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Kouign Amann (Breton Butter Cake)



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"Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods,
and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts."

~ James Beard

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Breton Peasants, 1894
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La Belle Cuisine


Kouign Amann (Breton Butter Cake)

Saveur Cooks Authentic French

by the Editors of Saveur Magazine,
1999, Chronicle Books


Serves 8

A Butter Culture

“Butter, ‘amann’ in the Breton language (the word also means ointment), has
a symbolic importance in Brittany that must seem all but incomprehensible to
the cholesterol-phobic American. In recent memory, older Bretons still placed
a slab of butter near somebody suffering from cancer in the belief that it would
absorb the disease; even today, mothers often rub a butter pomade on their children’s bruised elbows. Butter was also used by women to slick their hair
back under their starched Breton headdresses.
And of course, Bretons eat butter. Since the Middle Ages, they’ve been renowned
for their formidable butter consumption, putting it on virtually everything – even
fish, which was contrary to the religious and dietary principles of medieval times.
The main difference between butter from Brittany and those from other French
regions is that Breton butter is almost always salted, with a sea salt content
ranging from .5 to 5 percent. The salt allows it to be conserved longer, to have
a lower water content and, according to the Bretons, to have far more flavor
and character than unsalted butter.”

“Pastry chefs in Brittany warn that making a perfect kouign amann
(pronounced kween ah-MAN) isn’t easy, but we’ve found that this
simple recipe yields delicious results.”

Two 7-gram packets [1/2 ounce total]
active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
12 tablespoons [6 ounces or
1 1/2 sticks] butter (keep 8 tablespoons
or 1 stick in refrigerator
until ready to use)
1 1/4 cups sugar

1. Dissolve yeast in 1/3 cup lukewarm water in a large bowl. Set aside
until yeast begins to activate (it will foam a little), about 10 minutes.
2. Add salt and 1 cup of the flour to yeast mixture, stirring with a wooden
spoon. Add 1/3 cup of water, and when well blended, add remaining 1
cup flour and another 2/3 cup water. Stir until dough forms into a ball,
then transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead with the heels of
your palms until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Coat the inside
of a large bowl with 2 tablespoons butter, place dough in bowl, and
cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Set aside to rise until double
in bulk, about 1 hour.
3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch pie pan with 1 table-
spoon butter and dust with flour. Roll out dough on a lightly floured
surface into a large rectangle, about 12 by 18 inches, with the shorter
side nearest you.
4. Cut chilled stick of butter into 10 to 12 pieces. Dot middle portion
of dough with butter pieces and sprinkle it with 1/2 cup of the sugar.
Working quickly, fold short sides towards the center, over the butter
and sugar. Edges should slightly overlap. Sprinkle dough with 1/4 cup
of the sugar and roll over seams to seal. Turn dough again so that the
shorter side is nearest you and fold into thirds, as you would a letter.
Let dough rest 15 minutes in refrigerator.
5. Roll out dough on a sugar-sprinkled surface, dusting with 1/4 cup sugar
as you go, into a large rectangle. Fold into thirds again and let dough
rest another 15 minutes in refrigerator.
6. Roll out dough on a sugar-sprinkled surface into a square slightly larger than the pie pan. Dust with remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and ease dough
into pan, loosely folding edges towards the center. Melt remaining 1
tablespoon butter and drizzle over dough. Bake until golden brown,
35 to 40 minutes. Remove from pan while hot and serve warm.

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