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Monday, April 5, 2010

Bread for Dessert?

One of my new favorite days of the week has to be Tuesday for it marks the arrival of The Oregonian's FoodDay section, a 6-8 page portion of the newspaper dedicated to the discovery of food, must-haves, the latest news for foodies, and events and happenings about Portland involving beverages and edibles alike. Several weeks ago I read of an obscure French pastry, which Leslie Cole called the "love child of a croissant and a sticky bun." This sweet and bready butter cake is called kouign aman, pronounced "queen ya-Mahn." From Brittany but bearing a Celtic name, this delectable dessert's name simply means butter cake, and I could not think of a better name, except for perhaps heavenly.

Kouign aman

Cole makes clear that kouign aman is not about a recipe, but more about the technique of folding yeast dough with butter and sugar, flattening, and repeating until the requisite number of layers is achieved. Kouign aman is not "soft like brioche nor so drippy with butter that the outside is not crisp." It is, however, puffy, layered, and delicious. I will pass along several of Cole's tips with the recipe:

1. Follow the recipe. It's a lot of hurry up and wait with some steps more tedious than others, but you will be grateful you were patient.
2. Use a light-colored pan and judge the rising time by the volume of the dough, though times are included in the recipe.
3. Find a good European-style butter and make sure it's salted and creamy!
4. Eat kouign aman while it's warm - your mouth will thank you.

A Slice for Dessert

Kouign Aman

Bread dough:
* 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
* ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon lukewarm water (110 degrees)
* 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
* 4 cups all-purpose flour (1 pound)
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 2/3 cup lukewarm milk (110 degrees)

* 9 to 10 tablespoons ice-cold salted butter (preferably European-style)
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar plus 3 tablespoons (divided)
* 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or sea salt (optional)
* 2 tablespoons butter, melted

To make dough: Place sugar in a coffee cup. Add lukewarm water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Sprinkle yeast over, stir in and let rise in a warm place for about 10 minutes, or until mixture reaches the edge of the cup.

In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and pour in the lukewarm milk and yeast mixture. Mix together with a sturdy spoon or clean fingers, moving from the center to the edges, then roll the dough into a ball. Transfer to clean surface and knead for 2 to 3 minutes, or until dough is smooth, elastic and no longer sticky. (Do not over-knead, which will make the finished pastry less flaky and more bready.) Put dough in a lightly floured bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

To make cake: Turn risen dough onto floured work surface and flatten with the palm of your hand, then knead for 2 to 3 minutes. Using a rolling pin or your hands, flatten dough into a rectangle at least 12 inches long and 5 to 6 inches wide. Thinly slice the butter (or shave it with a vegetable peeler) and divide it into 3 equal portions. Scatter one portion, in pieces, over two-thirds of the dough. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup sugar over the part of the dough with the butter. Now, fold the dough into thirds as if folding a business letter, starting with the end that is bare. Flatten the dough out again into the same size rectangle you started with and repeat with another portion of butter and 1/4 cup sugar. Flatten once more, then repeat with butter only, sprinkled with optional 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. The dough will feel soft and the butter may be breaking through a little -- which is fine.

Line a light-colored baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the dough on the baking sheet and flatten it once more, pressing it out with your fingertips to form a round about 9 inches across. Cut 6 or 7 cuts right through the dough, each about 3/4 inch deep and 2 inches long, in a star-burst pattern radiating out from near the center. Cover with plastic and let rise for about an hour.

Meanwhile place rack in lower third of oven and place a baking sheet on it. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Just before baking, brush melted butter over the cake and sprinkle on remaining 3 tablespoons sugar. Bake for about 20, until very golden brown (the surface of both the top and bottom of the cake will be caramelized). Remove cake from the pan and place on rack to cool for at least 30 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

French Pastry and a Glass of White Wine

Eric Lovelin Photography

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