It’s officially winter. The weather forecast is predicting snow for Thursday (though I have heard from several sources that it rarely snows in Rennes, so we’ll see about that. I tend to completely distrust weather forecasts anyways…). The Christmas lights have been strung up all over town (but as of yet have not been turned on). The Marche de Noël (Christmas market) has been propped up in the square by my apartment and the empty stalls are waiting patiently to be filled with galette and cidre vendors. The stores are all boasting their holiday wares. But beneath the excitement and anticipation of the holidays, there is the ever-present cold. It seeps in past even my most valiant efforts at layering. But, without cold we’d have no reason to seek warmth, and I cannot think of a better way to warm up on a cold winter afternoon in Brittany than with a chocolat chaud and a thick slice of kouign-amann.
I had heard talk of this elusive kouign-amann (pronounced, as far as I can tell, queen-ah-mon) from many of my fellow teaching assistants who have lived in Rennes previously. It’s buttery and rich and amazing they say. It’s the specialty of Brittany they say. It’s sooooooooo delicious they say. So why did I wait 2 months to try it? I couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is that I want those 2 months back, and I want them to be filled with kouign-amann!
So, here’s the story of how I finally experienced this culinary wonder: I spent last weekend in the countryside (again) in a tiny village called Guémené sur Scorff. While walking through centre-ville I noticed a boulangerie with a sign out front that boasted that kouign-amann is the spécialité de la maison (house specialty). The store was closed as it was Sunday (everything is closed here on Sunday, except the churches, of course). So I made it a priority to return the next day. All in the name of research of course…
Monday morning found me dragging my boyfriend into the pâtisserie, and about 8 euros later, I left the shop with my frisbee-sized cake, and we went straight back to the house to sample the goods. Holy hell. This is why I moved to Brittany. I present to you kouign-amann.
This little (or big, in most cases) gem is a specialty cake native to Brittany, which was invented accidentally in 1860. What a brilliant accident; I’d like to kiss that clumsy baker. According to Wikipedia it’s a cake, but that really isn’t a sufficient word. It doesn’t fit into any traditional dessert classification such as tart, cake or cookie, but rather is its own unique genre of wonderfullness. It is made with layers of puff pastry stacked one on top of the other. A mélange of salted butter and sugar is then poured over the puff pastry, and then the whole thing is baked. Et voila! The result is buttery, salty, caramely deliciousness.
My kouign-amann was so substantial in size and richness, that I stretched it out into 3 meals: First, my boyfriend and I enjoyed a hearty slice each as breakfast yesterday. Then I had some for dessert that night. Et finalement, I polished it off with several friends this afternoon accompanied with some chocolat chaud.
I won’t try to bake kouign-amann. At least, not while I am living here and can get it from the pros. That being said, I am already hooked, so I’m sure I will be tying it one day when I am no longer lucky enough to be surrounded by Breton pâtisseries. If you are brave enough to take a stab at making kouign-amann chez vous, I would recommend trying this recipe by David Lebovitz as he is an authority on French cuisine and has put much research into creating the perfect kouign-amann. If you do try the recipe, please tell me how it turned out. Et bon appétit!
And, coming up next, 10 other Americans (and the odd Canadian, Brit and Guatemalan) join me (in my tiny apartment) in an attempt to make a traditional American Thanksgiving meal in France…