Brittany does a number of things very, very well – coastal seafood, buckwheat galettes, poulet au cidre, butter, and more butter. Best thing ever…..butter and sugar combo that sets itself apart from anything else. Kouign-amann is a cake that originated in the 1865 from a baker in Douarmenez near Finistere. Its name is derived from the Breton words for cake -kouign and butter -amann. The cake consists of layers of butter and sugar that are folded into a dough. Kouign-Amann supposedly a rustic delicacy of the region which it turns out to be dough, sugar and butter….but it is how the ingredients come together the dough is folded, and folded and folded again, creating a small circular cake with a tight circular swirl baked for caramelization of both top and bottom, crispy and brown. A bite leads to a crunch and the melted sugar sticks to your teeth. The butter flavor lingers on and on. Perhaps the fattiest pastry ever. Calorie count must be forgotten and just enjoy.
Gossip has it that the baker, Yves-Rene had a failed bread dough and saved the day with lots of butter and sugar and arraigned in a circular mold called a roue de charrette, baking until the sugars had caramelized, a butter cake like none I’ve ever had. At home you can produce a close cousin using croissant dough or real butter puff pastry which is laminated with more butter, French of course.
Brittany's butter is special, most often salted, in particular using salt from Guérande. There are two reasons for that. First, butter is mainly cream and Brittany is a big milk producer. Secondly, in the past, the region was exempt from the salt tax. The most famous is the artisanal Le Buerre Bordier that is churned, kneaded and shaped by hand, only a wooden wheel massages the butter. Jean-Yves Bordier is the third generation using traditional craftsmanship that many claim this to be the finest in the world, but it is made only in small batches and is only sold in France. But we can get Buerre d’Isigny and Echire from Brittany.
There is another butter cake, Gateau Breton d’Helene Jegado now made at Durand Chocolatier, the pastry chef has recreated an old recipe that is made of flour, butter, eggs, sugar, dried fruit, chopped almonds, rum soaked raisins and pieces of green angelica. He has left out one key ingredient.
Helene Jegado, was a domestic cooking for many priests, families, and bachelors of the time, but her cooking used more than butter, it is said that her secret ingredient was more likely arsenic, as 36 of her patrons ended up dead. It took some time for people to add up that she left a trail of death as she went. So in 1852 Helene lost her head to the guillotine in Rennes.
Another cake specialty of the region is Far Breton with far less butter, but utilizing the plums and prunes. A flan like cake similar to a clafoutis, but we’ve never heard of anyone dying from that second piece.