Friday, 11 April 2008

Kouign Amann

Here in the Touraine we are part of that great band of lard that stretches across the middle of temperate Europe. Here the pig is king and local delicacies tend to feature lard and include cured meats of great inventiveness and variety (charcuterie). To the south the olive dominates the landscape and the cuisine. But north of us, la vache (the dairy cow) is queen and butter the favoured culinary fat.

Kouign Amann (Butter Cake in Breton) is designed to use a substantial lump of butter to transform a simple flour, water and sugar concoction into something irresitably caramelly. It's all in the folding and layering and the subtle, sparing application of sea salt crystals, another Bretagne speciality.

There's been a bit of discussion on Clothilde's blog Chocolate and Zucchini about this rustic pastry disc. It is quite tricky to produce an authentic result, especially outside of Bretagne, but I decided to give it a go. I used David Lebovitz's recipe from Living the Sweet Life in Paris.

Being in London at the time, I used Tesco own-brand organic plain flour and Tesco Finest Brittany Butter with Sea Salt Crystals. The dough behaved very well, was easy to work and did not go sticky (except where one was rolling pure butter of course). All was looking good, but I made a fatal error in my choice of pan. I used an 8" pan with vertical sides of about 1½" and a removable base. After 20 minutes in the oven it was obvious that a lot of butter and melted sugar had leaked out and was burning on the bottom of the oven. I had to stop the whole thing, turn off the oven and remove the pastry. See the result above - a bit pale and wan looking, but some caramelisation happening. Nevertheless, it was just about edible - a bit doughy, but I can see that if I seal the pan with silica baking paper or something and repeat the recipe, it will work out fine - somewhere between cake, bread and pastry, with lots of caramelised sugar both gooey and crunchy. All my round pans have removable bases, but I'm guessing that if I try it in a solid square pan the corners will burn.

I didn't find it particularly difficult, but mine is missing is the crunchy toffee base because half my toffee forming ingredients ended up on the bottom of the oven. Next time I am thinking of slipping slices of apple in with the butter, but then of course, it won't be Kouign Amann.



Louise said...

It sounds and looks delicious and couldn't have been a flop because I see a nice-sized wedge has disappeared. For testing purposes only, I'm sure.

Susan and Simon said...

It was a bit doughy, but yes, it evaporated :-)

Ken Broadhurst said...

You mention the "lard belt", the butter zone, and the olive oil zone, but don't forget the big duck fat zone in SW France.

Susan and Simon said...

Geographically the duck (and to some extent, goose and chicken) fat zones don't form the broad bands across Europe that butter, lard and olive oil do. The extensive use of poultry fat seems to be limited to SW France, southern Italy and Jewish cuisine. I'm a big fan of poultry fat, and being a soft fat, it is relatively unsaturated, so you can happily eat it without feeling like you are listening to your arteries hardening all the while.

Anonymous said...

susan and simon you are wrong. poultry fat is used in the rhineland as well as other parts of germany. especially goose fat, which plays a starring role in a german folk tale
about a "simple" boy who sawps a cow on the ay to market and ends up, by and by, with a nice fat goose: feathers for the pillow, a good roast for dinner and sufficient fat for a year.

Susan said...

Anon: Many thanks for letting us know. The story of the boy and the goose is very apt, too.