Monday, October 27, 2014

Kouign Amann

I never made kouign amann before - never even sampled them. So that seemed like a perfect challenge for using flour from Bob's Red Mill.

Because I must be crazy.

Like croissants or pie dough, the kouign amann is a laminated dough, with layers of butter between layers of dough. But it's got more sugar than a typical croissant.

I did a lot of research, then tried a few of my own versions. I have to say I'm pretty happy with the results. Along with the sugar, I added cinnamon, because I love cinnamon. You could leave it out if you don't like it.

The key to making this recipe is to make sure the butter never gets too soft. It needs to be soft and pliable enough to roll, but not so soft that it begins to incorporate itself into the dough. If it's done right, you get buttery, flaky layers.

But even if it goes wrong, it's not all bad. You end up with a very buttery sweet dough, rather than layers.

Kouign Amann
by Donna

For the dough:
1 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons Red Star* active dry yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
3 to 3 1/4 cups (14 5/8 ounces) Bob's Red Mill Organic Unbleached White Flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

For the butter layer:
8 ounces butter (salted or unsalted; your choice)

For the sugar filling:
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon

Plus more sugar for dusting:
Figure about 1/2 cup additional sugar

A little extra butter (because you can)

Combine all of the dough ingredients (starting with 3 cups of flour) in the bowl of your stand mixer and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough should be just a little firm - not soft, loose, or sticky. If you need to, add more flour. I used all of the extra 1/4 cup. You might need more. The dough should be bouncy and not dense.

If you don't have a stand mixer, you can knead by hand, if you prefer.

When the dough is elastic, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until the dough has doubled in size, about an hour.

While the dough is rising, put the butter in a zip-top plastic bag and center it in the bag. If you have two 1/4 pound sticks, place them side-by-side. I used a 1/2 pound block of butter. Use your rolling pin to first pound the butter, then roll it to form a square about 9 inches square. This doesn't need to be exact. Do your best. And it doesn't matter if it's not a straight-sided square. Just do your best.

Refrigerate the butter until it's needed. It's very important to keep the butter cold throughout this process.

When the dough has risen, flour your counter top and turn out the dough. Form it into a rough square, then use your rolling pin to roll it to a 12-inch square. Get the butter from the refrigerator and peel off the plastic. Place the butter on the dough square so the points of the butter square are pointing towards the sides of the dough square.

Like this:

It doesn't matter if everything isn't perfectly square and even. Fold the dough flaps on top of the butter to enclose it completely.

Use the rolling pin to roll the dough to approximately 12 x 16 inches. It's fine if it's not exact. The only time this dimension is actually important is the final roll before cutting. I'll warn you.

Keep your work surface floured as much as you need to so the dough doesn't stick to the counter or rolling pin, and if you see any bits of butter poking through the dough, sprinkle some flour on the butter to cover it.

Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter. (Do people fold letters any more? Okay, like a tri-fold wallet, then.)

If the butter felt soft and the dough was sliding on top of it during the rolling, STOP and put the dough on a baking sheet, cover it, and put it in the fridge to firm up, about 30 minutes. If the butter didn't feel squishy or slippery, make one more roll and fold exactly the same way, then put it on a baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. You can leave it longer. An hour is fine. Tomorrow wouldn't kill anything, if you happened to have a grocery shopping emergency and you needed to go out for a long while.

But, we want to eat these soon, so try for the 30-60 minute window.

Flour your work surface again. Mix the 1 cup of sugar with the Tablespoon of cinnamon and have that standing by. Roll the dough to 12 x 16 inches as before. With one of the longer sides of the dough facing you, sprinkle about half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture on the right 2/3 of the dough, then use your rolling pin to press the sugar into the dough a bit. You don't need to be exact - this is dough, not brain surgery.

Fold the left, un-sugared flap of dough over the middle third, then flip that over the final third of sugared dough. In theory you could flip the sugared part over the center, but at this point the sugar is a little loose on top of the dough, so it's better to go the other direction.

Again, if the butter felt soft and slippery, refrigerate NOW. Otherwise roll, sugar, and fold as before. Then cover and refrigerate the dough for another 30-60 minutes. If any of the sugar-cinnamon mixture spilled out of the dough, just scoop it up and sprinkle it on top of your dough.

Now we need to decide how to form the kouign amann. On my first try, I used 4 English muffin rings, 4 smaller rings that I had made by cutting the top and bottom out of bamboo shoot cans, and 4 jumbo silicone muffin cups.

Pastry rings are apparently traditional, and provide a crunchy bottom crust. If you use silicone muffin cups (or some people use a jumbo muffin pan), you'll have a sticky caramel-like bottom, sort of like what you'd get from sticky buns.

I did like the sticky-bun bottoms when the KA (kind of tired of typing that name) were warm, but they were a little goopy to store and the sugar was more chewy than crunchy. I liked the ones baked in the rings better. But I wouldn't turn down either one.

So, on batch #2, I made 6 in the muffin rings, and 6 in the shoot can rings. Place your rings on a baking sheet. (Here's a suggestion that I didn't try yet: Use a silicon baking mat in the bottom of the pan for easier cleanup and to let you peel off the crunchy sheets of caramelized sugar that oozes out of the pastry rings.)

Most of the instructions I read suggested buttering the rings, but I sprayed mine with baking spray because that's a whole heck of a lot easier.

Yeah, I'm making ridiculous pastry that takes two days, but I don't want to butter some pastry rings. Go figure. But then, just because I wanted to, I added a tiny sliver of butter in the center of where each pastry ring was sitting. I mean, why not?

Beep! When the time is up, dust your counter top with sugar and place the dough on top of the sugar. Sprinkle the top of the dough with more sugar. Yes, you're dusting with sugar rather than flour this time around.

Once again, roll the dough to 12 x 16 inches. This time we're serious about the size. Actually, roll it slightly larger than 12 x 16 so you can trim all the edges. Sprinkle with more sugar as needed to keep the dough from sticking. And, well, to add more sugar. I used another 1/2 cup, total, by the time it was all done.

Trim the edges of the pastry so you've got a nice even rectangle that's 12 x 16 inches. Now, cut the pastry lengthwise into three 4-inch strips, and cut the three strips each into four 4-inch squares. You should have a total of twelve 4-inch squares.

Fold the four corners of the first pastry inward and stuff it into your pastry ring, muffin cup, or whatever you're using. Keep going until all the pastry squares are settled into place. If you have any extra sugar on the counter, you can gather that up and sprinkle it on top of the dough in the rings. Cover the whole pan with plastic wrap or slide it into a large plastic bag and refrigerate overnight.

Have a nice little rest, Kouign Amann!

Meanwhile, you have those scraps, don't you? Hehe. I piled mine into 2 silicone baking cups with a dab of butter at the bottom. I let the rise, then baked them at 375°F until they were golden and toasty, about 25 minutes.

And then they disappeared.

'scuse me, I seem to have some sugary crumbs on my fingers...

When you're ready to bake the real batch of Kouign Amann, take the dough out of the refrigerator and give it 30 minutes or so to take some of the chill off. An hour is fine, particularly if your house is cool.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the plastic wrap and put the KA in the oven and then lower the temperature to 325°F. Bake at 325°F until they're a lovely golden brown, about 45 minutes. (They'd cook faster at 350°F, and I think they might be safe from sugar-burning at that temperature, but I haven't tried that yet. Maybe the next batch.)

Remove the pan from the oven and let the pastries cool slightly (just until you can handle them) before moving them to a rack to cool completely. Whatever you do, don't leave them on the pan to cool, or they'll weld themselves to the pan and you'll be very, very unhappy.

These can be served warm or at room temperature. They're best on the day you bake them, but I wouldn't turn one down if it was a day or two old.

*If you're using a brand of active dry yeast other than Red Star, let it dissolve in the water for a few minutes before you add the flour; if you're using Red Star, you can add it all at once and just start mixing.

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