This is a Breton cake, or mini cake depending on how it’s made, and the name quite appropriately comes from the words for cake and butter. There are only a few ingredients here which means it's a celebration of butter and sugar. So, this is a time to splurge on really good butter, and I used vanilla sugar from a jar where vanilla pods get stuffed after scraping out seeds. Making the dough for the little cakes is a lot like making puff pastry. A simple yeast-risen dough was rolled out, a block of butter was placed on one side, the dough was folded over, and it was rolled and folded, chilled, and rolled and folded again. For these cakes, the dough is rolled in sugar rather than flour. So, you end up with layers and layers of butter, dough, and sugar that are cut and folded into squares that bake into sweet, little, tender cakes with crispy, sugary edges.
I love finding out things aren’t as difficult to make as they look, and the Kouign-Amann was a perfect example of that. This will be the book to grab when special occasions demand an impressive dessert. And, it’s also the book to grab when you just want to try baking something new and fun.
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Bake It Like You Mean It.
If you’ve had the pleasure of spending time in Brittany, no doubt you have had a taste of a kouign-amann. If you’ve had the pleasure of spending time in Brittany and you didn’t eat kouign-amann, then you never really went to Brittany at all because you can’t fully appreciate the place and her people until you take a bite of that crispy, sweet, buttery, slightly-chewy-in-the-center-and-caramelized-on-top-and-on-the-edges pastry.
2 1/4 cups (450 g) granulated sugar, divided
2 teaspoons salt
5 cups (625 g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the work surface
2 tablespoons instant yeast
1 pound (455 g) unsalted European butter, at room temperature
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment, combine 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) water, 1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar, and the salt. Add the flour and yeast and mix until a smooth, shiny dough forms, about 10 minutes. If the air conditions are very humid, you may need to add a bit more flour. If dry, add a few tablespoons of water. The dough should be smooth and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it over a few times to coat thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area of your kitchen to allow to proof until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar. Mix until the two are well blended and the butter is smooth but not soft. Transfer the mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a rough 8-by-11-inch (20-by-28-cm) rectangle. Cover completely with plastic wrap and, using a rolling pin, gently even out the butter into an even block. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour as well. Roll the dough into a rough rectangle, approximately 12 by 18 inches (30.5 by 46 cm). Place the butter block on one side of the dough and fold the second half over the dough block. Press along the edges of the dough block to secure the butter inside the dough.
Sprinkle the work surface evenly with 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar. Place the dough on the sugar and roll out into a rectangle approximately 12 by 18 inches (30.5 by 46 cm). Sprinkle the top with 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar. Fold one short half toward the middle and fold the other half over on top of that, as if you were folding a business letter. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes.
Again, sprinkle your work surface with 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar, and sprinkle 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar over the top of the dough in an even layer. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 12 by 18 inches (30.5 by 46 cm) and fold into a business letter again. Cover and refrigerate for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C). Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup (50 g) sugar onto the work surface and roll the dough into a rectangle 8 by 16 inches (20 by 40.5 cm). Using a very sharp pastry wheel, cut the dough into eight (4-inch / 10-cm) squares. Prepare each pastry by folding each corner of the square toward the center and pressing the corner to seal into place (you’ve just created a smaller square). Continue until you’ve finished folding all the squares. Sprinkle the squares with the remaining 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the top is a deeply golden brown and caramelized. Eat while warm!
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