The Pastry I Judge All French Bakeries By

June 23, 2017

When I moved to Paris ten years ago and followed my belly around the city to assess the breadth of the bread and pastry offering (sweets first, savory second), the crunch-friendly options were legion but not created equal. As far as breakfast pastries went, I was team-croissant until I had my first, awe-inspiring experience with a still little-known Breton pastry called the Kouign Amann.

The two are similar insofar as they both are prepared from laminated dough and a liberal layering of butter, but the KA is denser and, most importantly, crispier throughout thanks to the sugar added between the many layers of pastry dough. The caramelized finish lends a light crunch to its coating, giving way to a moist (but not too soft) center.

Though its normal, unassuming shape resembles a thick crown, the first one I tried was actually revisited by Philippe Conticini, formerly of La Pâtisserie des Rêves, and in the form of a long rod. Regardless, the near-religious experience began from that very first bite—my eyes rolled back in my head as the caramel flavor coated my teeth. Adding to the novelty was its relative mystery—not even my French husband had heard of it and yet it hews to all the fundamental pillars of French pastry.

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When I travel, I tend to gauge the quality of bakeries that offer French pastries on whether they attempt the Kouign Amann and, of course, whether it generates the same reaction in me. So far, Dominique Ansel’s brown sugar version in New York and London win highest marks for instantly transporting me back to France.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Journalist and author of "The New Paris"


Alice July 2, 2017
We have a French bakery here in Pittsburgh where the owner/baker is Breton. M. Chatellier makes Kouign Amman (and many other goodies) to die for! Guess I am just lucky!
Eva July 2, 2017
Only the individual-sized KA is crunchier. The classic cake tin-sized one, of which you eat a tranche (slice) is not particularly crisp—it's more gooey with caramel and its inner layers are soft and moist.

Also, I don't know that it's fair to judge a Parisian patisserie by its KA. It's not a classic viennoiserie pastry (as the commenter below says), and plenty of great patissières don't make them, or don't make them well.
Matt June 23, 2017
"not even my French husband had heard of it and yet it hews to all the fundamental pillars of French pastry."

The fundamentals of French patisserie are Viennese. Kouign amann is Breton. Depending on where in the country your husband is from, that's probably why he had not heard of it.