Kouign Amann

Kouign Amman

Mini Kouign Amann showing sugary top (left), crunchy bottom (centre) and light, buttery layers (front).


Oh my dears, have I got a treat for you this week!

The theme for Week 6 in this season’s Great British Bake Off is sweet dough, with a Showstopper Challenge of 36 sweet European buns.

The contestants will probably have to bake 3 x 12 buns, each with a different flavour, but rather than rush through three recipes, I’ve decided to concentrate on what would have been my number one choice, were I competing – the magnificent Breton specialty, the Kouign Amann.

To me, the name (pronounced ‘koo-een ah-man’) sounds very exotic, almost Arabic, but it’s actually from the native Breton language meaning ‘butter cake’ and couldn’t be more simple: a bread dough enriched with butter and sugar.

There are several recipes floating around on the internet, but my choice was only ever going to be that of Madeleine Kamman – the best French chef you’ve (probably) never heard of.

I’ve mentioned Madame Kamman before – hers is the recipe for Ratatouille that rehabilitated the dish back into my life after a good thirty years in the wilderness, and it can be found in her epic and invaluable The New Making of a Cook. Packed with clear explanations, occasional science and delightful anecdotes, if you’ve ever wondered ‘Why?’ in cooking, then this is the book for you.

Delighted as I am with my copy of The New Making of a Cook, it is Madame Kamman’s much later work, When French Women Cook, that I treasure most. In it, she chronicles her formative years in France both before, during and after World War II, and the impact on her life of eight remarkable women, the French regions they lived and in whose kitchens she worked and first discovered her love of cooking. Originally published in 1976, the book is one of the first gastronomic memoirs, and it has enchanted me from the moment I read it’s opening line: “Most of the recipes in this book have never been written down before.”

The recipes in the book evoke the very essence of each of the eight regions, but with the luxury of food availability in the 21st century, it is easy to reproduce them with the original ingredients specifid. Not that the recipes contain much that is either complex or exotic – many of them originate from times of hardship, when French women had to practice la Cuisine de Misère – the art of cooking with almost nothing. One of the first, and still one of my favourite recipes I made was the ‘Tarte aux Deux Choux’ – a tart of brussel sprouts and cauliflower – which sounds so simple – and it certainly was to make – but the flavours in the finished dish were incredible.

So how best to describe the taste of a Kouign Amann? It is similar to Danish Pastries and croissants, but sweet. The outside is deliciously crunchy and chewy, whilst the layers inside are soft and fluffy. For those of you familiar with regional British baking, it is a French designer equivalent of Lardy Cake. Now I love Lardy Cake (there’s a recipe in my book, she shamelessly plugged) – it’s delicious! But it is a whole world away from the buttery, crunchy, crisp confection of a fresh-baked Kouign Amann. The secret, of course, is in the butter, that pinnacle of Breton regional produce. If you look at a cheese map of France, you’ll notice that the region of Brittany is, surprisingly, quite bare of cheeses, because what the Bretons do best with their rich milk is make butter. It is possible to find butter from Brittany in the UK in some of the high-end supermarket chains, but you can also make this with regular butter, adding a scattering of fleur de sel or Maldon salt if liked.

More usually sold as a large cake, in keeping with the theme of this week’s Bake Off challenge, I’ve divided Madame Kamman’s recipe into individual portions to make ‘buns’. Thanks to a follower on twitter (@Edesiaskitchen ), I learned that these are called Kouignettes, and are now a ‘thing’ in Parisian bakeries. They come in a variety of flavours (see here) and appear to be formed differently, being rolled up in a spiral.  While certainly simpler and no doubt quicker to form, it also means that, in the heat of the oven, all the butter and sugar carefully layered into the dough will just melt and run out the bottom. Admittedly, this does mean a pooling of sticky syrup around the bottom of the pastry (not necessarily a bad thing), but keeping the layers horizontal as they bake, as in the method below, allows them to remain deliciously rich, and, as can be seen in the picture above, no excessive pooling of sticky syrup around the base. (Lordy! Anyone else fascinated/horrified by the torturous twists, turns and length of that sentence?? MAB)

Madeleine Kamman learned her Kouign Amann recipe from the accomplished Loetitia (pp267-308), a native Breton and ‘one of the finest Breton cooks’. You can’t get more authentic than that. Apart from adjusting the size for cooking, I’ve not changed this recipe. You will need 9 individual foil pudding basins like these.

Update: You can double the recipe, make the squares of butter/dough 20cm and cut the final folded dough into 16 squares. Only 1tbs butter per portion – it’s practically health food! 😉

Kouign Amann

190g strong white flour
1tbs cornflour
1/2tsp orange flower water[1]
a pinch of salt
1tsp fast-action yeast (1/2 a sachet)
warm water to mix
125g slightly salted Brittany butter
125g granulated sugar
caster sugar to glaze

  • Mix the flours, salt, yeast and orange flower water.
  • Add warm water and mix into a soft dough.
  • Knead for ten minutes and then shape into a disc 15cm across.
  • Place on a buttered plate and lightly cover with greased clingfilm.
  • Leave to rise until doubled in size – 45 mins to 1 hour.
  • Pat the dough down and reshape into a 15cm square.
  • Cover the butter top and bottom with cling film and bash thoroughly with a rolling pin to soften. As with puff pastry and other laminated doughs, when rolling out it is best to have the dough and the butter at the same temperature/consistency. Shape the softened butter into a 10cm square.
Butter and dough placement

Butter and dough placement

  • Turn the dough so that it lies with corners top and bottom, like a diamond. Place the butter square in the centre as per diagram.
  • Fold the four corners towards the middle, covering the butter. Press the edges of the dough together to join.
  • Roll out the dough until it is at least 30cm long, keeping it just 10-12cm wide.
  • Sprinkle 1/3 of the sugar over the dough and roll the rolling pin over it to press the sugar into the dough.
  • Fold the top third of the  dough down and the bottom third upwards so that the dough forms three layers.
  • Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. NB If you chill for longer, the sugar will begin to leech moisture from the dough, and turn to syrup, which will make the dough difficult to work with.
  • Remove the dough from the fridge and place it in front of you like a book, with the fold lines vertical.
  • Roll out as before, sprinkle 1/3 of the sugar and fold top and bottom inwards.
  • Turn the folded dough 90° and roll out for a third time, sprinkling the last of the sugar and folding the sugared dough into thirds.
  • Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Roll out for a fourth and final time, this time rolling it to about 40cm long. Fold the pastry in a ‘book fold’, that is fold each end to the middle, then fold again making 4 layers. This fold has the advantage of enclosing the sticky ends of the dough inside and making for a cleaner finish.
  • Roll out the dough to make a square of at least 20cm.
  • Cut the square into nine smaller squares (3 x 3).
  • Lightly butter the foil pudding cases.
  • Set one piece of dough in each pudding case, either tucking under the corners, or folding them upwards and towards the middle.
  • Arrange the cases on a baking sheet, cover with cling film and set aside to rise for 30-45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Sprinkle the tops of each pastry with a little caster sugar and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Turn the baking sheet around after 20 minutes, to ensure even colouring.
  • Allow to cool in the foil tins.
  • Best eaten on the day of baking, preferably still slightly warm. To enjoy later, refresh in a cool (100°C) oven for 10 minutes first.

[1] A good quality Orange Flower Water is made by Nielsen-Massey. If yours seems a little on the weak side, feel free to increase the quantity accordingly.

19 Comments on “Kouign Amann”

  1. LOVE the look of your new book – CONGRATULATIONS! Can’t wait to get hold of a copy! Now, how to get it autographed??

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Trayna! Thank you for the kind words – I’m hoping to be at some events later in the year, so stay tuned for more news! M-A 😀

  2. Shaun says:

    These look amazing, and there really is nothing better than the smell of something yeasty and buttery in the oven.

  3. I’m really surprised to find a Kouign Amann recipe on an English blog! Thanks for spreading this wonderful butter and sugar recipe!

  4. Marie Russo says:

    I would love to make these without the orange flavoring as I just returned from Paris and the ones I tasted were not orange flavored. Can I substitute vanilla in equal measurements? Thank you for sharing this recipe.

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Marie Russo!
      These aren’t really orange flavoured – it’s orange flower water (or orange blossom water). It’s very mild, but you can certainly leave it out without needing to add anything -have fun!
      M-A 😀

      • Anne says:

        Hi Mary-Anne,
        I agree with Marie, usually they are not flavoured with orange flower water but that is a great idea as the flavour is quite subtle. The flavours I have come across are rum (dark) and calvados (apple brandy from Normandy but also Brittany). Some bakeries also add sliced or half apples to the original cake, which makes it lighter and is another delicious alternative.
        Again Mary-Anne (I posted a message a few years back), thanks for your wonderful blogs, I am a French fan of yours -of both Breton and northern French family origins- and reading your posts is always a delight.
        Seriously addictive 😉

  5. Lester says:

    This is an excellent tutorial. Thanks. But have you got the dimensions of the individual squares correct? Shouldn’t they be more 9×9 rather than 3×3 if we’re talking centimeters?

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Lester!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      The 3×3 refers to the grid pattern – cut the 20cm square into 3 rows of 3 squares – I’m not a huge fan of using a ruler in the kitchen, so I was going for more of a guide to cutting ‘by eye’.

      If you’d prefer to a ruler, then I suggest rolling the square of dough to 21cm, and cutting 9 squares in a 3×3 grid, of 7cm each side.

      Have fun! M-A 😀

  6. Gill Bland says:

    I’m letting the dough do it’s first rise overnight in the fridge. After that are there any bits I can let happen overnight or do all the stages need to be done on the timeframe you say? I note what you say about the sugar leeching and making it hard to work with. I’m just trying to work out how to fit it in after work without having to bake in the wee small hours!

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Gill!

      If your dough is risen, then the rest is pretty straightforward. I calculate the bare minimum time as 2.5 hours as follows:
      -shaping & rolling dough (1st turn)10 mins + 30 mins chilling
      – rolling/folding x 2 (2nd & 3rd turns) 5 mins + 30 mins chilling
      – final rolling + cutting 5 mins + 30 mins rise
      – 30 mins cook

      Of course, I don’t know what time you finish work, but is that a do-able timeline?

      Fingers crossed! M-A 😀

      • Mrs B says:

        Oh, that’s kind of you to work it out for me – thanks! I normally get home at 7.30 so I reckon I can do it …will have to make sure I don’t try them before bed though. Do you reckon they freeze ok? This bake-off malarky is hard work finding the time, let along making the things! Are you enjoying this series?

        • MAB says:

          They really are incredible when still warm – could you not share one, even late at night? 😉
          I’ve never tried freezing them, but I can’t think of any reason why they shouldn’t be just fine. Again, since they’re best warm, they should be reheated gently before serving.
          Yes, I did the Bake-a-long-a-BakeOff last year, and found it quite stressful to get something baked, photographed and written up in time each week.
          The Bakers this year all seem both very nice and very talented, so it should be a cracker of a Final – at least, I hope so! M-A 😀

  7. Philip says:

    Love kouign amanns. They do freeze well either cooked or,ideally pre-proving, and are beyond heavenly when heated up…. Fab made with vanilla sugar and great made rough-puff style: http://wp.me/p3MwyR-2EL
    A very difficult technical challenge for tonight but the standard is so high this year I am sure there will be some stunning recreations from the bakers.

  8. […] so instead of waiting for Paul’s recipe I used past-GBBO Mary-Anne Boerman’s recipe at TimeToCookOnline. It’s really clear and she was even kind enough to help me out with timing dilemmas caused by […]

  9. alexfoster says:

    Just seen a rather lovely mondegreen for these with a French teenager who thought they were couilles de moine !

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