Though originally from Douarnenez in Bretagne, the kouign-amann has found a new life in New York. “It’s the product we sell the most,” says Dominique Ansel, the French pastry chef who brought the famous butter- and sugar-based pastry into the mainstream in the U.S.
In the beginning, the kouign-amann was an anti-waste cake (in the same way that people make French toast so they don’t waste stale bread). At a time when nothing was thrown away, bakers took the rest of their bread dough, added butter and sugar as a means of preservation, and enjoyed it for a snack.
Outside of Ansel’s bakery, it took the kouign-amann a few years to appear. “We started offering kouign-amann at the opening of the store in 2011. It was unknown before. We helped Americans discover it,” says the French pâtissier.
A kouign-amann is a sweet, laminated pastry that’s akin to a croissant that’s been shaped into a muffin mold and caramelized on top with sugar and butter. The best ones are crispy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth soft on the inside. “Bread dough must have a lot of elasticity,” Ansel explains. A bad kouign-amann is one that’s too heavy, and the challenge is to make it light and airy. Unlike France, where the kouign-amann is served in a shareable size, like a cake, in the U.S. kouign-amanns are sold in single portions.
If Ansel can boast of having brought the pastry fame in the U.S., he is no longer the only one to produce it today. French Morning and Frenchly’s editorial staff took on the challenge of finding the best kouign-amanns in New York.
Of course, this list must start with Dominique Ansel. For his kouign-amann, the French chef thought of everything: a name easily pronounceable by Americans: DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann), and two versions to please everyone (traditional or with brown sugar). DKA is made of soft, melt-in-your-mouth layers enclosed in a crispy, flaky crust. Best to be enjoyed hot and for breakfast. (Chef Dominique Ansel told us to eat one every morning.) One costs $6, and can be found at both Dominique Ansel Bakery and Dominique Ansel Workshop. Dominique Ansel Bakery, 189 Spring St, New York, NY 10012 & Dominique Ansel Workshop, 17 E 27th St, New York, NY 10016
Over in Long Island City and Jackson Heights (Queens), Jean-Claude Perennou, former pastry chef at the Waldorf-Astoria, founded Cannelle Patisserie. Originally from Quimper, he knows what he is talking about when it comes to kouignn-amann. His kouign-amann possesses a crispy caramelization with a hint of salt. No taller than an inch, the layers of puff pastry are rolled up in a circle like a snail. One costs $4.50, and can be found at their LIC location. 5-11 47th Ave, Long Island City
French Pastry Chef Julien Khalaf from the small town of Le Blanc in the heart of France, is known for his flaky, tender croissant dough, which features in the majority of the viennoiseries at Julien Boulangerie. Among them, a humble Apple Kouign Amann that takes the best of Brittany’s flavors and combines them. They go for $6.50 each, and can be found at Julien’s Park Slope location, or any of its three UES stores. Various locations.
Café D’Avignon is an artisanal bakery café based in NYC founded by the same team behind Pain d’Avignon, which has spent the last 25 years supplying Michelin-starred restaurants with baked goods. Today the brand has eight shops in NYC. Inspired by traditional French bakeries with a New York twist, chef Françoise Ip designs her Cinnamon Kouign-Amanns with a touch of honey, which brings an added hint of sweetness, and the sugar on the top creates an extra crunch when you bite down. Available for $4.50. Various locations.
Ladurée has their own variation of kouigns called “Brunettes.” These little kouign-amanns don’t really look like the ones you’ll find in Bretagne, but they’re still completely delicious. The famous French macaron brand offers these buns filled with raspberry and hazelnut flavors. The raspberry puree is fresh and the hazelnut creamy. You’ll spend $5.80 per Brunette. Soho, 398 W Broadway, New York; 864 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10021.
Every few years, there’s a dessert shop that New Yorkers can’t seem to get enough of, and the enduring appeal of Supermoon Bakehouse is well deserved. Known for their cruffins and their unexpected flavor twists, Supermoon makes a fabulous Kouign Brûlée Croissant. Filled with Crème Brûlée and Crème Pâtissière and designed in a croissant shape with a kouign crust, it’s like three French desserts in one for $6.50. (Be warned that they chance their menu every two weeks, so it might not always be available.) 120 Rivington Street, New York, NY, 10002
Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, the Choc O Pain bakeries have flourished since they were first opened in 2009 by Frenchwoman Clémence Danko. In Hoboken and Jersey City, Choc O Pain Bakery offers a chocolate “Petit Kouign,” as well as a vegan version in cranberry. Mini in size, their flaky, sugary crust offers the perfect crunch. The Petit Kouign Chocolat will cost you $4, while the Vegan Petit Kouign Cranberry is $5. Hoboken, 157 First Street, Hoboken; 1500 Hudson Street, Tea Building, Hoboken; Jersey City, 530 Jersey Avenue, Jersey City, NJ; 330-332 Palisade Avenue, Jersey City.
New York’s favorite French bakery chain, Maman, has a whopping 21 locations in NYC alone (plus one in Jersey City). Though neither Benjamin Sormonte and Elisa Marshall, the husband and wife team behind the franchise, are from Brittany (he’s from Montpellier, she’s American, and they met in Montreal), they do serve a delightful pastry charmingly dubbed the “Kouign Maman.” This classic rendition with layers of buttery, caramelized dough will set you back $6. Various locations.