Pastry Favorite: Kouign Amann

25 June 2017

“I feel like I need something crunchy” was a refrain I heard frequently from my father growing up. For him, a meal was complete when there was some degree of crunch or crackle. When it didn’t, he’d seek it out, rummaging through the cabinet for a handful of nuts or pretzels, some crispy granola or a hard cookie studded with any manner of delicious filling that I’d invariably snatch away from him. Having evidently inherited this penchant, the almost ineffable need for crunch is something I understand intimately. It’s as much about the sensation the sound produces as the taste of the food itself.

When I moved to Paris ten years ago and followed my belly around the city to assess the breadth of the bread and pastry offering (sweets first, savory second), the crunch-friendly options were legion but not created equal. As far as breakfast pastries went, I was team-croissant until I had my first, awe-inspiring experience with a still little-known Breton pastry called the Kouign Amann. The two are similar insofar as they both are prepared from laminated dough and a liberal layering of butter, but the KA is denser and, most importantly, crispier throughout thanks to the sugar added between the many layers of pastry dough. The caramelized finish lends a light crunch to its coating, giving way to a moist (but not too soft) center.

Though its normal, unassuming shape resembles a thick crown, the first one I tried was actually revisited by Philippe Conticini, formerly of La Pâtisserie des Rêves, and in the form of a long rod. Regardless, the near-religious experience began from that very first bite – my eyes rolled back in my head as the caramel flavor coated my teeth. Adding to the novelty was its relative mystery – not even my French husband had heard of it and yet it hews to all the fundamental pillars of French pastry. When I travel, I tend to gauge the quality of bakeries that offer French pastries on whether they attempt the Kouign Amann and, of course, whether it generates the same reaction in me. So far, Dominique Ansel’s brown sugar version in New York and London win highest marks for instantly transporting me back to France.

An edited version of this piece originally appeared on Food52 in their French Week series! Click to see the published version.

One of my favorite recipes to make them at home can be found in my friend Edd Kimber’s book “Pâtisserie Made Simple”. Check it out below!

Get the book

Most of us have been wowed looking through the windows of a patisserie and sampling the delights therein. Now Edd Kimber shows you how to recreate these recipes at home. With step-by-step photographs for basic pastry and icings, Edd guides you through the techniques, taking the fear out of a (...)

by Edd Kimber

Most of us have been wowed looking through the windows of a patisserie and sampling the delights therein. Now Edd Kimber shows you how to recreate these recipes at home. With step-by-step photographs for basic pastry and icings, Edd guides you through the techniques, taking the fear out of a (...)

  • the way it is

    Kouign Amman is a delicious pastry. Les Madeleines In Salt Lake City has excellent Kouign Amman if you ever end up there.

    • LostInCheeseland

      Good to know! If I make my way there, I’ll be trying it!!

  • Two years ago I was in Paris. Tried the local cuisine, I was so impressed! I often learn about new dishes, that`s very cool that you shared such an interesting article.

  • Susan

    I love the croquette aux amandes. I’m not sure if I’m spelling it correctly. However, I discovered it at a patisserie somewhere in Paris and it became my ‘go-to’ treat above and beyond the amazing eclairs, tartes, religieux etc!!!

    • LostInCheeseland

      Tarts and éclairs, oh my! If you can find a Kouign Amann where you live, do give it a try!

  • That sounds very good. There were these bakeries called “Paris Baguette” in South Korea that had things like a hot dog in a croissant, something with corn on it, and garlic bread with sugar. I wasn’t a huge fan. I can’t wait to get pastries in France someday!

    • LostInCheeseland

      I think that bakery chain exists in China too! I can’t imagine them coming anywhere close to the real things 🙂

  • I’ve recently become obsessed with Kouign Amann. I’d had them before this year but somehow my palate has evolved to prefer them over a lot of the other French pastries I used to be so in love with. And when I mean obsessed I mean that I have to order no more than 2 to go only and I have to leave. If I stay in a patisserie that does these well, I could eat them all day long!!

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