The hottest pastry in America is one you probably can’t taste—or pronounce. Kouign amann (koo-WEEN a-MON; the name means “butter cake” in Breton, the ancient Celtic language of Brittany) is the current darling of pastry chefs like Manresa’s Belinda Leong, who’s launching a wholesale patisserie where kouign will star.
Kouign might be the homeliest specimen of puff-pastry art in the whole French repertoire, and it is notoriously hard to make.
According to Brian Wood, co-owner of Starter Bakery—a wholesale company based in Oakland, California—it begins with a slightly stiffer version of croissant dough folded and refolded around layers of salted butter (traditional in sea-swept Brittany) and sugar, then baked in tins smeared with more salted butter and sugar that caramelizes in the oven. The result is crisp on the outside, chewy inside, and with a sweet-salt balance that the croissant can't even aspire to. (See Wood’s process, with the alternate spelling "kouing aman," at Tourrier.com.)
Outside the Bay Area, you can find kouign amann in Salt Lake City at Les Madeleines, at Seattle’s Honore Artisan Bakery, at Huckleberry in Santa Monica, and at the newly opened Beverly Hills Bouchon. Everywhere else? You can always order online from Williams-Sonoma.
Photograph of kouign amann from Starter Bakery by Chris Rochelle/CHOW.com