Levain-Black Sesame Kouign Amann

Back in 2015, I watched a video on Youtube on how to make these pastries called Kouign Amann. They greatly resembled croissants, but baked with a lot of sugar, and in the shape of a muffin instead. The pastry was buttery, flaky, and looked like a giant pain to make – all puns intended. The base dough itself looked fairly straightforward, being a yeasted dough, but the biggest challenge was definitely the butter block. While making a butter block is easy, getting the butter block to incorporate into your dough, not so easy. The process of dough laminating involves imprinting even, thin layers of butter between layers of a dough so that when the dough bakes, the butter evaporates, puffing up the pastry and giving it this soft, pillowy, yet crunchy and flaky texture – think danishes, puff pastry, and croissants, those are the three most common instances of laminated dough. However, when laminating with a butter block, you have to maintain temperatures – too cold, and the block will shatter the dough and ruin your attempts at laminated laters, too hot and the butter will melt between the layers, turning whatever pastry you are attempting to make into brioche. Neither is really ideal when attempting to make a croissant-like pastry. With this recipe, there is a little bit more ease there – instead of using a butter block, we are going the “rough puff” or “blitz” method.

This method involves using large, frozen chunks of butter, and gently folding those through your dough periodically. I prefer this method generally because it requires a lot less precision when it comes to both temperature and timing compared to the butter block method. While the butter block produces puffier layers, folding and assembling a butter block-laminated dough is essentially a 5-hour commitment(whereas with this blitz method, you would only need to fold and laminate for 2 hours tops). With the butter block dough, refrigerate for too long and you will need to let the dough sit out for longer before attempting to roll, while refrigerate too little and the butter will melt between your layers and turn everything into a flour mush ball. With this blitz method, it is a lot more forgiving on both sides, as it is more ideal that the butter is cold, and as it is also in smaller chunks, it also thaws faster between chills and rolls. As I mentioned before, this method might not be as puffy as the butter block method, but I have a slight workaround – levain. Also called sourdough starter, this mixture can be used to add a nice loft to any dough that it is being used in. The cultures in the starter add more air, giving these pastries an airy texture more reminiscent of a butter block dough, but without as much of the hassle of having to mess around with one! I also included the option of putting chocolate in the pastries as well, to make them more reminiscent of pain au chocolate or chocolate danishes. Just a fun little option, since you would have already put in a decent amount of effort to make this dough!


For the rough puff yeast dough:
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced and frozen solid
2 packets active-dry yeast
1 cup levain(sourdough starter)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
1 cup cold water

In a bowl, mix everything together until just barely combined. The dough should be craggly, shaggy, and VERY ugly, with giant chunks of butter still visible initially. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes, just to relax the glutens, then begin the assembly process to bring it all together.

For assembly:
Melted butter
Granulated sugar
Chocolate*

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a rectangle that is about 9 inches by 12 inches. Fold the dough into thirds, brochure style. Then place in the freezer for about 20 minutes. Then rotate the dough 90 degrees, so that the longer side of the rectangle is facing you, and that the seams where you folded the dough are facing up, and re-roll the dough to the same rectangular shape. Refold and re-freeze. Repeat that step at least 2 more times, but no more than 4 more – too many folds will cause the dough to go dense and never puff up!

After the last fold and freeze, roll out the dough to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut the dough into 4-inch squares. Brush with butter and sugar and place into lined muffin tins. You can also put chocolate in the middle of each pastry if desired. Allow the dough to proof at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Then bake at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes. 

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