This week, I decided to give Kouign Amann (pronounced queen-ya-man). This is a traditional butter cake from Brittany and notoriously difficult to bake.

I chose this recipe, because 1) I love baking and 2) I have actually attempted this before. When I was in sixth form, one of our cultural topics for French ‘A’ level was Brittany and one day, our French teacher decided it might be nice to get some hands-on experience of Breton culture by baking Kouign Amann. The results were…disastrous. The dough actually needs several hours to rise and we had a limited two-hour window, so the resulting cake was stodgy and underbaked…that being said, I figured that with enough time and patience, I would be able to create the perfect Kouign Amann!

Translation
Firstly, I had to check the term ‘butter cake’ (‘gâteau au beurre’ in French), as it sounded a little odd to me, but apparently it is a recognised baking term!

Generally, this recipe was a lot more detailed and written almost like prose when compared to last week’s recipe.

Butter
In this recipe, the author debates the best kind of butter to use (‘demi sel ou salé’). As Hannah, who originally came up with the #ThatTranslatorCanCook concept, points out in her clafoutis recipe, there are actually many more varieties of butter in France than there are in Britain. However, like in Hannah’s recipe, as this called for ‘demi sel’, I surmised that salted butter would be close enough. In a similar vein, it would appear that ‘cl’ is a more common standard of measurement in continental Europe, however, as I was translating for a British audience, I changed this to ‘ml’.

Levure (Raising Agent)
This recipe specifically calls for ‘levure de boulanger’ and states ‘surtout pas de la levure chimique!’). This initially confused me, because I believed that ‘levure’ is always translated as ‘yeast’, so the idea of ‘chemical yeast’ was a little strange. However, after some research, it became apparent that ‘levure chimique’ refers to baking powder. I chose to omit this comment from my translation, because I think yeast and baking powder are two such vastly different entities in the eyes of British bakers, that they wouldn’t dream of using baking powder to make what is essentially a bread dough.

Cooking
I actually attempted this recipe twice. My first attempt, while delicious, definitely did not turn out how it should have done. My second attempt was better, but, as I will explain at the end, I think I’ve worked out where I went wrong and would definitely like to perfect it!

Kouign Amann dough in a glass bowl

This recipe is fairly time-consuming, because you need to leave the dough to prove for an hour. I decided to use dried yeast, because that’s what we had in the cupboard. As per the instructions, I left it to prove at room temperature, but as you can see from my photo above, it barely rose at all! I did, however, realise that my yeast was two years out of date…so I bought new dried yeast and the difference was astonishing…

Yeast being activated in a plastic measuring jug
Kouign Amann dough after rising in a glass bowl.

As you can see, the yeast bubbled up loads when it was activated and then the dough rose a lot more (I used the same measurements for both batches). I also decided to prove the dough in my airing cupboard, because, as it’s November now, the room temperature in our house is probably a little on the cool side for good proving. I also oiled the bowl that the dough was left to prove in. This wasn’t mentioned in the recipe, but the dough was very moist and I didn’t want it to stick.

Spreading butter on kouign amann dough.
Sugar and butter sprinkled on the kouign amann dough.

The folding part of the recipe (which the author provided a handy diagram for) was surprisingly simple. However, I definitely had some butter and sugar leakage so I think I needed to fold it tighter. For my first attempt, I didn’t use all the butter and sugar suggested, because my dough hadn’t expanded enough. For the second attempt, I misremembered the amounts and accidentally added 50g too much of both butter and sugar!

Kouign amann dough in cake tin
Attempt One
Kouign amann dough in cake tin
Attempt Two

As you can see from the images, the second cake was a lot larger than the first, because the dough had risen so much!

Cooked Kouign Amann
The Finished Product

And here is my finished product! As you can see, there was a fair amount of butter and sugar leaking out at the sides, which then created caramel. The same thing happened on my first attempt. However, it was absolutely delicious, and there were distinct layers:

Slice of kouign amann

Final Verdict: I would definitely make this recipe again! Although it wasn’t perfect, it was delicious! Even my husband and his two children loved it and the entire cake was gone within 12 hours! However, I will definitely be taking these tips with me:

  1. Use the right amount of butter and sugar!
  2. Fold the dough more tightly and be a little more careful when rolling it out again to make sure that the butter and sugar doesn’t burst through.
  3. Use a smaller cake tin to help keep the structure of the cake better.

An Interesting Side Note
After my second attempt, which was not quite perfect, I had a look at some Google images (as I haven’t actually seen a kouign amann in real life!) and I discovered something interesting: all of the recipes in English and images on google.co.uk showed individual kouign amann made in a muffin tin. On google.fr and French recipes, however, were for one large cake, like the one I made. This led me to wonder if it’s because the smaller, individual version is easier to make to sell in a bakery and therefore appeals to tourists who then brought it back to Britain. If anyone has any idea if I’m right or what the real reason is, let me know in the comments!

Next week, I will be looking for a way to use up to lentils in our cupboard! As always, if you have any suggestions for French or Arabic recipes for me to try, leave them in the comments, message me on social media, or send me an email on my contact page.

Published by verityroat

Verity Roat BA CANTAB MA TRANSLATION CIOL Career Associate is a Norfolk-based Arabic and French > English translator and languages tutor.

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