With native roots in Brittany, once I spotted this pastry recipe in Flour, Too: Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe's Most Loved Sweets & Savories (Chronicle Books, June 2013) by Joanne Chang from Flour Bakery in Boston, it was impossible for me not to share it.
A specialty of Brittany, the small, rich kouignamann, literally “butter cake,” is possibly the most extraordinary pastry of all time. Imagine a flaky croissant–type pastry filled with layers of butter and sugar, and then more butter and sugar, and baked until the sugar caramelizes into a marvelously sticky, crispy coating. The first time I had one—in Paris, of course—I knew I had to make it at Flour. It remains for me the most delicious pastry I’ve ever eaten.
Nicole, our executive pastry chef, spent hours perfecting the recipe to make sure it has the right balance of sugar to butter to dough, and then tweaked it so that it could be baked in a muffin tin rather than ring molds. Read through the recipe a few times to make sure you understand the directions. If you’ve made laminated doughs of any kind before (puff pastry, croissant), you’ll have no problem with this one. If you haven’t, it is not difficult to make, but you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the simple technique of folding and turning the dough, explained in the recipe. These small cakes are more of an after-party treat or decadent breakfast than an opulent plated dessert, although if you were to serve them with some ice cream and berries, I guarantee that you would be showered with compliments.
Makes 12 small cakes
1 1⁄8 tsp active dry yeast, or 0.35 oz/10 g fresh cake
2 3/4 cups/385 g all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup/225 g unsalted butter, at warm room temperature, plus 1 tbsp melted
1 1/2 cups/300 g granulated sugar, plus more for rolling and coating
special equipment: stand mixer with dough hook (optional), baking sheet, rolling pin, bench scraper (optional), 12-cup standard muffin tin
1. In the stand mixer, mix together the yeast and 1 cup/240 ml tepid water until the yeast dissolves. Add the flour, salt, and 1 tbsp melted butter and mix on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the dough comes together and is smooth. (If the dough is too wet, add 2 to 3 tbsp flour; if it is too dry, add 2 to 3 tsp of water.) The dough should be soft and supple and should come away from the sides of the bowl when the mixer is on. To make the dough by hand, in a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup/240 ml water as directed and stir in the flour, salt, and melted butter with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Then turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the dough is soft, smooth, and supple.
2. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place for 1 hour to allow the dough to proof. Then transfer the dough to the fridge and leave it for another hour.
3. Transfer the dough from the fridge to a generously floured work surface. Roll it into a rectangle about 16 in/40.5 cm wide and 10 in/25 cm from top to bottom. With your fingers, press or smear the room-temperature butter directly over the right half of the dough, spreading it in a thin, even layer to cover the entire right half. Fold the left half of the dough over the butter, and press down to seal the butter between the dough layers. Turn the dough 90 degrees clockwise so that the rectangle is about 10 in/25 cm wide and 8 in/20 cm top to bottom, and generously flour the underside and top of the dough.
4. Press the dough down evenly with the palms of your hands, flattening it out before you start to roll it out. Slowly begin rolling the dough from side to side into a rectangle about 24 in/61 cm wide and 12 in/30.5 cm from top to bottom. The dough might be a little sticky, so, again, be sure to flour the dough and the work surface as needed to prevent the rolling pin from sticking. Using the bench scraper or a knife, lightly score the rectangle vertically into thirds. Each third will be about 8 in/20 cm wide and 12 in/30.5 cm from top to bottom. Brush any loose flour off the dough. Lift the right third of the dough and flip it over onto the middle third. Then lift the left third of the dough and flip it on top of the middle and right thirds (like folding a business letter). Your dough should now be about 8 in/20 cm wide, 12 in/30.5 cm from top to bottom, and about 11⁄2 in/4 cm thick. Rotate the dough clockwise 90 degrees; it will now be 12 in/30.5 cm wide and 8 in/20 cm from top to bottom, with the folded seam on top. The process of folding in thirds and rotating is called turning the dough.
5. Repeat the process once more, patiently and slowly roll the dough into a long rectangle, flipping it upside down as needed as you roll it back and forth, and then fold the dough into thirds. The dough will be a bit tougher to roll out and a bit more elastic.
6. Return the dough to the baking sheet and cover it completely with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic wrap under the dough as if you are tucking it into bed. Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes. This will relax the dough so that you’ll be able to roll it out again and give it more turns. Don’t leave the dough in the fridge much longer than 30 minutes, or the butter will harden too much and it won’t roll out properly.
7. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a well-floured work surface with a long side of the rectangle facing you and the seam on top. Again, roll the dough into a rectangle about 24 in/61 cm wide and 12 in/30.5 cm from top to bottom. Sprinkle 3⁄4 cup/150 g of the sugar over the dough and use the rolling pin to gently press it in. Give the dough another fold into thirds and turn as directed previously. The sugar may spill out a bit. That’s okay, just scoop it back in.
8. Once again roll the dough into a rectangle 24 in/61 cm wide and 12 in/30.5 cm from top to bottom. Sprinkle the remaining 3⁄4 cup/150 g sugar over the dough and use the rolling pin to press the sugar gently into the dough. Give the dough one last fold into thirds and turn. Return the dough to the baking sheet, cover again with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
9. Meanwhile, liberally butter the cups of the muffin tin and set aside.
10. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Sprinkle your work surface generously with sugar, place the dough on the sugar, and sprinkle the top with more sugar. Roll the dough into a long rectangle 24 in/61 cm wide and 8 in/20 cm from top to bottom. The sugar will make the dough gritty and sticky, but it will also make the dough easier to roll out. Using a chef's knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise. You should have two strips of dough, each 24 in/61 cm wide and 4 in/10 cm from top to bottom. Cut each strip into six 4-in/10-cm squares.
11. Working with one square at a time, fold the corners of the square into the center and press down so they stick in place. Shape and cup the dough into a little circle, and press the bottom and the top into more sugar so that the entire pastry is evenly coated with sugar. Place the dough circle, folded-side up, into a cup of the prepared muffin tin. It will just barely fit. Repeat with the remaining squares. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and let the cakes proof in a warm place (78° to 82°F/25° to 27°C is ideal) for 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the dough has pouffed up.
12. About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C, and place a rack in the center of the oven.
13. When the dough is ready, place the muffin tin in the oven, reduce the heat to 325°F/165°C, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool just until you can handle them, then gently pry them out the muffin tin onto a wire rack and leave them to cool upside down. They are extremely sticky and will stick to the muffin tin if you don’t pop them out while they are still warm. Let cool completely before serving
(* Recipe from Flour, Too: Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe's Most Loved Sweets & Savories - published by Chronicle Books, June 2013- by Joanne Chang, reproduced with permission, all rights reserved...photos by Michael Harlan Turkell)