If you are a fan of sweet, flaky pastry, you have to try the kouign-amann. (Just don't pay attention to how much butter is in it.)
Danielle Teutsch

18 Jul 2018 - 1:58 PM  UPDATED 7 Mar 2019 - 10:36 AM

When the Tour de France cycles into Brittany, you can bet the ultra-shredded riders will not be snacking on a kouign-amann.

But here's why you should. This rustic, flaky treat is an indulgent, melt-in-your-mouth Breton sensation that your doctor is never going to recommend eating more than once a year due to its butter content of up to 30 per cent.

That's precisely what makes it so good. It's made of layer upon layer of bread dough, butter and sugar, slow-baked until it's crisp and caramelised on the outside.

A Breton speciality

The kouign-amann, like many great recipes, was apparently invented by happy accident. It's attributed to the baker Yves-René Scordia in the far-western region of Finistère, Brittany in the 19th century.

"His bread dough didn't work, so instead of throwing it away he added sugar and butter and made a cake,'' explains Simon Abdel of Biscuiterie Simon, based in Plouharnel, Brittany.

"Over the years, the recipe was refined to make a more flaky pastry."

How do you pronounce that again?

Kouign means cake and amann butter in the Breton language, and it pretty neatly sums up this recipe. It's roughly pronounced coo-inn-ah-mun.

Deceptively simple

Recipes with only a few simple ingredients are often the most technical, and so it is with the kouign-amann.

Some supermarket versions are like a buttery brick, while a true artisan kouign-amann boasts light layers which melt in the mouth.

"The challenge is making a good, fine flaky pastry,'' says Abdel, who sells his version at several markets around the Morbihan region of Brittany including Carnac.

"The pastry needs to be worked by hand."

Abdel explained to SBS Food that although the traditional proportions are 30 per cent butter, 30 per cent sugar and 40 per cent dough, he uses 25 per cent butter and sugar.

This rustic, flaky treat is an indulgent, melt-in-your-mouth Breton sensation that your doctor is never going to recommend eating more than once a year due to its butter content of up to 30 per cent.

The proof is in the eating

Tradition be damned – biting into Biscuiterie Simon's kouign-amann, I felt we already reached peak butter.

We were shopping at Carnac's famed Sunday markets where biscuiterie Simon has a regular stall and couldn't resist buying one, as well as taste-testing the morsels on offer.

We took it home and enjoyed a slice with coffee after a typically Breton Sunday lunch of pork sausages, salad and crusty baguette with a local chèvre.

It was golden and caramelised on the outside, with soft buttery layers inside and it was heaven. For best results, warm in the oven to crisp up the outside.

It seems made to enjoy for afternoon tea on a rainy day – and Brittany has no shortage of those. On this June day, we were all in long sleeves and there was a light mist of rain.

But Abdel assured us the kouign-amann is good to eat anytime – morning, noon, or night.

"Like all good things, enjoy in moderation,'' he said with a smile. No kidding.

How to find the kouign-amann close to home

It goes without saying the best kouign-amann are to be found in Brittany, where the recipe is enhanced by the beautiful local butter.

The original version is a large round disc, cut into slices, but American bakeries started making the muffin-sized kouignette in recent years and Australia has followed suit.

Some local versions look more like a scroll but Black Star Pastry in Sydney and Lune Croissanterie in Melbourne do faithful miniature versions that are just right with a coffee on a wintry day.

isit the Taste le Tour website to catch-up on episodes, cook up his recipes or find out more about the series.

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