kouign amann

Kouign Amann – Science of a French Pastry

The first time I heard of Kouign Amann, an intricate, French pastry was when watching the Great British Bake Off some time ago. In the episode, contestants had to recreate this challenging style of French patisserie, and it wasn’t easy.

Kouign Amann is less well known than its well-traveled cousin the croissant, but is made using very much the same principles. It’s all about layering fat and sugar. Add to that a bonus of caramelized sugar and you’ve got Kouign Amann in a nutshell. The crux to getting this delicate pastry right is patience, as well as some proper time and temperature management.

Kouign Amann is a type of laminated pastry

Kouign Amann is a type of laminated pastry, just like croissants and puff pastry. The baked pastry contains a lot of thin layers which are responsible for its final flaky, tender texture. Creating layers in pastry is an advanced skill and one that requires a good amount of practice and/or equipment.

What sets Kouign Amann apart from other similar laminated pastries is that it contains (even) more butter, has sugar layered in, and has crunchy caramelized sugar on the outside. This makes for a very rich pastry. We’ll have a look at both of these crucial components in more detail, but not before considering where it even comes from in the first place.

The origin of Kouign Amann

Kouign Amann originates from Bretagne (Brittany) in France, a region known for its dairy and butter production. This at least partially explains the (very) high amounts of butter incorporated within! In the local breton language, ‘kouign amann’ literally means ‘butter cake’. Kouign amann uses a lot of different techniques, most likely borrowed from other pastries, but is often claimed to have been ‘invented’ by a specific patissier: Yves-Rene Scordia, in the late 19th century.

Concept 1: Lamination – of both fat and sugar

A good kouign amann relies on proper ‘lamination’. During lamination you create a lot of alternating layers of fat and dough (aka flour + water). You do that by simply folding the dough over and over again. With every fold, you’re creating additional layers.

To laminate you need dough & fat

A laminated pastry consists of two distinct components: fat and dough. The dough is a mixture of mostly wheat flour and water. It’s flexible, it can be stretched, rolled, pulled, etc. Dough for a kouign amann also contains some other ingredients such as fat, sugar, yeast, and salt. The yeast especially is important since it helps to create a light pastry by proofing the dough.

The second component of laminated pastries is fat, or, more precisely: butter, which is about 80% fat. Butter is hard and firm in the fridge, but softens at room temperature and melts around body temperature. Instead of butter, you could also use a plant-based butter or margarine, which behaves similarly, though might give a slightly different taste and texture.

Keep the dough & butter separate

During lamination you want to create layers of butter and dough. As such, you want to make sure they don’t completely blend together. It’s why you don’t knead or mix the butter and dough, instead, you fold them together. Lamination starts by placing a slab of butter on top of a slab of prepared dough. Next, you encase the butter in the dough. You’re wrapping it up, like a little present. Once the butter has been wrapped, it’s time to fold.

The three steps to a simple letter fold: roll into a rectangle, fold the top 1/3, fold the bottom 1/3.

Creating layers by folding

Every time you fold the wrapped block of butter you’re creating additional layers in the dough. In betwee nevery fold, you roll out the dough to make it thin enough to fold again. As such, the layers of butter – dough keep on getting thinner. There are several common ways to fold kouign amman pastry, but the most common ones are the letter (3 layers) and book fold (4 layers). In the recipe below and photo above we use a series of letter folds.

It’s an exponential process. Everytime you fold the dough using a letter fold, the number of layers goes times three. So after a mere 4 folds, you’ve created approximately 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 = 81 layers! Keep in mind that there definitely is such as thing a too many folds. If the layers get too thin, the pastry will become too flaky and be prone to breaking.

letter and bookfold for puff pastry
The two main types of folds used for laminated pastries (including puff pastry and kouign amanns).

Butter shouldn’t be too hot, nor too cold

During this folding process, time and temperature management are crucial. To create all those thin layers, the butter needs to be flexible enough to be folded. However, the flexibility of butter is highly dependent on its temperature. A very cold slab of butter will simply break when you try to bend it whereas a very warm slab of butter will just ooze away. This is all related to the melting behavior of the fatty acids in your butter. They slowly melt over a range of temperatures, so you want to find that sweet spot where enough are molten for increased flexibility, but not yet so many that it becomes liquid and oozy!

Not every butter behaves the same!

Keep in mind that there can be quite a lot of variation between different styles of butter. Some butters are softer than others, they might contain slightly more or less fat, or fat of a slightly different composition. This all depends on the diet and life of the cow that produced the milk to make the butter. The different behaviors affect how and when the butter behaves best for laminating. Some butters may need to be colder than others for optimal results.

Dough needs time to relax

To some extent, the same applies to the dough, though the effects are slightly more nuanced. A colder dough will be firmer than a very warm dough. However, a more crucial aspect for handling the dough is time. The dough contains gluten proteins. These are what make the dough flexible and easy to roll and stretch. However, when stretched too much, they become very ‘tight’ and will resist further rolling and folding. It’s why you will need to let kouign amann pastry rest in between folds. This gives the gluten time to relax again.

folding kouign amann pastry
Plenty of sugar on the outside of the kouign amann dough can make it a little sticky.

Fold in extra sugar

Kouign amanns are made with a yeasted dough. Yeast feeds on sugar to proof and rise the dough. If you add too much, the yeast will go into overdrive, overproofing the dough. However, kouign amann does need some extra sugar for sweetness. To prevent the yeast from eating all, it’s folded in towards the end, during the last fold. Simply sprinkle (a lot of) sugar onto the dough after rolling it out and before folding it up. This sugar won’t create a layer as the butter will, it will mostly just dissolve in the dough, but it does add extra sweetness and texture.

Sugar causes the kouign amann dough to sweat

During this phase, the kouign amann dough can become quite sticky, it seems to sweat. This is because the sugar has started to dissolve into the dough, making it liquid and possibly even pulling out a little moisture from the dough. It’s not harmful and perfectly natural to occur. However, once the sugar has been added, it’s important to advance to the baking step reasonably fast. If you want to freeze the dough before baking, it’s best to do so just before this step.

kouign amann
Not easy to see on the photo, but the bottom and sides contain plenty of caramelized sugar.

Concept 2: Sugar caramelization

Creating all these delicate buttery layers is crucial for a kouign amann, but, a kouign amann wouldn’t be a kouign amann without a crispy outer layer of caramelized sugar. It’s what sets it apart from many similar pastry styles.

Sugar only caramelizes at very high temperatures, around 160-180°C (320-355°F). And, it only occurs if not too much water is present. A complex set of chemical reactions results in a nice brown color and a very different (less sweet) flavor than just plain white sugar.

To ensure caramelization happens, the outside of a kouign amann is sprinkled with a lot of sugar, especially the bottom. Caramelization won’t happen within the pastry, it won’t be hot and dry enough in there. Instead, it happens on the outside, especially at the bottom where sugar has a chance to gather and react and directly touch the hot pan.

kouign amann

French pastry - Kouign Amann

Yield: 12
Prep Time: 2 hours
Additional Time: 12 hours
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 12 hours 22 minutes

Traditionally, kouign amann were mostly made as one large pastry, meant to be cut and shared. However, most recipes now are developed for single-serve portions, including this one. You'll need a muffin tin to maintain the shapes.

The recipe is a blend of one by Paul Hollywood, as demonstrated during the Great British Bake Off masterclasses as well as by Melissa Keller from her book A Good Bake.


Butter for lamination

  • 350g unsalted butter


  • 340g bread flour
  • 150g buckwheat or bread flour*
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 300g water
  • 15g unsalted butter

Sugar for lamination & topping

  • 150g granulated sugar


Butter preparation

  1. Take the lamination butter from the fridge and leave to soften.
  2. Take a piece of parchment paper or wax paper of approx. 40 cm in length. Fold the paper in half to mark the middle. Place the butter in the middle of one half of the paper. Fold the paper over the butter. It should now be in the center.
  3. Using a rolling pin, smash down on the butter to flatten it. Shape it into a square of approx. 20cm, the thickness should be approx. 1/2 cm. To help tighten the corners, fold the paper around the butter at the edges and smash the butter into all the corners.
  4. Place the butter packet in the fridge until ready to take out.


  1. Add all ingredients for the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer and using the dough hook, knead into a smooth firm dough, this takes approximately 5-7 minutes.
  2. Cover the bowl and store the dough in the fridge for an hour to cool down. Remember, temperature control is crucial for lamination. Cooling the dough down makes it firmer which matches better with the butter consistency. It also gives the gluten time to relax.


  1. Take the butter from the fridge and let it soften slightly. You should just be able to bend it. If it's rock solid when you're trying to roll it, it will break, so wait for it to soften.
  2. Once the butter has softened just slightly, take the dough from the fridge. Lightly dust a surface with some flour and add the dough. Pat it into a square before rolling it into a rectangle. Try to keep the edges as straight as possible. The size of your dough should be twice that of your slab of butter. Try to keep the short edge the same size as your butter slab and ensure the long edge is twice the length of the butter.
  3. Place the slab of butter in the middle of the dough. Fold the left and right sides of the dough over the butter to fully enclose it.
  4. Roll the dough into a longer rectangle, start rolling in the middle. If you notice the butter breaking, wait a few minutes to let the butter soften a little. If the butter oozes out, place the packet in the fridge to cool it down.
  5. Optional: to get really nice laminated pastry, cut off the edges of the dough that don't contain any butter (you'll be able to see this). However, for slightly less perfect but still good laminated pastry, you can leave the sides in. It will make for slightly more uneven layering.
  6. Along the long edge: fold the top third of the dough down to the middle of the remaining dough. Fold the bottom third up over the rest, you've now made a letter fold.
  7. Turn the dough 90 degrees. Roll into a rectangle again and fold as in step 6.
  8. Wrap the dough with plastic and place in the freezer to cool down and stop yeast activity.
  9. Transfer to the fridge to leave to rest overnight.
  10. The next day: take the dough from the fridge and leave it to soften slightly.
  11. Dust a surface with ample sugar for lamination. Place the dough on top and sprinkle plenty of sugar on top. Then, repeat steps 5 and 6 one more time. That is, make one more letter fold. Use extra sugar to prevent the dough from sticking, don't be shy in using sugar here. You want to layer the sugar in.
  12. Cover the dough and leave it to rest on the counter for 20 minutes.
  13. Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F).
  14. Prepare 15 muffin trays by coating them with a non-stick spray or butter. Then, sprinkle in the sugar and swirl it around. Remove excess sugar. This helps prevent the kouign amann from sticking but also gives that nice caramelized outside, so don't be shy in using the sugar!
  15. Sprinkle more sugar on top and on the counter and again, roll into a rectangle. This will be your final roll.
  16. Cut into 15 evenly sized squares. Fold the corners of each square inside and place them into the prepared muffin tin. folding kouign amann pastryplacing kouign amann pastry in muffin tins
  17. Sprinkle more sugar on top.
  18. If you have any pieces of dough left, you can put those in a cake tin, covered with parchment paper, and make a kouign amann 'bread'. Don't throw out scraps, they're still delicious!
  19. Bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 20 minutes. The kouign amann should be evenly brown, but not burned. Some of the edges may turn a dark brown, that's ok, as long as they don't burn.kouign amann
  20. Remove from the molds to cool down completely and enjoy! They'll be better once cooled down since this will give the sugar time to cool and harden, adding that extra crunch.


*Buckwheat adds a nutty, maybe even savory flavor to the kouign amann. You can also just use wheat flour here which will make for a more neutral tasting kouign amann.


A-brest, Le Kouign Amann, link, discussing various possible origins of the Kouign Amann (in French)

Eater, Meet the Kouign Amann: The Obscure French Pastry Making it Big in America, link

France Today, Taste the terroir: Kougin-Amman, Brittany’s pastry of choice, link

Great British Chefs, A history of pastry (with a focus on British pastry though), link

David Lebovitz, Kouign Amann recipe, link – he was into making Kouign Amann long before others were, great photos and illustrations

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