Almond Tuiles, Crème Brûlée and Kitchen Torches

DSC_0066

Last week was Calvin’s spring break from school. I took the week off from my current babysitting job, and since I am in a (very long) freelance writing lull, I was footloose and fancy-free too. Rich’s mom came to visit for the last half of the week and we had our usual butter bacchanalia, with a bit of sugar thrown in. Rich was able to take Friday off, so we had a nice long weekend of family time. As I mentioned in Monday’s post, Rich’s dad opted to skip the trip north in favor of Florida sunshine and warm weather. He really was the smart one, given our huge snowstorm on Sunday. But he missed out on our snowy day apple crisp and all the other goodies too.

We had a nice mix of homemade creations and bakery treats. We managed to get to Pint Size Bakery just in time for their salted caramel croissants (kouing amann by another name). Our discussion of them while we were in line even inspired the man in front of us to buy one. The lady in front of him joined in the conversation with the comment that they were so good that they made her eyes roll back in her head. High praise for sure. They were just as tasty as we remembered (though I don’t think we had any eye rolling) and I am now inspired to try making them again. This time I’ll make smaller ones, and work on not over caramelizing the sugar.

We also picked up a few frangipane muffins from Pint Size, and they were as fabulous as we remembered. I am going to have to tweak my recipe for blueberry almond muffins a bit to try and duplicate the texture of the frangipane muffins. Oh, the baking experiments that are going to go on here!

DSC_0027

On the home front, we made garlic bread with homemade bread. Or rather Calvin made garlic bread and we all happily ate it. Mary and I made almond tuile cookies and we all made almond crème brûlée together. That one was Calvin’s request and I’m not sure where he got the idea (maybe from our mutual Food Network “Chopped” habit?).

DSC_0072

I have never made crème brûlée, and it showed. I have certainly not mastered the kitchen torch. We had everything from burnt sugar to barely melted sugar to flaming brown sugar. We tried both brown and white sugars to see which worked better – in my hands, neither. I wasn’t totally happy with the custard base either. It had enough whipping cream and egg yolks in it that it should have been fabulous, but it was just ho hum and too sweet to boot. I will be tweaking and trying more recipes before I post one to share. And my torching technique needs work. If you have any tips, please share. Or if you have used the broiler successfully, tell me how. We tried that too and it was no more successful than the torch.

DSC_0024

But, aesthetics aside, we had a great time playing with the torch and we managed to avoid catching anything (except for the brown sugar) on fire. The tuiles were the successful experiment of the week and I will be posting on them soon. They are much easier than they look and we are all sad that they are gone. We are also sad that Mary went home. But we will be seeing both my in-laws in a couple of months, which really isn’t long to wait. Just enough time to perfect my torch skills!

Kouing Amann – The Story of my Fascination with Breton Butter Pastry

DSC_0042

First things first – it is pronounced kween uhmon or kween yahmon. I first heard of this decadent pastry several years ago when I was reading a blog post written by Dorie Greenspan, a cookbook author and chef. She was describing pastries she had eaten on a recent trip to France. Kouing amann are Breton butter pastries in the same family as croissants or puff pastry, but with fewer, thicker layers. The signature of kouing amann is the caramelized sugar that covers the outside of the pastry, thicker on the bottom and sides. I was intrigued by the pastry, but not enough to do more than salivate over the beautiful picture in the post.

A few months ago we visited a new bakery in south St. Louis city, Pint Size Bakery. We went late on a Saturday morning, without doing any research into their specialties or even looking at their menu. We overheard several people ordering salted caramel croissants as we waited in line. We couldn’t see what they looked like through the crowd of people in front of us, but we knew we wanted some, sight unseen. I mean, come on – salted caramel croissants. Who could resist ordering those?

They lived up to our expectations, and then some, as we scarfed them down in the car in the parking lot. They didn’t look like traditional croissants, but were the shape of a hockey puck, only bigger. The entire outside was caramelized with sugar and the insides were flakey and buttery. I had an inkling as we were eating them that they were like something I had read about, but I couldn’t place it. Later we saw a reference online to the salted caramel croissants as Pint Size Bakery’s version of kouing amann. Now a fascination was turning into an obsession. Especially when we went back to the bakery a second time, only to find we were too early and there weren’t any salted croissants to be had for at least another hour. I had to make kouing amann for myself.

DSC_0001

I found a recipe for a large kouing amann that looked doable on David Lebovitz’s blog. The directions and photographs spelled it all out in wonderful detail. I mixed it up Friday night, just before dinner. I wanted to get it almost ready for the oven and let it rise all night in the fridge to bake for Saturday breakfast.

DSC_0009

I followed the directions – folding the dough over bits of butter, rolling and folding, chilling and sprinkling with sugar. I realized after it was too late that I should have cut the butter into ½-inch pieces (as the recipe said, when I reread it) instead of ½-inch pats. My butter pieces were too big, which made for difficult rolling.

DSC_0016

The butter was poking through the dough and falling out all over the place. But it all worked out in the end.

DSC_0019

After its overnight chill, I pressed the dough into the pan and baked it as directed. I should have paid more attention the comments people posted about the recipe. My pan was too dark, so the sugar on the bottom caramelized too much. Ours was just shy of burnt, and parts of the sugar hardened to just the right texture to stick to every surface of our teeth. On the other hand, the top didn’t caramelize enough. I had shied away from drizzling the top with a tablespoon of butter, as directed in the recipe. There was already a whole stick in the dough and I didn’t really want to add any more. Now, at that point, what difference would another tablespoon have made?

DSC_0031

Despite all the missteps, our kouing amann really was quite tasty. How could it not be, with all that butter and sugar? The inside was both flaky and bready (in a good way) with a lovely yeasty flavor, surrounded by a caramelized sugar and butter crust. It certainly is too rich to make more than once in a blue moon, but I am willing to try it again sometime. But before I do, I am going to venture to the bakery to try another salted caramel croissant. I need to take notes before I make another attempt. You can never do too much research when trying to perfect a recipe, after all.