On Friday, I was dying to make a type of French pastry called kouign amann (pronounced Queen Aman, short a sound). It's a Paul Hollywood recipe, but it is not included in How to Bake, which is the book I'm using for this baking challenge/blog. Instead, it's included in The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking (a cookbook that Amazon sent me as a gift when they found out about this blog) and is featured as one of the technical challenges on series 5 of theGreat British Bake Off (otherwise known here in the U.S. as season 1 of the Great British Baking Show, which is a lame and unnecessary change).
Because I've watched the episode in question (let's call it) several times, I already knew how to avoid some of the pitfalls. And because I recently made croissants for the first time, I had already practiced making laminated dough (dough, butter, dough, butter, dough, butter, dough, butter, etc., into infinity) once, so I wasn't intimidated by it, anymore. (It can go so wrong whether a baker is intimidated or not, but why shouldn't a process be pleasant instead of unpleasant?)
Why was I looking forward to making and eating kouign amann? Because it's layers of dough, butter, and sugar--I should have thought that would be obvious. It's shaped a bit like a muffin but is nothing like a muffin. Kouign amann is to a muffin what a doughnut is to a bagel; in other words, it's a lot more delicious than a muffin. (No offense, bagels. I'm just not that into you when I'm craving a doughnut. You have inadequacy issues in that I find you inadequate.)
Here's kouign amann:
Pretty, ain't it? And here is Paul's kouign amann recipe (linked instead of copied and pasted because we went to the gym earlier and my arms are like, "Bitch, I am too tired to copy and paste digital content."). (My arms are very aggressive. It's some pretty big talk for muscles that complain about curling 45 pounds, which is only 25 more pounds than my eight-year-old child can curl.)
Like croissants, the dough is laminated and "turned" and chilled several times. Unlike croissants, it only has to be rolled out and folded and chilled (for 30 minutes instead of an hour) three times and doesn't have to be chilled overnight before baking. Thus, it seemed like the perfect Friday late morning bake on a sunny and warm early spring day. The birds were chirping. The dogs were napping contentedly. The lightest tree limbs danced in the gentle breezes.
In other words, there was no hint of the environmental foreshadowing that normally accompanies UNMITIGATED DISASTERS.
In my croissant blog entry, I said that I'd let the pictures tell the story, and then I let my virtual big mouth tell the story. Today, however, I share only the pictures . . . with a few very brief words thrown in only when necessary for clarity's sake or when I can't keep my mouth shut.
First, you make a pretty basic dough.
And let it rise for at least an hour.
Then, you end up with a fluffy, poofy, pretty dough reminiscent of croissant dough (just a smaller recipe).
I don't know why, but I like taking pictures of butter. This is the butter called for in the recipe. I am irritated that I have to use one big block plus two tablespoons. Meh.
Butter smashing . . . family fun.
My square of dough isn't very square, unlike my (very happy) high school existence.
I have a folding problem. I unthinkingly fold every piece of paper handed to me into the tiniest possible piece. Then, with a start, I look up and say, "I folded it."
I folded it (on purpose this time).
I love packets of layered dough and butter. They charm me. I don't know why.
After it's folded ("I folded it"), you roll it out to fold up and chill.
But I discovered it was too fat--I'd exceeded the width measurements in the recipe.
So I folded it.
And then folded it again.
Ready for the fridge, she is. Do you like my red Glad wrap? It's left over from Christmas. That may have been obvious.
After 30 minutes, you take it out of the fridge and roll it out again.
I folded it. (Again.)
Ready for second chilling. By this time, the dough and the butter, though still technically separate in their layers, are starting to work together to form a unified body, like those losers in Congress. Wait--that was disrespectful. ESTEEMED losers in Congress.
Roll 'er out again, post-fridge. By this time, the little dough-and-butter packet is a lot of fun to handle. The two have fully merged to become one, like the tick the size of a penny my mom found on my head when I was in elementary school. WE WERE ONE.
It folds so nicely.
Ready for final chilling!
Post final chilling, ready to be rolled out and spread with sugar.
See? Oh, the delightful anticipation! (But I wanted to add cinnamon, too, which I might do next time.)
Then she gets folded up (I folded it) one more time.
And rolled out one final time before being cut into squares. I had a wee problem at this point--when I picked up the sugared packet (above) to turn it around to be rolled out, what seemed like a cup of sugar fell out onto the floor. Stepping on sugar constantly doesn't sound very annoying, but it is very annoying. Because what I love to do is to spend three and a half hours baking a single recipe and then getting out the vacuum cleaner and floor scrubber/mop.
Sprinkled with a bit more sugar.
Placed in the pan (holding the four corners together to achieve the classic shape) and then sprinkled with a tiny bit more sugar.
Don't they look charming? Don't they look perfectly delicious--you just KNOW how they're going to taste when you take the first flaky bite?
I don't know what happened. They were baking beautifully. I am not exaggerating when I say that they had puffed up and inflated to be twice the height of the kouign amannn the bakers on the show had made. They were GORGEOUS.
I used the oven temperature I was supposed to. They had ten minutes to go before the minimum time for baking was up. But the burnt sugar/caramelizing sugar smell turned into a smokey burnt sugar phenomenon, and, when I opened the door to check on them, smoke billowed out. This is what I found.
They weren't even quite done in the middle, but I have never seen anything so burned (on the outside) in my entire life. My babies! My precious babies! What did I do to you?
I don't know quite what happened, but I do know this: I did not use the sugar mindfully enough. Sugar was the mugger hiding in the bushes, and I was the absentminded pedestrian who didn't see him until he''d taken my purse. Unfortunately, because sugar is an ingredient and not a human, I can't chase it down and beat the living crap out of it until it gives me my purse back. (Also, I can't do that because I run very slowly.) Instead, the next time, I will need to proceed carefully and thoughtfully and coax the butter and flour and sugar to work together peacefully. If I'm standing over them, glaring, and holding my stainless steel rolling pin over them threateningly, well, so be it.