Today is a Saturday of a surprise long weekend. Monday has offices closed across the country in honour of a day of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II (although not all offices and places of work—it’s a little confusing). Again, if I had any kind of timing, I would blitz through these recipes to finish my Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking bakebook in honour of the Queen herself, but that isn’t going to be happening. Not out of disrespect, just your average blend of poor planning, practicality and laziness.
The point is I found myself with an entire Saturday sans plans and I thought I’d tackle a more involved recipe. There’s still one cake recipe that terrifies me and I may put off until the bitter end, so I thought I’d do one that had fewer elements, though arguably just as many steps.
The first time I had kouign amann was (travel brag alert) while in Bretagne in a city first brought to my attention in the Anthony Doerr novel All the Light We Cannot See: Saint-Malo.
The tour guide explained to us that we had no choice. Every member of our minibus tour group would be getting one of these pastries.
And then a couple years later, the absolutely delicious bakery in my own little city in Western Canada started selling them. Forgive me, Blacksmith Bakery, but I have yet to actually purchase one of your kouign amann. I had a hard time believing they could in any way compare to the first and only one I had in France.
Yes, I know, I sound tedious and annoying. But the stereotype is true: French pastries are not the same anywhere else but France.
And yes, I am aware of how arrogant that sounds as I embark on this recipe (in a British bakebook, I might add), but I am not assuming mine will be as delicious as Saint-Malo’s. Although I am assuming mine will be less sweet.
That’s the nice thing about baking—you get to decide just how sweet your desserts are which is very handy for someone who finds every restaurant and store-bought baked good on the too-sweet side of things.
Anyways, back to the recipe. Since this particular bakebook doesn’t include baking/cooking/prep times, I had to read through the recipe myself to figure it out, and by my calculations, this should take about 5 hours to make. (Also, I have made croissants and pain au chocolat once before in my university baking years and it took an entire day then too.)
At about 11:30 this morning, I put together the initial dough ingredients of flour, salt on one side, yeast on the other.
And then I added the warm water and melted butter.
And then I ran the mixer for two minutes on low, before speeding it up to medium for six minutes, occasionally adding 1/8 cup of flour because the dough looked très sticky.
After the allotted time, I scooped the dough out onto a floured countertop and formed it into a ball before popping it into an oiled bowl.
Then I let that rise for one hour while I went out shopping for a muffin tin because I let my last one soak in the sink too long and caused rust spots. Again.
I’m too lazy to successfully maintain muffin tins.
*one-ish hour later*
I came home with a muffin tin and 250g of local unsalted butter (because the butter I do have in the house is frozen). And this is where I have a bone to pick with Paul. I looked up my travel journal (a.k.a. my overly detailed emails to my mother) and found this:
After the wall, we wandered up the main street and stopped to grab a pastry specific to that area — Krouign Amann (or some spelling like that). It’s like a buttery slightly sweet spiral pastry. She [our tour guide] said in that area all the butter is salted so the pastries are slightly salty.
Badly done, Paul. You should have told me to use salted butter.
Next time I’ll follow the Bretagne way.
At this point the dough had definitely risen.
But before I rolled it out, I had to bash some butter.
I have seen a trick before that instead of taking the full block of butter and smashing it with a rolling pin until it makes the desired shape, you just cut the butter up to make that shape first.
And then you bash it to be one piece, but you don’t have to bash it as much. So that’s what I did. I sliced the block of butter lengthwise, got out some anger with a rolling pin, et voilà!
(Fun fact: I once edited an article from someone who said “walla” and I had no idea what they were saying until I realized it was supposed to be “voilà.”)
I grabbed my sewing measuring tape to make sure this was 18×18 cm. I know last bake I got pretty blasé about my measurements but French recipes are so much more finicky than British ones. Everything needs to be done perfectly or it’s a massive fail.
Trust me. I made macaron mush one time and it still haunts me.
I then rolled out the dough to be 20x20cm.
And then I triple-checked the recipe, which says to “place the butter in the centre of the dough so that each side of the butter square faces a corner of the dough square.”
And then I “fold[ed] the corners of the dough over the butter to enclose it.”
This entire folding process reminded me of paper fortune tellers, or as I recently heard in a TV show: “cootie catchers.” (I’m going to assume that’s a weird American thing.)
Then I rolled the dough away from me to create a rectangle about 45×15 cm (the “about” was my chance to be less precise).
And then I folded the bottom third up and the top third down and made a little envelope. (Or as the French say, enveloppe.)
And then I wrapped that in clingfilm and popped it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
*30 minutes later*
After half an hour, I pulled it out of the fridge, turned it, briefly rolled it, folded it one-third up and one-third down and back in the fridge it went.
*30 minutes later*
And then I did the same thing again.
*30 minutes later*
I’ll admit, this last one I did it prematurely, so I think there was only 20 minutes between the last two “turns” as Paul calls them. But after that many goes, you start to lose count.
*30 minutes later*
Then I pulled it out of the fridge and rolled it once again into a 45×15 cm rectangle. Paul says to “sprinkle the measured caster sugar evenly over the dough” but that’s a lot of caster sugar. The recipe calls for 100 grams, but I did about 60 and then I didn’t even sprinkle it all.
Then I tried to control the sugar by using the rolling pin to push the sugar into the dough, but all that did was put the sugar onto the rolling pin, onto the counter, onto the floor and onto my bare toes.
Anyways, I folded everything in the one-third up and one-third down way again and tried rolling it out to be 40×30 cm.
Paul said to “work quickly” so that the butter doesn’t melt a lot, but that didn’t really work. It was too hard to roll out the dough because it kept bouncing back, and then it kept sticking to the counter and the pin, so I’d add flour, but that caused more bounceback.
All that to say, I didn’t make it a perfect 30×40 or 40×30:
Then, using a pizza cutter (which the recipe didn’t say but obviously seemed like the wisest choice), I cut 12 squares.
And then I “gather[ed] each dough square up by its 4 corners, pulling the corners towards the centre, and plac[ing] in a hole in the muffin tin” to “look like a four-leaf clover.”
And then I let them rise for 30 minutes. But that seemed a little odd to me because why did I have to work so quickly if they’re rising for half an hour?
But I trust Paul.
Presumably Paul Hollywood. Not Paul the famous French bakery café (that I actually had coffee at the morning of my Saint-Malo day).
*30 minutes later*
Into the oven they go!
Paul says to bake the cakes at 425 for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. He also says to check halfway through and cover with foil in case they’re browning too fast.
*20 minutes later*
They were browning too fast, so I rotated the muffin tin and covered them with foil.
*10 minutes later*
They smelled very done and also were making sizzling noises, so I took them out.
Paul also says to let them cool for only a couple of minutes before moving them to a wire cooling rack because the caramelized sugar can harden and make them stick into the pan.
(I have a feeling I’ll ruin this muffin tin too.)
Okay so I couldn’t wait.
I took the little one, second from the bottom right, that was a little crispy black on the bottom.
It was delicious.
Look at those layers!
My baking assistant was a little jealous.
I did not share.
This blog post started out very British and ended up very French.
I may make this recipe again because the work of it is quite simple, it’s just the time investment I can’t really be bothered with.
Four* recipes left.
- Biscuits and traybakes (1 left)
- Breads (1 left)
- Cakes (1 left)
- Sweet pastry and patisserie (0 left)
- Savoury bakes (1 left)
- Puddings and desserts (0 left)
*Just realized I’ve been counting down wrong in the last two posts. Only four recipes left.
Also that took nearly five hours exactly.