Kouign Amann

I had heard about these Breton pastries several years ago, but they looked so unassuming and complicated to make I confess I put the thought of them to the back of my mind. Then A’s brother picked up a selection of goodies from Dominique Ansel including their infamous DKA. After tasting that I was absolutely sold.

This pastry packs a serious taste-bomb that only the luxuriant use of butter, sugar and flour can bring about.

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In fact, let’s ignore the flour because it is merely a vehicle for packing in as much butter and sugar as possible after all. Kouign Amann might not be photogenic, but they are deeeelicious.

The problem was that then the craving for more set in. I sadly don’t have a surfeit of French patisseries round here (read: none) so if I was going to get delicious buttery sugary pastries it was going to have to be done at home.

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I looked at a couple of recipes for reference. First, Paul Hollywood‘s version, as seen on GBBO. Then, Christophe Felder’s method in his baking bible, Patisserie. Finally I had a look at David Lebovitz’s post (from waaaay back in 2005! How time flies…)

The Paul Hollywood and Christophe Felder recipes used similar proportions of flour to butter, yeast and liquid, but the Felder version used an incredible 300g sugar compared with Hollywood’s more modest 100g. David Lebovitz’s recipe used considerably less butter at more of a 2:1 ratio of flour:butter compared with the almost 1:1 ratios of the Hollywood and Felder recipes.

In the end, I went with the Felder recipe. There were a lot of French food blogs that had tried it, with glowing feedback, plus he is a French pastry chef so he must know his stuff, right?

For the most part, the techniques are familiar and if you’ve made puff pastry from scratch it’s mostly the same process. However, there were points at which I felt uncertain about whether it was going to work out. For example, my laminated dough started to peel apart in layers when I was shaping it for the tin, and I only used up around a quarter of the sugar. Into the oven they went, and I watched their rise, suspicious, certain it would only end in catastrophe, and with me scraping caramel off the sides of the oven.

The first crisp, delicate pastry-shattering mouthful dispelled all doubts.

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I think that they rank as one of the most delicious baked goods I have ever made. Really not photogenic at all, but so, so tasty.

Kouign Amann

Somewhat adapted from the Christophe Felder recipe in his book, Patisserie

  • 275g plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 200g butter + 10g butter
  • 165g water
  • 75-100g caster sugar

Put the flour in a mixing bowl, and add the salt and yeast.

Melt 10g butter and allow to cool. Add the melted butter and water to the mixing bowl and knead for 2-3 minutes until a smooth elastic dough is formed. Pat into a square, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Put the remaining butter inside a folded square of baking paper and flatten with a rolling pin until you have a square of butter around 3-4mm thick.

After 1 hour has elapsed, roll the chilled dough into a rectangle the same width as the butter square, but twice as long. Place the butter square in the middle and wrap the pastry around it, pinching to seal the edges so no butter is visible.

Turn 90˚ and roll out into a rectangle. Fold into three like a letter. Turn 90˚ again, roll out again and fold. Cover with clingfilm and chill for another hour.

Take the dough out, and sprinkle all over with caster sugar. Roll out again sprinkle with sugar, and fold. Turn, sprinkle with sugar, roll out again, and sprinkle with sugar and fold.

Now roll the pastry out until it is around 4mm thick and cut into 12 equal sized squares. Dust each square liberally with sugar, and pinch the edges together into the middle. Place the kouign amann in a muffin tray, cover with clingfilm, and leave to prove for around 45 mins – 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C and bake the kouign amann for around 20-25 minutes, cover with foil if they look like they are starting to catch. Turn out immediately upside down onto a cooling rack or they will stick in the tin. Tuck in while they are fresh but don’t burn your tongue!

 

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A Little Opéra

The Great British Bake Off has been compelling me to bake bake bake! Perhaps not in the direction I was expecting though. After watching last week’s episode, you’d think that I’d have fougasse on the brain, or perhaps a chicken tikka stromboli (british-indian-italian fusion anyone?) but instead I baked this:

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Oh Gâteau L’Opéra, I thought I was done with you last time.

I totally blame Paul and Mary.

I was surprised at how smoothly it went this time. I had planned to break the making down into manageable chunks spread over several days. Thursday – concoting the coffee syrup and the coffee extract. Friday – buttercream and ganache. Saturday – assembling everything and finishing off the glaze.

Then I got impatient, and decided I couldn’t wait any longer. So come Friday evening, I’d used up every single mixing bowl in the kitchen, and there was an absolutely enormous scrumptious coffee-flavoured confection chilling merrily in the fridge. Excellent!

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First time round, I used the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets. On this occasion, I replaced the joconde sponge recipe with the one in Christophe Felder’s PatisserieI also doubled the quantity of coffee syrup by accident, but somehow managed to use all of it up anyway!

Despite the gigantic 30cm x 30cm cake this produces, and the many eggs you consume along the way, Dorie Greenspan recommends you do not halve the cake ingredients, and now I can see her point. When you put so much time and energy into making a complex cake like this one, why not bake a big one, and freeze half of it for another time?

I cut a large rectangle from the cake, and squeezed this into my tiny freezer. The remaining pieces I cut into slices and photographed. The sun kept popping out and retreating, so it was a bit of a challenge shooting this with manual settings as I had to keep changing the shutter speed and aperture settings.

Visually, I’m really pleased with how the cake turned out. The sponges and layers of filling stayed nicely level, and I had just the right quantity of ingredients for every step. More importantly, it tasted just as lovely as I had remembered. Buzzing on a caffeine high now!

Hazelnut Praline Dacquoise

There comes an untameable desire to bake things weird, wonderful and off the wall whenever I have leftover half-used ingredients in the fridge. As you can imagine, some of the results are horrifically bad. Luckily, this minature hazelnut praline dacquoise was not!

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I had half a bowl of leftover hazelnut praline buttercream from Pierre Hermé’s Pietra Macarons. I’d also lately acquired Christophe Felder’s neon pink tome Patisserie. Combining his hazelnut dacquoise recipe with the remaining buttercream seemed only natural.

P1030993As I had a relatively small quantity of buttercream leftover, I divided the dacquoise recipe by three. The method was incredibly similar to the french meringue method of making macarons, but given that macarons are essentially a form of ground nuts suspended within a meringue this is not all that surprising. When I think about it, this dacquoise was actually lot more straightfoward than making macarons – no sifting, no delicate piping, sheet slamming or resting required!

The divided quantity made just enough mixture to cover one baking sheet. After all the cutting and trimming, I was left with a very small rectangle of cake! Mary Berry makes a similar cake where circles of dacquoise are piped instead of a rectangle. I imagine this would result in fewer offcuts, but perhaps a less elegantly structured cake too, unless you are lucky enough to be in possession of a pastry ring!

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It’s not the prettiest of desserts, but cut into small squares, with a dusting of icing sugar, it makes a very elegant petit-four. The dacquoise tastes deliciously nutty, and not too sweet. I’ve spotted the dacquoise formed into bite-size fingers on Tartlette’s blog, which is an inspirational idea to keep in mind for the future. I’m certainly sure I will try my hand at making more recipes from Felder’s book. There’s plenty inside to tantalise, and feed my obsession with French sweets.