Results tagged Breton from David Lebovitz

Restaurant Alain Ducasse

Uncharacteristically, I’ll spare you the specifics, but I need to catch up on about 147 hours of sleep. And while we’re at it, I could use a hug. And since the former isn’t necessarily easy to come by here, as is the latter, I was embrassé by dinner at Alain Ducasse restaurant. While it’s been tempting to remove the “sweet life” byline from my header until things return to normal, since one of the sweeter sides of Paris is an occasional foray into fine dining, I dusted off my lone, non-dusty outfit, and rode the métro to a swankier part of town.

When I was in Monaco and I went to visit the chefs and the kitchen at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, Louis XV, the pastry chef asked if I could possibly stay and taste their lovely desserts. Unfortunately I had to catch a ride back to Paris because I didn’t want to miss, well..nothing – I couldn’t stay. Then a few weeks later, a lovely invitation to his Paris restaurant arrived in my mailbox and I cleaned myself up, then headed into the aquarium.

waiter at Alain Ducasse Alain Ducasse restaurant

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Kouign Amann at Le Grenier à Pain

Kouign Amann pastry

Today is election day in France, and la République has the choice of re-electing the current President, or ushering in a new one. For people who usually have a lot of opinions, my French friends aren’t all that enthused about either one of the fellows. One is hoping to come into office, promising to represent Changement, and the other came into office five years ago, vowing changement, too. Sound familiar?

The polls opened at 8am and the only change I was feeling was in my pocket, as I roamed the streets looking for a baguette. However instead of the buttery, yeasty aromas wafting forth from my usual arsenal of boulangeries, none were open. It wasn’t because it was election day, it just happened that every one I hit had the shades down and the door shuttered closed for various reasons.

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Larnicol: Kouign Amann in Paris

kouignamann-blog

People come to Paris and want to try Kouign amann and I can’t say I blame them. And I truly feel for them when I tell them that although you can find Kouign amann in Paris, you really need to go to Brittany and have one. Well, I used to tell them that—but I don’t have to anymore because Brittany has finally come to Paris, courtesy of pastry chef George Larnicol.

Kouign amann is one of the most elusive pastries to make, not very tricky, but it involves a few steps..and a whole lotta butter. In fact, the name comes from the Breton language and translates to “butter cake”, and I don’t know of any cake (or dessert, for that matter) that has more butter than this. A few bakeries in Paris make them, and you can come across examples at some of the markets, but some foods don’t really translate outside of where they’re from (few outside of Norway really crave lutefisk, for example, and I can’t say I’m been on the prowl for haggis in Paris) and Kouign amann falls into that category.

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A Great Kouign Amann, in Paris

frenchpastries

I’m not going to say a thing, because I’m certain I did the same thing back in the day. But a lot of people who are en route to Paris ask me where they can find things like bouillabaisse, a true salade Niçoise, or Kig ha farz, and when I answer, “You can’t”, they either don’t believe me, or get irked because they think I’m being elusive and keeping those addresses a secret and probably say mean things about me behind my back.

To get those things, you need to go where they originate; they just don’t travel outside their particular region in France. I’m not sure if it’s because in America, we’re used to things being available whenever and wherever we want. Or because of our “melting pot” status, we readily accept foods from other parts of the country and the world with a little more fluidity than they do elsewhere.

But I’ve been duped one too many times in places like New York City, that advertise “San Francisco-style” burritos, which are about as close to the original as most of the rice-plumped salades Niçoises you’ll find on the Île-de-France are.

(The true salade Niçoise should only contain raw vegetables: cooked eggs are allowed, and in some cases, canned tuna or anchovies. But that’s it, folks. And don’t get me started on those New York City burritos…and I use the term “burrito” loosely. If you cut it in half and can see any air pockets, it’s not a burrito.)

I’ve learned my lesson and will stick to Black & White cookies, corned beef sandwiches, and the Halal stand in Manhattan.

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Crêpes Dentelles

When I worked at Chez Panisse, we had a customer who would come for dinner several nights a week and eat downstairs in the kitchen. Jean lived by herself in San Francisco and took a cab across the bridge to Berkeley for dinner once or twice a week. When the waiters knew she was coming, they’d set up a small table next to the pastry department and she’d eat there. And because she was a generous soul, she’d treat her regular cabdriver to dinner upstairs in the café.

Other customers would come in and say, “How do I get to sit there?” I’m not sure what the attraction was, since we were all busy working, chugging water, tracing around, dishwashers hauling dishes, garbage and compost bins, but the concept caught on and eating in the kitchen became de rigeur for foodies. Oddly, for a while, whenever I went out for dinner and they knew me from the restaurant world, they’d always seat me near the kitchen, so I’d have a view of it. And I always asked if I could sit somewhere else. Who the heck wants to watch someone else work on their day off?

Jean was born and raised in San Francisco. Her parents were fur traders and they’d take long boat trips back and forth to Asia, and she and her sister would accompany them. During the long voyages, she told me, Jean and her sister would sit in the chef’s office and rifle through his cookbooks, picking out things for him to make.

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Buckwheat Crepe Recipe

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked the age-old question: “How did you start cooking?”

My usual wise-guy answer?
“Well, I turned on the stove and put a pan on it.”

In reality, I probably should acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Anna Maria Albergetti who got me on this whole obsessive measuring-thing, hawking those carefully delineated bottles for mixing up Good Seasons salad dressing. But I also think some of it began at our local mall, at The Magic Pan, one of those crêperies that popped up everywhere in the 70′s. In the dining room, women in puffy-sleeved dresses stood over a open-flamed, circular crepe-cooker, presiding over a bevy of hot skillets that turned slowly over the flames, frying crêpes as fast as they could.

Wanting to be just like the girls at the mall, minus the puffy-sleeved dresses (which would come later in life), I bought one of those worthless numbers; a Taylor and Ng crêpe pan with a rounded bottom where you dipped the underside of the hot pan in a big bowl of batter, praying it didn’t stick before you could lift it up and flip it over to continue.

And apologies to my family for all those crêpe-filling experiments, especially the chicken in cream sauce, which, in my impatience, I madly kept adding spoonfuls of flour to until it thickened—which I presumed should take all of about 20 seconds.

The result?

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Kouign Amann Recipe

Is there anything more fabulous than something created through the wonder and miracle of caramelization?

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Is there no means and ends that one won’t go to to experience that sigh with relief when one triumphantly pulls this perfectly-caramelized melange of butter, sugar, and salt out of their oven? I think not.

Those butter-loving Bretons invented this unique gâteau for delivering the maximum dose of caramel: an all-encompassing dessert, which does double-duty at tea time. And I’ve been obsessed with figuring out how to make a perfect Kouign Amann, one of my favorite caramelized things in the world. And here are my results.

I searched long-and-wide for Kouign Amann recipes, which are rare…either they’re really sketchy, assuming that no one will actually dare to make it, or they didn’t work at all and I was left with a wet, buttery mess.

This week, I pulled disk-after-caramelized-disk out of my oven in a obsessive attempt to master this dessert that I love so much. This was also much to the delight of friends and neighbors, who never thought they could get enough Kouign Amann. After all my tinkering, by now they have.

I also learned why it was so hard to find a good Kouign Amann, it’s a bit of a challenge. So if you’d like to make a Kouign Amann, here’s a few tips I learned that will help you out before you get going…


  • Use the best salted butter you can find. I use Breton salted butter, which is easy to find in France. But use whichever good salted butter you can find and flick few grains of coarse crunchy salt before folding the dough in layers and across the top before baking. It’s a pretty good approximation of the real thing.

    (There is actually only one stick of butter in the recipe, 1 tablespoon per serving, so the resulting cake seems more buttery than it actually is.)

  • This is a very sticky dough. You should have a metal bench or pastry scraper or a metal spatula handy to help with turning, as well as to keep the dough from sticking to the counter top.

  • Work fast. Letting the dough sit on the counter and warm up is not a good idea. Roll quickly.

  • Although I recommend waiting about 1 hour between rolling out the pastry layers, you can wait several hours (or overnight) for example, if you have a bit of extra time.

  • It is strictly forbidden to think about diets while your making a Kouign Amann.

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Kouign Amann

About 8 to 10 servings

  • 1 tablespoon (12 g) active dry yeast, not instant
  • ¾ cup (175 ml) tepid water
  • 2 cups (260 g) all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar (which will be divided later)
  • (Plus additional sugar for rolling out the pastry)
  • 1 stick salted butter (110 g), cut into ½-inch (2 cm) pieces and chilled
  • 2-3 tablespoons additional salted butter, melted

1. In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water with a pinch of sugar. Stir briefly, then let stand for 10 minutes until foamy.

2. Gradually stir the flour and salt. The dough should be soft, but not too sticky. Lightly dust your countertop with flour and transfer the dough onto it.

Knead the dough with your hands until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes. If the dough is very sticky, knead in just enough flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands.

3. Brush a medium bowl with melted butter, put the dough ball into the bowl. Cover, and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour.

4. Meanwhile, line a dinner plate with plastic wrap and set aside.

5.On a lightly floured countertop, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12″ x 18″ with the shorter sides to your left and right.

The dough may be sticky and difficult to handle. Use a metal pastry scraper to coax the dough into shape, and a minimal sprinkling of flour, as necessary.
(It will all be beautiful later, trust me.)

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Distribute the butter in the center of the dough and sprinkle with ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar. Grab the left side of the dough, lift and fold it over the center, than do the same with the right side (like a letter). You should have what resembles a 3-level pastry.

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6. Sprinkle the entire length of the dough with ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar and (without rolling) fold again into thirds, as before.

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Place on the plastic wrap-covered dinner plate and chill for 1 hour.

(At this point, wipe excess flour from the countertop and dust the countertop with a rather liberal handful of sugar for rolling out the pastry again.)

7. Once chilled, remove dough from refrigerator.

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Ease it away from the plastic onto the sugar-covered countertop.
(Use more sugar than shown. I was busy doing double-duty as the photographer and baker.)

Top the dough with ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar, press it in a bit with your hands, and roll into a rectangle for the last time.

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Now wasn’t it easier this time?

Again, fold into thirds and let rest in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.

8. Preheat oven to 425° F (220° C) and brush a 9-inch (23cm) pie plate, preferably non-stick, with melted butter.

9. Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll dough into a circle about the size of the baking pan. It will be sticky; dusting the top with a sprinkle of sugar will help.

Once rolled, lift the dough and coax it into the pan. (It will want to break. If so, fold it in half and quickly slide something flat under it, like the metal bench scrape AND a metal spatula and quickly slip it into the pan. If it does break, just piece it back together in the pan.)

10. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar and drizzle with 1 tablespoon melted butter.

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Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is deeply caramelized. Let stand a few minutes, then run a spatula around the edges to release the Kouign Amann and slide the cake from the pan onto a cooling rack.





Kouign Amann Links

Since this is an unusual recipe, readers may appreciate a few links and photos from people who’ve made it successfully:

A reader in France shows off her Kouign Amman results. (She used a false-bottom pan, which leaked a bit.)

Kouign Amann (Flickr stream)

Another Kouign Amann, made using American ingredients.

Served with Love makes this Kouign Amann.

French Letters shows-off a buttery example as well.

Kig ha Farz

When you think of ‘take-out’, France perhaps isn’t the first culture that comes to mind.

The concept to me seems so American; pick up the phone or walk to the corner, grab something to eat, bring it home and eat it in front of the television.
Nice and quick…and no dishes!

In spite of what you might think, France has plenty of take-out food shops, called traiteurs. These specialty shops are loaded with tempting things to eat: roasted and smoked meats, a few carefully-selected cheeses, vegetable salads, poached and cured fish, and of course, terrines and pâtes.

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A Terrine de Lièvre made from wild hare, which graze freely in Brittany…
…until the little critters are hunted down and made into terrines!

Although I don’t usually visit the traiteur, since I like to cook for myself and friends, i was in serious pursuit of Kig ha Farz, a Breton curiosity that’s made by making a gargantuan ‘dumpling’ of buckwheat flour, eggs, butter, and milk or cream, stirring them together and simmering the whole thing in a special linen sack (and yes, I bought one in Brittany to make this in the future.)

After the giant dumpling is cooked, the bag is rolled and rolled until the dumpling’s been broken up into tiny, couscous-like pieces. It’s heaped onto a plate and served with smoked bacon or lard, as they call it in France. Although I’ve seen recipes that call for vegetables served alongside, no one seemed to be requesting any…and there didn’t seem to be any on offer.

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After hearing about Kig ha Farz for years, I was very curious and eager to try it. Acting on a tip from a friend’s Breton mother, I found one of the few remaining places in the world that still makes Kig ha Farz…and they make it only on Wednesdays.

Sure enough, when I arrived, there was a huge mob barely forming a line…and the frantic, but cheerful saleswomen were spooning Kig ha Farz into take-out barquettes as fast as they could (and most couldn’t resist picking and eating little morsels as they scooped. I can’t say I blame them…I’d do the same, if no one was watching. Take that to those of you who think I’m too uptight about food sanitation!)

Sporting a seriously-treacherous butcher’s knife, only then would the crowd part just long enough for them to hack off a slab of smoked bacon, wrap it in butcher-paper, and send you on your way. Once I was lucky to escape (alive), I went back to the house and wolfed down a plate of Kig ha Farz…then immediately had seconds, giving little to the thought that in just a few hours I’d have to don a swimsuit to return to the beach.
And the little French swimsuits leave no room for imagination, or expansion, caused by too much Kig ha Farz and lard.

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Surely the most well-known take-away treats in Brittany are crêpes, which are impossible to avoid no matter where you go. I woke extra-early one morning to scour a local Vide-Grenier (similar to a flea market, but more like a large, free-form garage sale.) There I scored a stack sumptuous, unused vintage French linen sheets (for about the price of one French linen pillowcase in the US) from a rather nasty woman…an encounter which would make a visit to the oral surgeon seem pleasurable.

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Thankfully there were dilligent crêpemakers there, swirling the eggy batter over the hot griddle, dotting them with salty butter and a dusting of crunchy sugar, passing off the warm, folded crêpes to hungry and beat-upon shoppers….aka: moi!.

Later in the day, it was back to the traiteur and to make a picnic for the beach.
It was a perfectly clear day, blue sky, delicious food and red wine…gentle waves lapping as I fell asleep in the warm sand…where I dreamed of many future nights, dozing away in my cozy bed between luxurious, hard-won linen sheets…with a big, round tummy…full of Kig ha Farz!

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Tonnard-Léost
Traiteur-Charcuterie Fine-Boucher
1, rue Général-Leclerc
Plouescat
Tel: 02 98 69 61 78

Recipe for Kig ha farz