Parisiens sure know how to live. Many start each day with a stroll to the nearest patisserie to grab a fresh baguette or a few breakfast pastries, exchanging pleasantries with the boulanger and their neighbours. I loved this ritual on my last visit and would race home to enjoy my purchases with my morning tea, although I was truly tempted to devour them on the sidewalk as soon as I exited the bakery. While I’ve always been partial to starting the day with a pain au chocolat, discovering the heavenly delight that is Kouign Amann, a delicacy that hails from Brittany, made me rethink my breakfast pastry choices. Authentic bakeries take up to two days to prepare these flaky, sugary treats, but the process can be greatly streamlined thanks to buttery store-bought puff pastry. Don’t be daunted by the number of steps – these are ridiculously simple to prepare. Traditionally the Queen of Pastries does not have a filling, but you could easily tuck a spoonful of your favourite jam, chopped fruit or even Nutella into these for a change of pace. Best of all, you can assemble these Kouign Amman the night before and bake them the next morning for the freshest breakfast treat ever.
• 2 sheets frozen store-bought puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator
• 1/2 cup (125 mL) white sugar, plus 4 teaspoons (20 mL)
• approximately 2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter for greasing pans
• 1 teaspoon (5 mL) good salt (Maldon or fleur de sel)
1. Unroll the puff pastry sheets, placing them on pieces of fresh parchment paper. Cover each one with a second piece of parchment and roll each pastry sheet out to a square shape, approximately 8 x 8 inches (20 x 20 cm).
2. Lift up the top parchment papers and sprinkle the surface of both pastries with 2 tablespoons (30 mL) each of white sugar. Place the parchment back on top and roll lightly to press sugar into the dough.
3. Remove top parchment papers again and fold the bottom third of the dough up towards the centre, then fold the top third down towards the centre (as though folding a letter to prepare it for an envelope).
4. Rotate the dough on your work surface 90 degrees then replace the top parchment sheets and roll each sheet of puff pastry out to an 8 x 8 square once again.
5. Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4 to add a second helping of sugar to each pastry sheet. Lay the parchment-enclosed pastry sheets on a baking tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6. While dough is resting, generously grease 8 compartments of a muffin tin with the butter.
7. To assemble the pastries, remove dough from the fridge and lift it off the bottom parchment sheets. Sprinkle a little bit more sugar (about 1 teaspoon / 5 mL) on the bottom parchment, then replace the dough. Remove the top parchment and sprinkle the tops of the dough with 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of sugar. If the dough has shrunk a little, replace the top parchment and roll back out to a square slightly larger than 8 x 8 inches (20 x 20 cm).
8. With a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter, square up the sheets of dough by trimming edges then cut each one in half lengthwise to create two strips approximately 4″ x 8″. Cut each strip into two 4″ x 4″ squares, making 8 squares in total.
9. Lift up each pastry square and fold the four corners toward the center to create the distinctive crown shape of the kouign amann then gently nestle the pastries into the greased muffin tin compartments.
10. Cover the muffin pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight if desired. When ready to bake, leave the muffin tin on the counter while the oven preheats to 400F. Just before baking, sprinkle the tops of the pastries with the salt, if using.
11. Put the pastries in the centre of the preheated oven and reduce heat to 375F. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking, until pastries are golden brown and sugary edges are nice and caramelized.
12. Remove tray from oven and immediately transfer pastries to a serving plate (they’ll stick to the tin like crazy if you don’t do this). Let cool 2 minutes or longer before devouring. Leftovers can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Makes 8 flaky, delicious pastries.