In Brittany over 100 years ago, a baker who was almost certainly part sorcerer figured out that if you take a laminated dough (like a croissant or puff pastry), and then add sugar and butter until it was 147% butter, 112% sugar, and about 41% flour (j/k), then dusted it with sea salt and baked it, magic would happen.
In all seriousness, Kouign-Amann (or Breton Cake) is a delicious butter pastry that is simply butter, sugar, flour, yeast, and water with a pinch of salt on top. In fact, Kouign-Amann translates into "cake, butter." The simple ingredient list belies a lengthy preparation, but don't let it intimidate you. It simply takes some time and a quick rolling pin to pull off this magical and amazing pastry.
You will need a few somewhat specialized items:
- 2 Jumbo Muffin Pans
- A Rolling Pin (I recommend a French style tapered one)
- A Wood Pastry Board (recommended but not required*)
*You will notice in the pictures that I did this on a laminated countertop with no pastry board. That was a mistake. It took way to much bench flour to keep the dough from sticking.-jsb
Step 1: Ingredients
For the Dough:
- 2 Tbsp butter, room temperature (plus more for muffin pan)
- 1 Tbsp active dry yeast
- 3 Tbsp sugar (plus more for dusting)
- 1 tsp Fleur De Sel
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for bench)
For the Butter Block:
- 3 sticks chilled butter (sliced into small pieces)
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tsp Fleur De Sel
Step 2: The Butter Block
In a stand mixer using a beater blade, blend butter, sugar, and sea salt for about 3 minutes. Shape the butter mixture into a 12"x6” rectangle about ¼” thick, on a sheet of parchment paper large enough to wrap up butter. Wrap the butter in the parchment paper.
Roll the butter block to get the air out and form a nice, tight rectangle. Place the butter block into a refrigerator for half an hour.
Step 3: The Dough
In the mixer with a dough hook, add yeast and 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand until yeast foams (about 10 minutes). Add sugar, salt, flour, butter, and ¾ cup cold water. Mix until uniform. Turn dough out onto a floured pastry board and knead, adding flour as needed, until the dough is soft and a little sticky. Butter a large bowl.
Roll the dough in the buttered bowl to evenly coat it. Cover bowl with a huck towel* and put in a warm place. Let dough rise until doubled in size (about 1.5 hours). Punch down dough. Cover again place in refrigerator until dough is doubled in size (about an hour).
Place dough on floured pastry board and shape into a 6"x6” square. Wrap in plastic and chill in freezer for 30 minutes.
*Do yourself a favor. Huck towels are every cook and baker's secret weapon. They are lint-free, can be sanitized, and are very cheap and durable. I keep two dozen in my kitchen at all times. -jsb
Step 4: All Together Now...
This is the part that trips people up...
Quickly roll the dough out until it is about 2/3rds larger than the butter block. Put the butter block on the lower end of the dough and fold the dough around it in thirds. Press on the edges of the dough to seal it. Rotate this dough/butter block a quarter turn then roll it out flat...do this quickly, once the butter starts to get too warm things get messy fast. You are looking for a rectangle about half an inch thick, or thinner, about the same size as the dough was when you put the butter block on it. Fold it again into thirds. Dust it with flour, wrap it in plastic and stick it back in the refrigerator for two hours.
Roll it out like before (quarter turn), sprinkle the top with sugar (about 2 Tbsp), then fold it, wrap it, and 'fridge it for 2 hours.
Do it again. Remember to roll quickly. You don't want the butter getting too warm. Back into the fridge for 2 hours.
Step 5: Baking Time!
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the muffin pans.
Quickly roll the dough out to the same size as before, and cut into 12 even squares. Place the sqaures in the muffin pan and fold. Sprinkle the top with sugar and sea salt. Place a jellyroll pan under the muffin pan.* Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool (but no too long). These are best when warm and can be reheated later, if desired.
Variation - Instead of muffin pans, you can simply pack a pie pan with the dough. Baking time is the same, but the jellyroll pan under the pie pan becomes more critical.
*This is important. There is so much butter in these that it can conceivably melt and run over the edge of the muffin pan and down into the oven. If you have ever done this before, you know that it will absolutely fill your kitchen with smoke and make anything in the oven taste burnt.