Kouign-amann (pronounced QUEEN-ah-mahn) are made of laminated dough—croissant dough—that’s about 50% butter and 50% yeasted dough. They’re generously dusted with sugar and salt right before baking, so they develop a thick, caramelized crust that’s at once savory and sweet, but, at least with our recipe, mostly savory. Traditionally, kouign-amann are formed in the shape of a large cake, but individual portions made in a cupcake pan mean equal parts crunchy caramelization and tender, buttery center with every bite.
These salty, buttery pastries hail from the coastal region of Brittany, in the northwest corner of France, where Celtic tradition has prevailed since the Breton people migrated across the English Channel during the fifth and sixth centuries. It looks just like you might imagine a Celtic colony on the seacoast of France would: towering bluffs dropping straight into the sea; tiny stone houses dotting the emerald countryside; slate-colored steeples rising into the morning mist. The region is best-known for its vast salt flats where they harvest the coveted finishing salt, fleur de sel. Here, tucked into wandering village streets, bakeries hawk the much-lauded pastry treasure, whose name literally means “”butter cake”” in Breton.
We’re gonna be honest: They’re hard to make. They take a full day of investment, and you might not get it right on the first try. Your kitchen will be a mess. You may get stressed out. But when you do get it right (and you will), oh boy. Nary is there a prouder moment in the life of a dedicated home cook than when he presents a basket of handmade kouign-amann to flabbergasted friends and family. Serve it with a mug of hard cider, and you might as well move to Brittany and open a boulangerie-pâtisserie. And if you do, you’re probably not coming back. Chañs vat!
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