Bretagne is best known for three things: sweets, cream, and butter. When these combine, the result is magnificent. One of the most classic treats of Bretagne is the Kouign-amann, the love child of a croissant and French toast. When made well, it has a crispy, crackly outer layer, shredding into thin pieces of sugar and dough as it hits the teeth, with a custardy, flaky inner core, sweet and buttery.
Even better than the Kouign-amann is the Kouignettes, the miniature version of the pie-sized platters below. After all, it’s not every day that you can house an entire pie’s worth of buttersugarbread in one sitting, so the miniature (often flavored) ones combine the versatility of a cinnamon roll and the moderation of your cardiologist (not). I prefer these for their variation and petite size. While on a trip to Bretagne this weekend, I picked a few up at a well-known bakery and chocolate shop to taste back home. There were five- but I asked them to leave one out of the bag for research purposes. Just to be sure they were good.
I picked up praline, salted caramel, almond and chocolate, pistachio, and orange cointreau. For the most part, the store had classic flavors mixed with more regionally-inspired ones, like the cointreau and caramel (another Breton specialty) but I really wished they’d incorporated Calvados or caramelized apples into one of the cakes. Regardless, they were all very tasty, with chewy, crispy outer edges, slightly waxy, and soft middles. My favorite was actually the pistachio. I’m a sucker for those crumbly, nut-butter-esque fillings like marzipan, and this was nutty and brilliantly green to boot.
The orange cointreau ended up being a hit back home, with a much more restrained sweetness and huge chunks of candied orange rind. This was the Kouignette that brought out the best of the salted butter, giving the pastry a natural creaminess. The chocolate and caramel-based flavors fared less successfully, to my surprise. There lacked a balance in them that the pistachio and orange pastries had, a dulled acidity that overwhelmed the pastry, resulting in a sugar-heavy, somewhat boring flavor.
The almond and chocolate was so chewy that I found it difficult to tear apart with my teeth. These might have been better warm, but lacking the microwave to do so (#parisproblems) I ate them cold. Their sticky, thick texture was indulgent, but ultimately lacking the balance that would have made them more satisfying. However, the idea of sticking different flavors into these sweet pastries entices my curiosity. I’ll have to try making these when I get back to the States!