Talking pastry with the Bay Area’s king of kouign amann

Blueberry lemon kouign-amann pastries at the Starter Bakery on Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Oakland, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
Pastry chef Brian Wood and his team make this seasonal kouign amann with fresh blueberries and a housemade lemon curd, and top it with a white chocolate cream cheese ganache. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

Q Do you eat a kouign amann for breakfast every morning?

A No. I start every day with a green smoothie I make at home using kale, avocado, herbs, fennel, yogurt. For lunch, I usually have a salad. That’s because I have to taste a lot of baked goods during the day. It’s an occupational hazard.

Q Is the kouign amann a breakfast pastry? Or an all-day pastry? 

A Definitely all day. It serves well from breakfast to late-night snack.

Details: 5804 College Ave., Oakland, and 901 Gilman St., Berkeley;

Bay Area residents who have developed a fondness for kouign amann (truth be told, it’s a dangerous obsession, right?) know that we haven’t always had this crisp, caramelly version of a French croissant in our lives.

It took a cultural anthropologist from Rhode Island, by way of Washington state, to introduce us to the “butter cake” from France’s Brittany region.

Coconut cream kouign amann are among the Starter Bakery special pastries. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

That would be Brian Wood, the founder of the East Bay’s Starter Bakery, who has been hailed as a pastry pioneer. He debuted his first kouign amann at a pop-up in 2010. “We sold 350 in two hours, but it was exhausting,” he said. “I needed to explain to people what they were.”

For our French-focused Eat Drink Play for the Paris Olympics, we talked with Wood about his culinary journey from pop-up to wholesale and retail operations. What’s next for this king of kouign amann? He isn’t ready to divulge his expansion plans yet, but they are likely to make a lot of East Bay residents very happy.

Culinary director Jill Thomas uses a torch to brown a S’mores kouign amann at Starter Bakery. Owner Brian Wood said these pastries, with their chocolate, graham and Italian meringue, have been a customer favorite. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

Q How many times do you figure you’ve had to pronounce kouign amann? 

A Many thousands! I usually say, “Like Queen of England and Amman, Jordan.”

Q Do you remember the first kouign amann you ate?

A Yes, I had been teaching at the San Francisco Baking Institute for a few years and would hear of the pastry occasionally, that it was really challenging to make. I tasted one in 2006 at Fauchon in New York City. I was just blown away by the flavor.

Q And how did you start baking these pastries? Was it indeed challenging?

A I received a call from the editor of “Modern Baking” wanting to know if I would write three articles for 2009. I did and committed one to be on kouign amann, figuring I’d have to learn it. I researched all of the reference formulas I could (not finding more than several … and, all in French) and then did some conversions for U.S. flour and then dove into the process. I tweaked my starting formula a few times and figured out how to process the dough without turning into a goopy mess of melted sugar. I still use the same formula to this day.

Q How does a kouign amann differ from a croissant? 

A It’s like a croissant, but it’s traditionally made with salted butter and layered with sugar and baked in a pan that’s lined with butter and sugar. The lining of the pan gives it such a unique caramelly crust. The amount of butter influences the texture, which influences the taste.

Q What makes for a great kouign amann?

A There should be salty elements, sweet elements, caramelly elements, buttery elements.

Q Talk about the creativity of filled kouign amann.

A The seasonal …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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