How to make (and say) kouign-amann

In the grand tradition of French pâtissiers, Catherine Adams makes the classic buttery Breton pastries - a piece of cake once you know how.
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Kouign-amann, which sounds something like “queen-ah-mahn”, are pastry cakes originating in Brittany. The name comes from the Breton words for cake (kouign) and butter (amann) – fitting, since these pastries are made by pairing a yeasted dough with a slab of butter, folded and rolled multiple times to create the many layers. As the butter melts it makes steam, which separates the layers for a fluffy interior. The pastry is then dusted with a sugar-salt mix that caramelises as it cooks, resulting in a crunchy exterior.

The secret to excellent kouign-amann is ensuring that the dough and butter slab are of a similar firmness. I use iced water when making the dough to keep it cool. It’s also important to rest and chill the dough between folding and rolling.

Once you’ve made a smooth, shiny dough, it needs to prove until doubled in size, and to give the gluten and yeast time to develop. The time this takes depends on the temperature of your kitchen. The proved dough will be quite soft, so chill it until firm to make it easier to handle. While the dough is firming, prepare the butter slab.

Draw a rectangular template on baking paper with a pen, then turn the paper over so the butter doesn’t come into contact with the ink. Break pieces of softened butter to fit your template, then fold in the surrounding baking paper to cover and roll over it with a rolling pin to create a smooth slab of even thickness. Chill the butter slab briefly so it’s pliable and just a fraction firmer than the dough.

Once the butter and dough are ready, roll the dough into a rectangle and place the butter slab on top, about five centimetres from the edge closest to you. Now it’s time to create the layers. Remember, if you start with even layers you’ll have consistent layering as you go. Fold down the top third of dough over the butter, then fold the bottom third up, as you would a letter. You’ll end up with three even layers of dough, with two layers of butter in between.

Before rolling, dust the bench and dough with a little flour to prevent sticking, but not so much to make the dough dry. Be sure to brush off excess flour as you go, otherwise the layers may not bond. It’s important to work quickly when rolling so the butter doesn’t melt and squeeze out or the dough doesn’t become too soft (if it does, put it in the fridge to firm up).

The rolling process is similar to that for puff pastry: roll, fold by thirds, turn 90 degrees, rest and repeat twice more. Rest the dough in plastic wrap in the fridge and make each 90-degree turn in the same direction. A good way to keep track is to mark the top point of the dough on the plastic wrap with a marker before refrigerating, and roll away from you when you roll again.

On the third fold-and-roll, dust with the sugar-salt mixture; this adds flavour and aids caramelisation throughout the layers during cooking, especially on the outside. There’s no need to rest or chill the dough again at this point (unless it has become soft); the pastry can now be cut and shaped.

A muffin tray is perfect for baking kouign-amann. Cut the dough into squares, sprinkle with extra sugar, then ease them into the holes, pinching the corners together in the centre to create a four-leaf clover shape. At this point, you can refrigerate them overnight for freshly baked kouign-amann for breakfast.

After baking, remove them immediately from the tin; otherwise the pastries will stick as the sugar cools. Ease them out with a palette knife and tongs (be careful, caramel will be burning hot), and place them on a wire rack upside down to cool for 15 minutes. I serve kouign-amann for breakfast with tea or coffee – they’re the best way to start the day.




1.Mix flour, yeast, 20gm butter, 15gm caster sugar and 8gm (2 tsp) salt in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook on low speed to combine. With motor running, add 310ml iced water and mix until dough comes together, then increase speed to medium and mix until dough is shiny and smooth (8-10 minutes). Grease a bowl with a little extra butter, then transfer dough to bowl, cover with plastic wrap and stand at room temperature until doubled in size (1-2 hours, depending on room temperature). Grease a work surface with a little butter, turn the dough out onto the greased bench and fold inwards into 3 as you would a letter to knead lightly, rotate dough and repeat this folding and rotating 3-4 times until dough is smooth and taut. Return to the greased bowl, cover and stand to rest (20-25 minutes).
2.Press the dough into a rough rectangle on a piece of plastic wrap, then wrap tightly and freeze to chill (15-20 minutes). Flip dough over and continue chilling until dough is slightly firm (15-20 minutes).
3.Meanwhile, draw a 15cm x 30cm rectangle on a much larger piece of baking paper and turn it over so the ink is underneath. Break remaining butter into pieces to fit template, then fold surrounding paper over the top to cover (if the paper doesn’t completely cover the butter, place another piece of baking paper on top). Roll over butter with a rolling pin to create a slab of even thickness. Refrigerate to firm (15-20 minutes).
4.Combine remaining caster sugar and salt in a bowl and set aside. Grease a 12-hole, ½-cupcapacity muffin tray with butter and sprinkle about 1 tsp of sugar mixture into each to coat sides and with a thin layer on the bottom.
5.Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to a rough 18cm x 48cm rectangle, keeping the ends square and a short edge closest to you.
6.If chilled butter slab is too hard, gently tap it with your rolling pin to soften; it needs to be flexible but not soft. Unwrap butter and place on the dough so it is 5cm away from the edge nearest you. Fold the edge farthest from you over the butter; it should cover half the butter.
7.Brush away excess flour, then fold the section closest to you up and over to enclose, like a letter, and press edges to seal in butter. You will now have a rectangle with 3 layers of dough and 2 layers of butter.
8.Rotate the dough 90 degrees and, keeping the bench floured, use steady even pressure to roll the dough into a rectangle 3 times as long as it is wide and 5mm thick. Dust off any excess flour, then fold the top third down and the bottom third up and over as before, keeping the edges and corners aligned. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate to chill (40 minutes). Repeat the process with another roll, rotating 90 degrees in the same direction as before, then fold. Wrap and chill as before (40 minutes).
9.Preheat oven to 190C. Sprinkle an even layer of sugar mixture on the work surface and place the dough on top, rotating it 90 degrees. Sprinkle more sugar mixture over the dough then, working quickly (as the surface of the dough can become wet and sticky), repeat rolling and folding.
10.Rotate dough once more, sprinkle with sugar and roll to a 5mm-thick, 18cm x 48cm rectangle. Trim uneven edges, then cut dough into 12 squares of 8cm each, and sprinkle each square with ¼ tsp sugar mixture.
11.Ease a square into each muffin hole, then bring the corners in to meet in the centre and gently pinch to join using your thumb and index finger. Scatter with extra sugar mixture, stand to prove briefly (15 minutes), then bake, turning tray once during cooking, until golden and caramelised (25-35 minutes).
12.Remove tray from oven and immediately turn out kouign-amann onto a wire rack using a palette knife and tongs (be careful, caramel will be very hot). Stand upside down on rack to cool and for sugar to set (15-20 minutes), then serve. Kouign-amann are best eaten on the day they’re made but can be stored in an airtight container for a day and refreshed in a hot oven.

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