Kouign Amann in a buttery, layered pastry cake from Brittany, France. A freshly baked kouign amann, is sheer bliss. Hot, caramelised layers of pastry, practically drenched in Brittany butter with salt crystals and sugar, oh boy, lots of sugar! And how do you eat it? With a side sprinkle of sugar!
Sound like heaven? Believe me, nirvana has nothing on a hot slice of kouign amann! As you take a bite, you sink into layer after layer of soft and crispy, sweet and buttery pastry with touches of salt demanding attention.
The name comes from the Breton language words:
- cake = kouign
- butter = amann
When I first heard of it, I thought it sounded Welsh, which is interesting, because Breton is a Celtic language, and, according to Wiki, the
Welsh equivalent is the etymologically identical cacan menyn, literally ‘cake (of) butter’.
I remember my very first bite of kouign amann, over 2 decades ago. I was visiting some friends in Brittany, who lived in Camaret-sur-Mer, a little sea town (or commune, to be precise) in northwest France. That was one of my first few visits to France and I loved every minute of it! There were so many new things to eat and drink!
Kouign Amann in Brittany
But what I really, really fell in love with, was the local butter cake called Kouign Amann. And although you could easily buy them from the local bakeries, my hosts always made their own. For 3 straight days, I observed maman making kouign amann in her Breton kitchen. The first time around, I must confess, I got nothing! She was just too fast, with her hands and her spoken French!
She slowed everything down slightly for me on the second day, while her daughter, Cecelia, translated. Not too slow, we were, after all, working with pastry. But that was much better. And as we sat down to enjoy it at tea time, I wrote the recipe down. In English!
This is Homemade Kouign Amann!
On the 3rd day, I observed again, and everything just made so much more sense. And on the 4th, I made it, while maman watched and barked out instructions. The result? A pretty good kouign amann, not as light as my tutor’s, but pretty good, if I may say so myself. I have my granny to thank me for that – pastry, cakes and I have always been old friends!
Over the years, I’ve made this layered Breton butter cake a number of times, and everybody at home loves it. What’s not too love, after all. And an added advantage is that it’s eggless, my girls, who have an egg allergy, can enjoy it to their heart’s content as well.
How to Make Kouign Amann at Home
It is actually a pretty easy recipe to put together, don’t believe everything you read! To a certain extent it is like puff pastry, butter in pastry, fold, roll, fold, roll, and so on. In Brittany, Kouign Amann is always made as a round cake in a cake pan, to be sliced and served.
And also not uncommon, is to roll the pastry up into a long sausage like roll, slice off little “sausage rolls”, then tuck them into the cake pan on their sides, resembling pastry roses.
The whole muffin sized kouign amann are a recent invention, whether here in the UK or in the US, I couldn’t tell you, although I remember reading somewhere that David Lebovitz made them for his book L’Appart.
This much loved Breton cake was also a challenge in The Great British Bake Off, some years ago. I don’t watch cookery shows, so can’t really comment on that one!
Is Kouign Amann Difficult?
What surprises me, when I look at kouign amann recipes, is the common thread of it being a “not easy” recipe to make, although doable, everyone says. From:
- The Kitchn: “Kouign amann? At home? I’m not kidding”, to
- pastry chef David Lebovitz: “it’s a bit of a challenge”
David says that it’s a very sticky dough, but in all my experience of seeing kouign amann being made by Bretons, I have yet to come across a very sticky dough.
Kouign Amann Recipe
Many recipes on the web share another common theme: there is a whole lot of pastry resting going on! I see the pastry being rested so much, just like puff pastry, it’s mind boggling! The only “resting” I do, is the initial rise of of 1 and a half hours.
The recipe I’m sharing with you is the one I learnt over 20 years ago in a kitchen in Brittany. Have I made any changes? Just in the amount of butter and sugar used – I’ve cut it down by 50g (1 1/2 oz). There was always too much fat in the pan after baking, I also didn’t think it needed that much sugar.
Can Kouign Amann be Made Ahead?
Many people will tell you no, that it has to be eaten fresh, and preferably, while it’s still warm or hot. However, in my experience, it is perfectly fine kept in an airtight container for about 3 days. Then, warmed up slightly before eating.
Ideally, pastry should be warmed up in a convection oven, but, when it’s already half eaten, or just a small piece? I zap it in the microwave oven for 20-30 seconds a slice. Then sprinkle with a touch more sugar, if you like, before serving.
Kouign Amann Ingredients
This is no diet food, so leave those calorie and fat counters at the door!
The Butter in Kouign Amann
This is a Breton recipe, so butter from Brittany is best, if you can get it. The sort that has tiny salt crystals. There is something so pleasurable about eating a sweet while getting hints of salt. Like salted caramel. You don’t like salted caramel? Mon Dieu!
I remember having a chat years ago with a friend who was a pastry chef. He would argue with me on the use of butter with salt crystals, saying that the salt would puncture the pastry. But I’ve never had the problem. The trick, I assume is to be gentle when rolling the pastry, after all, you don’t want the butter escaping either, if you can hep it.
Some French chefs and cooks I know, soften the butter and just spread it all over, instead of using a flattened, cold slab, as we will be doing.
Yeast in Kouign Amann
The yeast is what changes this Breton wonder from a pastry to a gâteau. The amount of yeast used is very, very instrumental in the final texture of your cake. I’ve known people who only used a pinch of yeast to the amount of flour here.
The more yeast you use, the more bread/cake like your kouign amann is going to be in texture. The less you use, the flatter and denser it will be, and also crispier. The amount we use here gives you something in the middle. Not quite bread like but still a trace of sponge like texture, along with crispy layers.
It’s something you can play with when you get the time and inclination! I still change it around, after all these years, although my favourite, is definitely with the amount in this recipe.
I think I’ve pretty much covered all the important bits! Shall we get our aprons on?
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How to make Kouign Amann, Brittany’s butter pastry cake. Hot, caramelised layers of buttery and sugary pastry. La recette du Kouign Amann – le gâteau au beurre de Bretagne.
- 260g (2 cups) AP flour
- 150g (5 1/3 oz) cold salted butter
- 150g (5 1/3 oz) white sugar (caster/granulated)
- 10g fresh yeast (or 5g active dry yeast, not instant)
- 125ml – 150ml (1/2 – 3/5 cup) lukewarm water
- PLUS extra flour for dusting
- 1 Tbsp fresh milk
- PLUS 1 Tbsp more salted butter
- PLUS a little more sugar for serving
Part 1- mixing and rising of dough
- Dissolve the yeast in 125ml (1/2 cup) water. If using fresh yeast, go straight on to step 2. If using dry yeast, leave it in a warm place for 10-15 minutes until it’s foamy/bubbly.
- Place the flour either in a bowl or directly on your work surface and create a little well in the middle. Pour the yeast mixture in, and, using your fingers, mix it all up to form a rough dough.
- Knead the dough for a good 5 minutes until it’s all stretchy and smooth. Place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a cling film or tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 hours until practically double in size.
Flatten the butter
- In the meantime, get the butter out and place it on a large sheet of baking paper. Fold the baking paper over in half, completely covering the butter (see video). With a rolling pin, beat down on the butter to flatten. This is actually much easier than you think. Roll it slightly to help it to flatten into a rectangle roughly about 23cm (9″) x 15cm (6″), give or take. An inch either way doesn’t really matter. Place the rectangular disc of butter back in the fridge until needed.
- Grease the cake pan and line with baking paper. Grease the baking paper.
Part 2 – layering and folding
- Preheat the oven to 180˚ (350˚F/16˚C Fan).
- When the dough has had its 1 1/2 hours, tip it onto a lightly floured surface. Flatten the dough, sprinkle some flour over it and start rolling it out into a rectangle measuring about 28cm (11″) x 20cm (8″). Essentially, we want rolled out dough that’s about 5cm (2″) wider than the butter, all around.
- Now get the butter out of the fridge, and still in the baking paper, place it on the dough to see if the dough is big enough with 5cm (2″) extra all around. If not, roll out the roll a little bit more.
- Working quickly, especially if you have warm hands (mine are always cold!), take the wrapping paper off the butter and place the butter centrally on the dough.
- Sprinkle most of the sugar on the butter slab, leaving about 2 Tbsp aside.
- Now fold the edges of the dough over the butter, overlapping the dough. You will have to stretch the dough to make it overlap. That will be easy to do, as it’s a stretchy dough.
Now we are going to fold and roll out the dough 3 times.
- Roll the dough out to form a rectangle. Then fold the top third of the dough down, and fold the bottom third over the top you’ve just folded down. Take a look at the video, and this will be clear.
- Then you need to fold it in the same way in the other direction too (see the video). If it’s not long enough to fold, just pat it down hard or roll EVER SO SLIGHTLY to make it a little longer. Now, you’ve done 1 fold.
Folds 2 and 3
- Repeat this step (roll into a rectangle, fold, fold) 2 more times. You can do it a 4th time if you fancy.
Let’s get baking
- After the 3rd fold, roll out the dough gently, to form a round shape as much as possible. Don’t worry too much about it being a perfect round, you can fit it into the cake pan.
- Fit the dough into the cake pan.
- Brush the milk all over the top of the unbaked kouign amann.
- Using a bread lame or a scoring tool (blade), score some shallow cuts all over the kouign amann.
- Sprinkle half the remaining sugar all over the kouign amann dab the extra butter all over, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
- When done, sprinkle with a little more sugar, let it cool slightly, cut into slices and serve.
Nutrition is based on 12 servings.
- Category: Pastry, Dessert
- Method: Medium
- Cuisine: French