It isn’t possible to make it in America. At least not as it’s made in Brittany. The reason: ingredients. Traditionally, kouign amann is a layered (laminated) pastry with a special difference: it’s got sugar layered into it along with butter. This is a major no-no where laminated doughs are concerned, at least in America. Why? Mostly because our butter is too “wet”, which is to say it has too high a water content. Put that together with a large amount of sugar and you get problems.
What sort of problems? Well, those of you who read the blog regularly know that sugar is hygroscopic, meaning that it attracts and absorbs water. When you’re working with butter that has a relatively high moisture content (17% or so in the case of most American butter), the effect is pooled water. That water softens and collapses the dough layers, ruining the lamination and thus the rise.
It’s a problem kouign amann makers in Brittany get around by using drier butters, usually winter butter of some sort. Dry butter isn’t so easy to come by in the States, so a reformulation of the recipe is required, one that leaves the sugar out of the dough itself. It obviously isn’t traditional, but it’s necessary if the pastry isn’t going to emerge from the oven like a sweet and rich cracker (and trust me, I made more than my share of those over the weekend trying to figure a way around this limitation). No wonder so many of you guys have asked me to take on this project over the last year or so. Kouign amann looks simple, but in reality it’s one tough nut to crack. I’ll do my best!