A few Sundays ago I was waiting in line at Starter Bakery, my new favorite Bay Area bakery that regularly has a booth at my new favorite Bay Area Farmers' Market in Oakland's Temescal district. I was thinking of picking up one of their delicious little quiche for a late breakfast treat when the woman next to me struck up a conversation. I'm here for the Kouign Amman, she said. (The what?) The Kouign Amman. It's the most amazing pastry I've ever tasted. Buttery, caramely, sweet and salty. It's perfect with a cup of strong black coffee. You have to try one. (Oh. Well … OK!)
The Kouign Amman were available plain, chocolate and fruit filled. On my new friend's advice, I chose the plain although plain is the last word that came to my mind when I bit through the crunchy, caramelized sugar coated bottom and the crispy, flakey top and my teeth met in the middle which was yeasty and a little salty and had the texture of a croissant except a little denser and more bread-like, but still layered. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Kouign Amman (pronounced 'KOO-ine ah-MAHN') is a Breton pastry that makes good use of the delicious, world-class salted butter from Brittany. It's this balance of sweet and salty that makes them so special, as well as the textural contrast of the crunchy caramelized sugar on the bottom, the crispy outer crust and the chewy middle. Apparently in France you can buy them cake-sized but so far I've only seen individual ones available here.
The reason I agreed to go with the "plain" is that I thought since this was my first taste of Kouign Amman, I should try it in its most unembellished state. I have had a few since and I have to admit that I still haven't graduated to the other flavors. So far, there's no reason to as I am entirely satisfied with my plain Kouign Aman experience.
Last week I brought fellow Kitchn writer Emma Christensen along to the market with me, stopping first at the Blue Bottle booth for that necessary cup of good strong coffee. She was equally love-struck and (lucky us!) has vowed to work on a recipe for The Kitchn. Meanwhile, you can check out David Lebovit's version, which he makes in an 9" round. Or next time you're in the Bay Area, find a cafe or farmers' market that carries Starter Bakery's delicious offerings and try one for yourself. Go early, as they tend to sell out.
Are you familiar with Kouign Amman? Is there a bakery in your area that makes them? Or do you know of a good recipe for Emma to work with?
Related: Chez Pim's Mix-on-the-Counter Pastry Dough
(Image: Dana Velden)