For some time, I felt that laminated dough was my enemy. When I was in school, I didn’t have trouble with it. When I made my first batch of cronuts, they were a success (or maybe, it was beginner’s luck?). But then came trouble. My next 3-4 attempts were all fails. I threw one batch in the trash and gave up after that. Fast forward a year later, and here I am with a renewed desire to get it right.
This past weekend, I took a kouign amann class at San Francisco Cooking School with pro pastry instructor Chef Nicole Plue. It was my chance to brush up on the technique and figure out where I went wrong. I took copious notes and thought a blog post would be the best way to document what I learned for my own practice and hopefully help some of you, too!
I’m going to dive right into the nitty gritty so if you haven’t had a chance to look through a recipe or watch a how-to, I recommend doing that first. Note, I have not tested the linked recipe. Recipes will generally have the same proportions of butter, flour, sugar and yeast. To me, the thing to focus on is the technique. These tips below are based off what I learned for kouign amann but can be applied to any laminated dough recipe.
Work in a cool room.
A MUST. I’m starting with this tip because this alone would have prevented a lot of my issues. My butter kept splurting out the sides or breaking through the dough.
If the room gets warm, don’t worry! You can fix it. (Too warm? See below.)
Unfold the dough so it lays flat. It will chill faster. Place in the fridge for approximately 30 minutes.
But, the room is too hot!
This is my number 1 problem. My apartment is like a sauna and no amount of re-chilling helps. Honestly, I’d wait for a cool day to achieve best results. With previous batches, when I re-chilled, removed dough, let sit for the dough to relax, the dough softened just enough but the butter got too warm and it was impossible to roll out.
On a couple of tries, I mustered through and managed to do all the folds with overly softened butter. The issue with that is, instead of creating layers of dough and butter, the butter is actually getting absorbed into the dough and when you go to bake, the pastries won’t expand because there are no layers. It is not fun to have FLAT cronuts that look like hockey pucks.
Make sure the butter block is one solid mass with squared edges.
Use a plastic bench scraper to “glue” your pieces of butter together to ensure they become one solid mass. It will be much easier when rolling out your dough. Having squared off edges will help maintain the shape of the overall dough once the butter is enveloped.
Be aware of the thickness of the dough.
To ensure the final product has nice even layers, keep an eye on the thickness of your dough when folding. 1/4-1/2″ is about the right thickness. Anything less may cause the dough to tear and butter to break through.
This is a given but I need this reminder because I work slowly. The more quickly you can get through the folds, the better chance of the butter not melting.
Run out of time? Freeze the dough.
There are two options:
After the folds: Sprinkle a bit of flour on top of the “book” to prevent sticking and wrap the dough well in plastic wrap. Note, if you’re making kouign amann, you should freeze after the second fold that way when it’s defrosted, you can proceed with the final fold with sugar.
After rolled out: I prefer freezing after this step. When it’s already one long sheet, it defrosts more easily and it’s ready for cutting and shaping.
Remember that it truly is WORTH IT.
I know. It takes SO long to make the dough. I’m no Pierre Herme or Dominique Ansel, but pastries with homemade dough come pretty close to some of the best treats I’ve ever eaten.