in my opinion, it would not be fair to compare Kouign Amann with any other cake or baked good. but still, i think it deserves to be crowned king, or at least, a champion in the world of pastry and baking.
ah, to finally find a good Kouign Amann (pronounced sort of like ‘ke-WEEN AH-mahn’)! in the breton language, the name of this delectable creation translates to “butter cake”. naturally, the star ingredient in this cake is most definitely butter. Brittany, a region with such a different history, culture, and language than the rest of France, is home also to some of the country’s best butter (more on that in a future post!). this butter is put to good use here, added with sugar between layers of puff pastry. after baking in the oven, it’s got a crunchy caramelized sugar exterior, that gives way to soft layers of puff pastry, where the taste of good quality butter can really shine.
my first exposure to this cake came a few years ago in Paris, one early January a co-worker brought me back a kouign amann when she visited her hometown in Brittany over Christmas. the cake had lost most of the outside crunch by the time it made its way into my hands, but the taste! that amazing flavour has never left me, i almost didn’t care if the outside was supposed to be crunchy. i returned home from Paris (indulge me in a bit of gastronomic melodrama here) a changed person, dreaming fondly of kouign amann when the craving for buttery desserts would strike.
the quest to find one in Toronto proved unsuccessful (some restaurants i’ve learned have offered it as a dessert, but not often and none that i’ve seen recently). the discovery of a bakery in Montreal by the name of Kouign Amann made me so excited, i pre-ordered a whole cake in advance of the journey there. sadly, the result was such a disappointment i resigned myself to stop the search. my other option – trying to make it from scratch – was never appealing enough for me to dedicate time to, it’s no quick and easy task!
fast forward a few years to 2 months ago, i was greatly anticipating the opportunity to taste kouign amann in its traditional setting (can you tell i really like food?!) :)
somehow, i had no doubt it would be AMAZING, even being fully aware that was a pretty high expectation for a cake that i had never even properly tasted! (an aside – you can probably get pretty outstanding versions of kouign amann in some of the best patisseries in Paris like Pierre Hermé, but i wouldn’t know, i wanted my first taste of a fresh kouign amann to be as authentic as possible!)
the promise of a foodgasmic kouign amann experience fueled my online research for suggestions or reviews on the best patisseries to check out…
apparently every year, Brittany has a contest for the best kouign amann. the area around the town of Douarnenez (on the western coast of Brittany) was reputed to be where the cake originated. yet the winner from last year was actually in a small town closer to the city of Nantes. our itinerary could not accommodate that stop, but thankfully, i did discover the website for an association of artisinal kouign amann bakers in Douarnenez. what better place to try one than in its supposed birthplace? :) so our itinerary changed slightly to add this stop, and it was well worth it.
an online article (for you French readers) helped convince me to choose the Lucas* bakery from the association’s list of artisan bakers. a whole cake was much too much for two of us (not to mention our arteries wouldn’t be too thrilled either), but we settled for half a cake.
yes, it is rich. yes, it is buttery, and it is sweet (but not overly sweet). the crunchy outside with that depth of caramel flavour, the chewy inside of the layers of goodness…perfect! it was quite the balance to eat it while still fresh, but not over do it and get sick in the process (we did manage to finish it all within about 24 hours). to be sure, that first bite was like a little taste of heaven, i only hope most kouign amanns will taste like this!
now that eating ‘authentic’ kouign amann is checked off my list, i will happily try ones in Paris on future trips to see how they compare. and i think in Paris, you can easily find single serving “kouignettes” :)
i haven’t yet learned the Breton word for “yumm” but in French, one would say ‘miam’.
miam, miam indeed!