crackle! the clamor created when a concordance of layers is crushed by teeth, exploding into echoes of buttery-ness.
As a plus, my house is now deeply redolent of butter and sugar. Iâ€™m only half-surprised when I turn around and see my Bin and Boo holding out their breakfast plates to me.
P60 at all Ji-Pan outlets