Derived from the Breton words for butter and cake, kouign-amann (pronounced kween ah-MON) is capable of captivating at first bite. Imagine something akin to the much-hyped hybrid known to us as a cronut: denser than a croissant and more layered than a doughnut. Except with this Breton pastry, there's also a resemblance to a muffin with a top that if baked for long enough is crunchy from caramelization. (Fortunately, the rest of the pastry is as good as the top that you'll not be drawn into a morass of Seinfeldian nature).
As with most laminated dough recipes, the kouign-amann is time-intensive, requiring patience and no small amount of tenacity. Look up a recipe on how to make one and you'll see a set of lengthy instructions. We found one that had over 20 steps of which many asked for a slight variation of a technique or two. Thankfully, there are more than a few local bakeries that make excellent versions, such that you'll happily keep the recipe and baking sheet away. Turn the page for our favorites.
Amandine's version takes leave of the blossom-like shape many of the kouign-amann in town assume, all cylindrical and rotund. That is, until exactly one bite reveals that it contains a spiced apple filling and you'll begin to understand the reasoning somewhat. It's an apple pie contained. A kouign-amann here might face stiff competition for your attention, sitting among an array of breads and fruit pastries. And still, you'll not miss a small stand of them placed toward the front of the display. 12225 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 979-3211.
The name might suggest a '90s flick centered on the incorrigible hijinks of Brendan Fraser, or Dave Chappelle and Jim Breur for that matter, but Baked on Oceanview is in fact a corner bakery about block away from the busy Montrose street of Honolulu. Towards the entance on Ocean View, there is a tray of kouign-amann placed among pastries in glass cases that halfway line the perimeter of the shop that's not dedicated to the kitchen. Each kouign-amann is placed in a paper muffin cup as considerably steeped as it is with glaze, drawing comparisons to sticky buns. 3600 Ocean View Blvd. #7, Montrose; (818) 249-3587.
It may be called a buttercup at Sycamore Kitchen, but its DNA is unmistakeable. A kouign-amann by any other name would, well, taste and look as sweet. Karen Hatfield's kitchen turns out the pastry on the golden side, and at a few batches each day. If you stop by past the early afternoon, be prepared to select another pastry on the countertop as it's a strong likelihood that they'll have sold out by then. 143. S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 939-0151.
The bakery arm of Bouchon is noticeably dark, just off to the side of the restaurant and bar. The average kouign-amann is placed upside down, so as to preserve the bottom (or top, depending on your perspective), caramelized to a point of appearing like lacquered toast. Upon taste, it draws another, more familiar association to crème brûlée with the thin candy crust. If you stand there long enough, a well-meaning fellow patron will volunteer her recommendation of the pastry, over macarons, seasonal fruit croissants and pains au chocolat, before she orders two for herself. 235 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills; (310) 271-9910.
More than one source points to Zoe Nathan as the baker who introduced Angelenos to the Breton pastry. At Huckleberry, a kouign-amann can show up as an apple turnover, layers of pastry dough folding over itself with a sliver of apple filling peeking through. It's a reminder that many of us know very little about a kouign-amann and its possibilities past the initial introduction. Make sure to call in advance to inquire what form it takes for the day, if one is even baked for the day at all. 1014 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 451-2311.
2. Bread Lounge
A kouign-amann at Ran Zimon's Bread Lounge in the Arts District tows a precise line, no residual stickiness and seldom greasy. It abides with his overarching practice of restraint that turns out consistently reliable loaves of baguettes and trays of pain au chocolat. Unlike other versions, Zimon's kouign-amann isn't one that requires a beverage pairing of the caffeinated order like a glazed doughnut, and yet you'll want a latté anyhow. 700 S. Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 327-0782.
It defies more than one convention that you can find pastries, gorgeously baked and arranged, at a neighborhood butcher shop, much less one that supplies fish as well. Yet indeed you can order a brioche with your links of house-made sausages and hamachi at McCall's Meat and Fish Co. Karen Yoo, co-owner and pastry chef, tends to keep kouign-amann a little longer in the oven, rewarding us with pastries that are beautifully caramelized. 2117 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 667-0674.
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