Day 1 - Kouign-Amann Part 2: Pastries Finished!
Friday 23rd Jul
Ah... crunchy, flakey, buttery (oh so buttery), caramelly, and fragrant. Despite a series of disasters my babies turned out great! They're a hearty and rustic classic of baking history truly beyond compare (and yet often overlooked).
Below I've given a little bit of history, and at the end of the post you'll find my recipe.
A brief history of Kouign-Amann and Viennoise pastry:
Kouign-amann (k-win-ah-man), from "butter-cake" in the Breton French dialect, is a rustic pastry from Brittany following in the tradition of provincial French Viennoise pastries. It is known for dialing the butter up to 11, and sacrificing the "elegance" of some Viennoise pastries in favour of a chaotic crunchy caramel coating, resulting in something both highly technical and very rustic. The most well-known Viennoise pastries are croissants and Danishes, but local versions like the kouign-amann, pain au chocolat, and xuixo have an established history, and contemporary variations like cronuts and cruffins are beloved additions to the family.
The name 'Viennoise' is the French expression to denote the alleged origin of the pastry practice of yeasted, laminated pastry doughs in Vienna, a practice which arrived in France some time in the 18th Century. There is an apocryphal story that Viennese bakers were given the privilege of inventing a new pastry in recognition of bakers alerting the city guard to the arrival of Ottomon forces - in the early hours of the morning at the start of the siege of Vienna in 1529. While this is a nice anecdote, even beyond the deeply problematic and revisionist "clash of civilisations" narrative around this event, Viennoise baking draws on a deep and rich history of pastry-making from North African and Arabic baking, along with techniques from other parts of Eastern Europe. Doughs that are yeasted and fat-enriched (two of the key identifying characteristics of Viennoise) have existed at least since the advent of ma'amoul pastries in late antiquity. Traditionally, Viennoiserie have also been flavoured with cardamom, another trademark of western Arabic baking heritage. The lamination that theoretically makes these pastries distinct from this deeper and more expansive global culinary history is a much more recent phenomenon (and fairly difficult to place historically).
My recipe is built on the foundations of the versions developed and tested by Claire Saffitz and
Sara from Buttermilk Pantry. I've also taken some tips and tricks from Dominique Ansel and Bruno Altouze. Much of my own version of the recipe has been developed with
the transcultural history of Viennoise pastries in mind: I reintroduce cardamom, add mahleb to the dough (as is done with ma'amoul), and use a durum wheat-based flour.
For the base dough (detrempe):
- 500g fine durum flour (sometimes marketed as 'sharp' or 'continental sharp'; you can also use 'strong'/bread flour)
- 60g caster sugar
- 1tsp ground cardamom
- 1tsp mahleb (a.k.a malepi) (optional)
- 20g butter
- 12g salt
- 280g warm water
- 8g instant yeast
For the butter block:
- 425g unsalted cultured butter (with at least 82% milk fat; Kerrygold is the gold standard, but most of their products are expensive and aren't cultured; Harris Farm and Balentyne do excellent high-quality affordable baking butter; if you really want to splurge you could also use an 'artisan' brand like Pepe Saya)
For assembly and seasoning:
- 250g white (granulated/crystallised) sugar
- 15g salt
- 1 1/2tsp cardamom
For a video guide that will make my method look a little bit less like madness, I highly recommend Buttermilk Pantry's video on cruffins and kouign-amann here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRAkB-QkLDQ
1. Mix the detrempe: sift the flour, cardamom, mahleb, and salt together and whisk. Bloom the yeast in the water and sugar for 5 minutes (it should foam, thicken, or form puffy clumps). Mix the yeast/sugar/water into the flour by hand, until it forms a shaggy mass. Incorporate the butter, roughly a blueberry-sized piece at a time, and knead it in. As the dough comes together it should become plastic and smoother. Turn the dough out onto the bench and knead vigorously, as you would a loaf of bread. Once it is smooth, supple, and can be stretched thin enough to appear translucent without breaking, it is ready. Stretch the detrempe into a rough rectangle, wrap, and place in the fridge overnight.
2. Make the butter block: mark out a 20cm x 20cm (8"x8") square on a large sheet of baking paper. Place the butter in the square, wrap it up like a package, and using your guidelines beat and roll the butter into a square. Refrigerate overnight.
3. Mix the seasoned sugar: put the sugar, salt, and cardamom in a plastic container and mix thoroughly.
1. Take your detrempe out of the fridge and roll it into a 22cm x 42cm (9"x17") rectangle. Refrigerate for 15 minutes to allow the gluten to relax, and take the butter block out to soften.
2. Sprinkle the seasoned sugar over the dough and place the butter block in the middle. Wrap the dough around the butter, making a vertical seam down the middle, making sure there are no gaps, and press it shut tightly.
3. Begin the lamination by making the "first turn": with the vertical seam in the middle, roll out the dough to 54cm (~22"), occasionally tugging at the corners to keep the rectangular shape, and then trim the ends back roughly 1cm (~1/2") to expose the butter. Sprinkle seasoned sugar over the strip of dough. Perform a "book fold" by folding one end two thirds of the way up your stretch of dough, and then fold the other end down to *meet it* (the goal is to have the two ends of exposed butter touching face-to-face). Then fold the dough in half. This should leave you with four layers of dough, each with a layer of butter inside (you might be able to see butter throw the dough, like a clouded window, but you should not be able to feel or see exposed butter). Refrigerate the dough for around 20 minutes.
4. Make the second turn. With the open side of your folded dough on the right, roll the dough out to around 50cm (20"). Dust the dough with seasoned sugar. Then perform a "letter fold" by folding one end of the dough up two thirds of the way and then folding the other end *over* it (NOT to *meet* it end-to-end like with the book fold!). You should have a neat rectangular package.
5. Prepare for shaping and proofing. The pastries will need to rest for 2 to 3 hours (preferably in a humid environment) at a temperature of around 26C. If your kitchen is too cool, you can set this up by placing a pan of hot water in your oven (with the oven turned off!). Grease a 12-cup muffin pan with butter and dust with seasoned sugar. Dust your counter with seasoned sugar.
6. Roll out and shape the pastries. Roll your dough into a large rectangle, 40cm x 50cm (16" x 20") at its shortest dimensions. Using a pizza cutter, pastry cutter, or sharp knife, cut the dough into a more-or-less perfect 40cm x 50cm rectangle.
7. I used *two different shaping methods*, the traditional folded muffin style and a scroll shape, so I cut this rectangle into two small rectangles: one 40cm x 30 cm and one 40cm x 20 cm.
Traditional: divide the 40cm x 30cm rectangle into twelve even squares, with 10cm sides (divide the longer side into four, and the shorter side into three, like a grid). Dust each square with sugar, and fold the corners of the square to the centre, one at a time, and place the shaped pastry into a muffin pan.
Scroll: dust the dough with seasoned sugar, and starting at the short (20cm) side, roll the dough into a 20cm long log. Divide the log into 6 even circles, and place the scrolls face up in egg rings/pastry rings on a lined baking sheet.
8. Proof the pastries for 2-3 hours, until the scrolls have all domed and nearly filled the rings (the ones in the muffin pan will be more difficult to judge, but you are looking for a ~70% increase in volume).
9. TAKE YOUR PASTRIES OUT OF THE OVEN. Then preheat your oven to 200C (fan-forced; for other ovens follow your manufacturer's instructions, but for most ovens this will be 15C higher than a fan-forced oven). Drop the temperature to 180C, and bake your pastries for roughly 25 minutes, checking in and turning the trays around if necessary after 15 minutes.
10. Remove from the oven and unmold IMMEDIATELY DO NOT TAKE TIME TO TAKE PICTURES BECAUSE THAT CARAMEL SETS HARD AND FAST AND IS UNFORGIVING. Enjoy! Congratulations! You've baked one of the world's most notorious pastries.