Look up… do you see that lovely layer of thick, chewy caramel pooled at the bottom of a golden pastry laden with good, salty French butter? Say hello to the kouign (“kween”).
People flock to Paris for the macarons – Laduree alone sells upwards of 15,000 per day – and while these crispy, chewy melting stacks make them a wonderful vehicle for creative flavors (Pierre Herme’s “mogador” – passion fruit and chocolate flavor – is a must try), you are missing out on so much if you don’t look a bit farther than the colorful, orderly rows of perfectly puffed and sandwiched delicacies.
One of those less famous specialties, and something of a personal obsession, is the kouign amman – a Breton butter pastry somewhere between a croissant and a cake, representing the most perfect equilibrium of salty, sweet, flaky and chewy. So I was more than a little thrilled to see that the brand new 6th Arr. outpost of Maison Georges Larnicol (famous for their impossibly glossy and elaborate chocolate sculptures) featured an enticing window display of kouignettes (baby kouign ammans) with the macarons relegated to a case in the middle of the store (albeit a huge glass command center, featuring a dazzling horseshoe of orderly rainbow stripes).
Their lineup of these little darlings includes pistachio, chocolate and raspberry, but the “Caramel Beurre Salé” version provides the greatest rush of deep, buttery burnt sugary heaven when you bite into them and I’m pretty sure triggers something in the addiction center of the brain. Made from a buttery laminated dough which is rolled in sugar, you can imagine the magic caramelization that happens as it all bakes together.
The kouign amman can be a little challenging to find outside of Northern France – at least the good ones. Several bakers I’ve talked to here in the US tell me that the kouigns just don’t taste right without French butter, so they refuse to make them. I feel so lucky to live in a city (Seattle) where Franz Gilbertson whips up warm, flaky and salty sweet kouign ammans at his Honore bakery every morning, but I’d love to know of anywhere else in the US (or anywhere outside France for that matter) that makes good kouign amman – leave a comment if you have the scoop! If you have a recipe even better – I’ve yet to find one that hits the spot…
The Saint Germain Maison Georges Larnicol is located at 132 Blvd Saint-Germain, 75006. They also have many other locations around France.