A lot of my favorite and fanciest recipes have been introduced to me by my friend Beth. We have been baking together since high school and we did plenty of kitchen duty together when we lived in London. We have never lived in France, but I think it's safe to say that if we ever got the chance to go, it would be a food-tasting Tour de France. Yum! Luckily we don't have to go to France to eat Kouign Aman. The most difficult thing about these pastries is pronouncing and spelling their name. Wikipedia would have it "kouign amann"but Martha Stewart says "kouing-aman." They can't both be right . . . can they? Maybe it's one of those transliteration issues, but I didn't think Breton had different characters than French. Hmm.
Anyway, this is a recipe I wouldn't have tried without Beth to walk me through it. She came over and we laminated the dough together and then nearly killed all eleven of our children with smoke inhalation. The pastries themselves didn't burn, but butter in the dough drips down from the pan and smokes like crazy! I am not quite sure how to overcome this problem, but in subsequent tries I have at least covered the bottom of the oven with foil so it's not so hard to clean up! Maybe if I was using "tartlet rings" instead of plain old muffin tins it would be better.
The recipe is from Martha Stewart, and you know Martha; if an ingredient isn't "high-quality" you might as well throw it right in the trash. I've changed her "mineral water" and "fleur de sel" to regular-person ingredients in this post. Now we don't have to feel ashamed for the "poor quality" of our pantries!
The hands-on part of this recipe is the lamination of the dough: the folding and rolling and wrapping. But it's not hard at all, and if you have a morning free, it's a lovely way to spend it, with the anticipation of warm, crisp, buttery, flaky pastry at the end.
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 pound (4 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons butter, chilled, plus more melted butter for tart rings
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon yeast
3 cups sugar, plus more for rolling
Combine the water and salt in a small bowl and let stand till salt has dissolved. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Then combine melted butter and flour in a stand mixer and mix. Add water and salt mixture, then yeast. Mix until well-combined.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour, until doubled in size. Punch the dough down, wrap in plastic, and chill for two more hours in the refrigerator.
About 30 minutes before the dough is done chilling, prepare the butter. Put four sticks of butter between sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper. Martha says to roll it flat with a rolling pin, but I found it worked wonderfully to pound it with a PVC mallet. The point is to get it flat without warming it too much. Pound it till it's flat and the four cubes are all joined together into one rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. Put it back in the fridge to chill for about 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, take the dough out and roll it into an 18x18-inch square. (Yes, Beth and I used a ruler, because we are precise like that.) Center the chilled butter diagonally on the dough. Like this:
Fold the corners of the dough up over the butter to enclose it inside. Then, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough (with butter inside) into a 24x8-inch rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds like a long letter.
Once it's folded, wrap the dough in plastic and chill for twenty minutes. This completes one "turn."
After 20 minutes, unwrap the dough, put it on a floured surface, and roll it out into a 24x8 rectangle again. Fold as above, then wrap it up again and chill for 20 more minutes. Now you have done two "turns."
Do two more turns of the dough, but for both of these turns, sprinkle the counter generously with sugar instead of with flour. Martha says use 1 1/2 c. of sugar for each turn.
After the last 20 minutes of chilling time, take the dough out and roll it out again on a sugared surface. But this time, just roll it out into a rectangle 1/2-inch thick. (It won't be as long and skinny as your previous rectangles.) You are going to divide this into 24 small pieces, to fit into two muffin tins. So, cut the rectangle in half with a pizza cutter; then cut each half in half again; then cut each quarter into long thirds; then cut each third in half again. (You'd be amazed how much trouble I had figuring that out.) Now you should have 24 squarish pieces.
Take each square and fold all the corners up toward the middle. Squeeze a bit and press down to make it stay.
It makes a cute little hat shape. (A four-cornered hat?) Sprinkle the bottom side with sugar, then put each "hat" in one section of a greased muffin tin.
The dough has millions of layers in it now. It looks really cool. Sprinkle additional sugar over the top of each one (this sugar will caramelize and become extremely delicious).
Cover the oven floor with foil, if you want. Preheat oven to 425. Let the dough rise in the muffin tins until slightly puffy, about 30-40 minutes. Then bake until golden brown, about 30-35 minutes. Don't be afraid of letting them get quite brown--the caramelized sugar is so good! And don't be alarmed if the oven smokes a lot. Turn on the fan and open the windows! This didn't happen to Beth, but it did to me, when all the butter in the dough melted onto the pan and reached smoking point.
Let them cool in the pan just for a few minutes and then turn them out onto a cooling rack before the caramelized sugar hardens and glues them into the pan. Eat them warm and you will think you are eating the food of the gods. They are AMAZING.