Last week, thanks to my friend Steve over at Twitter, we learned why we hadn’t found our perfect kouign amann here in the U.S. He linked us to posts from writer and baker T. W. Lim, who had gone on a pilgrimage to Brittany to try kouign amann and found that the traditional recipe did not match the flavors they liked. Lim goes into detail on the difference between the traditional kouign amann, which follows the rules of the L’Association de Kouign Amann de Douarnenez, and the “modern” kouign amann, which is much more like a croissant. While my pastry preferences and theirs are not the same, they clarify the difference well and if you like kouign amann it’s a highly recommended read. (And they write about galettes in a way that makes my heart break from missing them so much, in particular the ones at Ti Nevez in San Malo.)
Last week we also had two additional venues for kouign amann recommended to us, mere steps away from each other. We contemplated getting one kouign amann at each location, but we decided that we want this to last. So we started with the big chain, Tatte Bakery and Cafe.
Tatte is not Starbucks-big, but it has 19 locations in the Boston area and four in the D.C. metro area. I expect that someday they will be Le Pain Quotidien-level big. And based on our sample, if they keep the quality up, they deserve to be.
We immediately noticed the difference in this kouign amann versus the ones we had tried at other places. Where those were towering, this was of middling height. And along the sides, we could see that the folds of pastry were glossy. When we got it home, we turned it over and saw the secret it had been hiding in the pastry display.
This is the bottom of the Tatte Bakery kouign amann. See how the edges of the pastry are glossy with sugar? That is similar to a traditional kouign amann. Once again, the photo of our ultimate kouign amann for reference:
Obviously, this one is even more intense. But the fact that Tatte Bakery even made the attempt was pretty thrilling!
From the first bite, we could tell this was a kouign amann designed to walk a tightrope between the traditional and the modern. It has pastry layers on the inside that are fluffy and tender like a croissant, but not so many that it overwhelms the sugary, buttery goodness on the base. Instead, it anchors the pastry so that the sugar does not run away with the show. The balance of flavors in the sugar coating and the density is 100% on point. Mike would prefer slightly more caramelization than the coating currently has – our favorite kouign amann in Rennes is actually brittle because of the caramelization. This level of caramelization seems to have been lacking in the ones Lim tried in Brittany, but it was a consistent element in the ones we liked. Even with this minor detail in mind, the Tatte kouign amann was still much closer to our preferred kouign amann than the previous ones we’ve tried.
We will continue trying kouign amann throughout the Boston area, but so far, this is the one to beat.