I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).
When most people can’t sleep, they read or watch T.V. or you know, do something normal.
But, I’m not most people. So when I can’t sleep, I bake obscure pastries featured on The Great British Baking Show.
Because, well, because…
Don’t know what kouign amann is? Yeah, I didn’t either, and neither did any of the contestants on the show.
Basically, it’s a traditional pastry from the Brittany region of France – a region known for its butter. According to this handy article from the Huffington Post: “kouign amann” is the Breton phrase for butter cake. Which makes sense, because there’s a hell of a lot of butter in this thing.
Kouign amann is usually a round cake made with bread dough which is layered with butter and sugar. Supposedly it’s similar to puff pastry, but it just has fewer layers. Ideally, it’s cooked slowly so that, as the dough puffs up, the butter melts and the sugar caramelizes. According to the Huff Post article, it’s “simple.”
So I went into the kouign amann challenge relatively confident, with emphasis on the word “relatively.” The way I figured it, if even the GBBS contestants didn’t know how to do this thing, I shouldn’t feel bad even if I totally blew it.
That being said, the GBBS contestants had very minimal instructions whereas I had a complete recipe. But hell, they’re practically pros and I’m just some woman baking in her small kitchen in Nebraska when she should be sleeping. I figured if I made something edible I’d call it a win.
(And I only set the fire alarm off once.)
More on that later – first, let’s start from the top where, I totally killed it. Compared to other technical challenges that can have upwards of 20 ingredients, the kouign amann ingredients list was very short.
All I needed was strong plain flour – or as we say in ‘Merica – “bread flour”, fast action yeast – or instant yeast as I usually call it, salt, warm water, melted butter, cold butter and caster sugar.
Note that the recipe mentions butter in two forms – it’s not messing around.
I just had to put the flour in a bowl of a freestanding mixer with a dough hook. Then I put the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other. (This is important for fancy baking reasons that Paul Hollywood always talks about). Then I put the water and melted butter in and mixed it on slow for two minutes and medium speed for six minutes.
When I was mixing it on medium speed, it definitely sounded that the dough was going to fly out of the mixer and hit me in the face or something. It didn’t. And I was totally not worried that it would. Not at all. I just always make this face.
Anyway, after the dough miraculously stayed in the bowl, I just had to dump it on my floured work surface, make it a ball and put it in a lightly oiled bowl. Then I had to cover that with Saran Wrap and let it rise for an hour.
And I totally nailed that whole process, ya’ll.
Then came the fun part. I had to take a big ole chuck of butter, place it between two sheets of parchment paper and bash the crap out of it. Okay, technically, the recipe didn’t say “bash the crap out of it” but I assure you, that was the gist of it. Then I had to roll my bashed butter out into a 5 and a half inch square and put it in the fridge to keep chilled.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Hmm, that seems like an awful lot of butter,” you’re right. It’s so much butter.
Now here is where things got tricky, because I had to do a bit of math – or just, you know, simple counting and measuring.
I had roll out my risen dough into an 8 inch square, then I had to place my butter square inside of that square on a diagonal. That meant that each side of the butter should face a corner of the dough. Then I was supposed to fold the corners of the dough, up and over the butter to close it up like it was in an envelope.
(Best thing to ever be in an envelope.)
From there, I had to roll the dough out into an 18 by 6 inch rectangle and then fold it in thirds. This was supposed to make a sandwich of three layers of butter and three layers of dough. Then I had to wrap it in Saran Wrap and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
I had do do this process twice more so that in the end I had done a total of three of these turns, chilling the dough for 30 minutes between each turn. Since I’m easily distracted, I could have totally forgotten a turn – so that’s why I kept track of what I did on this handy Post-it-Note. (Shh…I know I spelled “kouign amann” wrong there.)
After the last turn, I was supposed to roll the dough into a rectangle like before and then sprinkle the dough with caster sugar and fold it into thirds again. Then I had to roll it into a 16 by 12 inch rectangle, sprinkle the dough with more caster sugar and cut it into 12, equal squares.
If that looks like a lot of sugar to you, you’re right. Also if it looks like my square are not equal or even squares, you are also right. At this point, I didn’t care that they weren’t equal or squares, I just cared that they looked like dough, so I shoved them into my prepared muffin tin as instructed.
I had greased a 12-cup muffin tin with oil. Then I was supposed to gather these “squares” up by their four corners and put them in the tins. The corners were supposed to come together in the middle of each tin so they looked like pretty, four-leaf clovers. Then I was supposed to sprinkle them with MORE caster sugar, and leave them to rise for 30 minutes until they were slightly puffed up.
Anyway, this is when things took a slight turn for the worse. Okay, remember in the past when I would complain about my oven? It was basically my arch enemy. It was one of my least favorite things. It would not preheat. Or it would preheat and then decide to turn off in the middle of cooking for no reason and with no warning. It was a wild card basically.
But last week I got rid of that crazy jerkface of an oven and got a brand-new one. The good news is it works great. The bad news is, when I screw up recipes, I have no one to blame but me, so this one is on me guys. This burnt one is on me.
So the recipe told me to bake the pastries for 30 to 40 minutes at 425 F. until they were golden brown. I was supposed to cover them with foil halfway through cooking if I felt that they were starting to brown too much. So that’s what I did. I checked ’em around the 20-minute mark and they looked like this:
I thought they still needed a bit longer though, so I put them back in the oven. And here’s where things went a bit wonky. Remember that butter? All of that butter? It started pouring out of these babies like crazy – so much so that it rained down onto the bottom of my (formerly pristine) oven and started to burn on.
Which set off the fire alarm – at midnight.
By frantically turning on every fan in the house and waving a tea towel in front of the alarm, I got it off pretty quickly. The dog didn’t even bark and my husband didn’t even seem to notice. (In retrospect, I’m not sure either one of them woke up, which is sort of not good. Since that’s what the alarms are for.)
Anyway, while I was doing this – I ended up cooking my kouign amann too long. Like way too long – so that when I took them out of the oven, they looked like this:
But, then I figured, eh, why don’t I try to scrape off the brunt bits. So I did, and turns out that, underneath that pile of crap were actually delicious, buttery, sugary pastries – which yeah, may have been a bit too browned – but were so full of butter it didn’t really matter.
There’s probably some lesson in here about how you should look for the best in even the crappiest of situations. But, I’m going to ignore that lesson and instead suggest two things I learned from this: number one: don’t bake at midnight, number two: you can never have too much butter.
Next week, I’ll move on to the showstopper challenge of the Pastries episode, which means I have to make éclairs.
This should be a breeze, right?
Tune in next time for what may well be a complete disaster.
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OK, that’s the end of my post-scripts.